Tips for Mentorship in Special Libraries

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

September 22, 2020

In the SLA Competencies for Information Professionals mentoring is mentioned as one of the enabling capabilities for the core competency of information ethics. Within information ethics is the idea of “teaching, influencing, and coaching others.” 

Mentorship can grow organically or it can be a formal relationship established by an organization or human resources department. In whatever setting mentoring occurs, it is important for information professionals to support each other. It builds the field and is useful for contingency planning. Mentoring is also altruistic. 

For me, the best mentors have always been people with whom I have built a relationship over time because our interests aligned. However, there were times when having a formal mentor to help me navigate a new place of employment would have been very appreciated. Outside my place of employment, mentorship has greatly impacted my career. 

There are different types of mentors. You can choose to be

  1. a peer mentor,
  2. a career mentor,
  3. a life mentor.

Peer mentors are people at the same stage of life and often in similar work positions. They bounce ideas off each other and share how they navigate their roles and work. Often peer mentors work at the same place or have similar roles at similar places of employment. A career mentor is someone who is farther along in their career than the mentee. They provide guidance and wisdom on how to navigate a career. Often these people are in the same company. A life mentor is someone outside the mentee’s place of employment and helps them navigate difficult circumstances with an outsider’s perspective. They provide career advice, but can also provide advice for situations outside the workplace (Kolowich, 2017).  

Here are some tips for establishing a good mentoring program/relationship:

  1. Conduct an informal needs assessment. Find out what the mentor and mentee both want to get out of the relationship. 
  2. Learn about each other. The relationship should be mutually beneficial. 
  3. Establish expectations. Make sure each person is on the same page about how often you both want to meet and be in contact. 
  4. Discuss the duration of the relationship. Does this relationship have a timeline, or does each individual assume they will remain in contact in some capacity for the foreseeable future?
  5. Keep the conversation open about the mentorship relationship. Check in and ensure each person is still benefiting. 

Often the logistics of a mentor relationship are awkward, so working out those issues upfront can make for a more fruitful time. 

If you are interested in entering a formal mentor setting, the Special Libraries Association has a mentor program


Kolowich, L. (2017). How to be an amazing mentor: 12 ways to make a positive impact on others.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please learn more about Lauren and read her other posts about skills for special librarians; then take a look at Lucidea’s powerful ILS, SydneyEnterpriseused daily by innovative special librarians.


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