Changing Roles: Mentee to Mentor

Like many of you, I just came back from ALA Annual in Chicago. I had the opportunity to attend some interesting sessions, meet new people, catch up with some old classmates, and see some librarians that I knew in library school.

In my previous ACRLog post, I talked a little about finding your own cohort. I found myself catching up with librarians that were supervisors at UIUC, as well as a classmate. We had a good mix of early career librarian and seasoned librarians. 

It seems like in any setting like that, we end up talking about our jobs, the profession, the job search, and telling each other of the future plans you’d like to accomplish. One of the things that I look forward to the most during conferences is catching up with people, hearing about their future plans, and also asking for advice on something I may have.

Mentorship is something I have touched on a lot during my time with ACRLog and it has gotten me thinking of the mentorship that I have received over the past 4 years. As a student, I received advice and help from not only the librarians supervising me, but the classmates who left and went off to great jobs. I would ask them for feedback on classes I would possibly take, professors I should avoid, and how to go about the job search. Two years later, I found myself being that person to a friend of mine who began library school last year. 

Now, I was the one getting asked for advice on classes, professors, the job hunt.  When did the mentee become the mentor? When I began American University, I was assigned to a mentor. By sheer luck, we were a perfect fit and I will probably continue to ask for her advice for the rest of my career.

I think that we never truly leave the roles of mentee and mentor, no matter our age or amount of time we have been in the profession. My thought or question to other librarians is, how do we manage both roles?

One thought on “Changing Roles: Mentee to Mentor”

  1. Hi Quetzalli,

    Another enjoyable contribution. I always look forward to your posts 🙂

    I’m not quite sure that these are roles that require “management”. A mentor & mentee are in a mutual professional relationship – giving each other the gift of learning together & from one another. Each also gives the gift of trust. Well, that’s my experience of it.

    A mentor enjoys the great privilege of supporting a mentee & learns much from the mentee’s experiences, perspectives, thoughts, questions, stories, successes, etc. Through these, the mentor gets to reflect critically on their own experiences, knowledge, skills, disposition, etc. That critical reflection plays a significant role in the mentor’s own professional & personal development. As the mentee gains professional experience & expertise, s/he will also share insights, knowledge & skills new to the mentor.

    The mentee gains all of these things from her/his relationship with the mentor too. To the mentee it might feel like the learning is mostly on their part, but this is not true. New to the profession, the mentee is like a plant springing from the soil & growing tall & strong with the mentor giving a little water here & there. This is all happening in the open. More established in the profession, the mentor receives a kind of nutrition from the relationship, allowing their roots to grow deeper & so the plant above the ground grows stronger. The vigorous growth above may be more visible that the growth below, but it is happening nonetheless & is equally important.

    The relationship is one of two *equals* learning from each other during their professional journeys. Some of the things that each learn will be different from the things that the other learns, & they will probably have some very similar learnings. As this happens, each contributes to the evolution of the other’s professional identity & ontology.

    Is it possible that using two names (mentor & mentee) leads us to mistakenly think that the roles are different & so might require management over time? Perhaps we need to replace these two words with just one? One that reflects the mutual learning, enjoyment, trust & respect that characterises professional relationships such as these? Sandra

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