Being a school librarian can be a non-stop and fun-filled adventure. Students ask questions and know that if you do not have the answers to their questions, that you know where to find them. Staff visit during planning to catch up over coffee and plan your next big collaboration. The school library is a hub of activity and it never seems to stop. It is easy to get lost in the activity, especially as a beginning librarian.
In August 2020, as we collectively logged on to our district online LMS platforms and started a new school year, I was starting my career as a librarian in a middle school. Excitedly, I began losing myself in analyzing and then aggressively weeding the collection. The benefit of having remote students early in the year was being able to familiarize myself with my new space, run reports, learn where things were located, and create Donors Choose projects.
In the beginning there was much I did not know. MLS classes prepared me for the terminology and general expectations of the position. Coworkers gave some information about how to work the phones and process purchase orders. However, being a school librarian is what I call a “unicorn” position. There is usually only one in the school and no one understands everything that is involved with the job. In these beginning weeks, a mentor would have been helpful.
Many districts place new teachers with experienced ones who guide them and answer questions as they learn. However, librarians are often experienced teachers and do not qualify for a mentor assignment and are often asked to guide new teachers in their schools. Traditional mentoring–when two people are assigned to work together with specific guided goals and timelines–has its place, but informal mentoring is being recognized more recently. Occasionally, one experienced person will be matched with multiple protégés. Often personality conflicts can disrupt the experience (Lowe-Wincentsen 2017). When a new librarian is asked to mentor several teachers while learning about the new position, it can cause anxiety and create self-doubt in their new role.
A little over a month after stepping foot in my new library, I virtually attended the North Carolina School Library Media Association’s Conference. While in a session, I met a librarian who works in a high school in my county and is a leader in our state organization. Sara Levin has 14 years of experience as media coordinator and was able to answer many of my questions. We had a good rapport and exchanged information. After that chance virtual meeting, when I had a question, she was the person I called. She never made me feel that my questions were an inconvenience and always sounded happy to help me. She was becoming my mentor without either of us saying the word. It was a relationship that developed organically over our mutual interests and similar personalities.
As a requirement of my internship, I was required to work with a library outside of my own. I knew immediately that I wanted to call Sara. With the support of our administrators, I was able to visit her library. Sara told me about the history of the schools in our district. She shared her collection management plan with me and gave me information about grants as I shared the Donors Choose projects that I had created. She allowed me to sit in on PLC meetings and I saw how she interacted with other departments and supported the educational goals of the school. I also observed her assisting struggling students over Zoom to help them get caught up with their studies. We discussed Battle of the Books and classroom libraries. She showed me tricks using Destiny to make processing new inventory easier. Sara supported me through this first year in the library and I am forever grateful to her for it.
The restrictions and limitations of the past year due to the pandemic have been difficult on us all. Having someone that I can call on has made all the difference. Through her mentorship I have found a friend and someone that professionally inspires me. If you have an educational role model, you can ask that person to become your mentor–and a school librarian would be best to serve new librarians (Weisburg 2017). If you are an experienced librarian, reach out to the beginning librarians in your district. Building a network of librarians building up other librarians will only strengthen the profession.
Lowe-Wincentsen, Dawn. 2017. Beyond Mentoring: A Guide for Librarians and Information Professionals. Boston: Chandos Publishing.
Weisburg, Hilda K. 2017. Leading for School Librarians. Chicago: Neal-Schuman.
Donham, Jean, and Chelsea Sims. 2020. Enhancing Teaching and Learning 4th ed. Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman.
Lafleur, Ann K., and Bonnie J. White. 2010. “Appreciating Mentorship: The Benefits of being a Mentor.” Professional Case Management 15 (6): 305-11.
Stanulis, Randi N., Lindsay J. Wexler, Stacey Pylman, Amy Guenther, Scott Farver, Amy Ward, Amy Croel-Perrien, and Kristen White. 2019. “Mentoring as More than ‘Cheerleading’: Looking at Educative Mentoring Practices through Mentors’ Eyes.” Journal of Teacher Education 70 (5): 567-80.