Recently, a local university was looking for mentors for Librarian and Information Science students. The e-mail went something like, “Help the next generation of school librarians…” My first thought was I am not sure I am qualified! I mean I like to share with anyone who will listen, but something about being a mentor made it sound so official. As I thought about it, I realized I have been a school librarian for over a decade. I also know that there have been many librarians along the way who have helped to guide and support me. So this felt like an opportunity to pay it forward. What I did not realize was how much I would learn from the person who was supposed to be learning from me.
Here are the four things I learned from being a mentor.
Having a Foundation Is Key
My mentee had been recently hired at a school that had not had a certified librarian in many years. This would be a hard position to be in for even a seasoned professional. Many of her questions were related to developing a program from the ground up.
In my attempt to give her a place to start, I realized that you have to know what your foundations are. What guiding principles are going to be the focus of your library program. If you can identify those, then other decisions are easier to make. Your choices will fit with what you believe is important for your program. These can change as you find your place in a school community, but going in with a set of beliefs allows you to know your direction. In talking with my mentee it caused me to think about my own foundations. It gave me a chance to reflect and make sure that my program was still being built on the things that are most important.
Review Your Policies
As part of her course, my mentee asked to review my policies. I have them, but I have to admit they are not something that I look at regularly. Honestly, and I hate to say it, but I am not sure I have updated them since I started my position ten years ago. Her question caused me to review my policies. She made some great suggestions! I realized that they were definitely in need of some updates. These policies are built to help the program and the students I serve. I do not plan to wait another ten years to update them again!
Looking at What You Have Accomplished
Since advocacy is such a large part of being a school librarian it makes sense that we often focus on what we are not able to do. We talk about the frustrations and the setbacks that happen because of schedules, lack of funding, or understanding of a librarian’s role in a school community.
Being a mentor forced me to focus on what is working and why. It forced me to think about where things started and where they are now. To really look and see how far the program has come. Of course, there are still things that I hope to improve, but it was refreshing to stop and really appreciate what has been accomplished.
What Are You a Part Of?
This was one of the many questions my mentee asked, but this one stood out to me. What am I a part of? I probably over thought it, but it seemed like such a big question. It goes along with the many hats that librarians often wear. So I started making a list of all the things that I am a part of from professional organizations to committees in my school community to my personal life. Then I was able to take that list and put it in order from what was most important to the least. This has been helpful to prioritize and find balance during the school year.
So the moral of this story is if you have the opportunity to be a mentor I would take it! I now have another librarian I can collaborate with and seek support from. I know I am better for it!
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a librarian for the past nine years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I was most recently a member of ALA’s Ready to Code (RtC) Task Force.