Exploring Mentoring: Professional Development Through Relationship Building

By Braegan C. Abernethy and Kari D. Weaver

Mentoring as Career Advancement

Mentoring can be a key component of development for new professionals entering libraries or more seasoned librarians taking on new and different responsibilities. Mentoring provides support for professional development beyond what an individual supervisor can solely offer, and presents the opportunity for meaningful learning to occur in the workplace (Cohen 1999, 18-24). Additionally, mentors act as key resources, providing access to ideas and information for their mentees. Most of all, mentoring is a relationship that forms between two professionals and will assist with growth and development for both. 

Advice for choosing a mentor/mentee

Consider looking for a mentor through an established mentoring program, but know the program may dictate your choices. Represent yourself accurately to help facilitate the best match. Look for a mentor with common interests and who holds a professional position or professional experience to which you aspire. Avoid choosing a mentor who is your direct supervisor. While your supervisor will assist in your professional development, part of the point of mentorship is to expand your understanding of the profession.

Mentors should consider looking for mentees that have similar interests and goals. Look for a mentee who is interested in learning and exploring new facets of the profession. Some individuals new to the profession may look at mentoring as an outlet for frustration in the workplace. Avoid mentees who are unwilling to pursue productive solutions to these issues. Finally, consider how much time you have to devote to a mentoring relationship and whether you will be able to commit time and resources to the mentee. Mentors often tend to be in leadership roles, so consider carefully whether or not your participation will be worthwhile to the mentee based on your availability and shared goals.

Tips for Desired Outcomes

Set goals and expectations at the outset. These should include expectations for frequency and mode of communication as well as a set timeframe for the duration of the mentoring relationship. Include some goals that can produce tangible results, such as a new library program or better teaching skills (Fiegen 2002, 23). This can ensure that your participation in mentoring will have a significant, positive impact on your overall career goals. Your established outcomes will determine whether or not you are interested in continuing mentoring beyond the initial time period. Taking the opportunity to review your goals together will ensure you are continuing to learn and develop in the relationship and will help you decide if you have reached the desired outcomes.

Consider taking and sharing a personality inventory. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and create trust in the relationship. There are numerous free options available online for your use.

Set an agenda for your communication. If you have a call, chat or face-to-face meeting scheduled, the mentee should outline some specific topics for discussion with enough time to let the mentor prepare. Whatever form of communication you agree to, create a space for yourself that is free of distraction. For example, turn off your cell phone, close your e-mail and be prepared for your meeting so that you can contribute meaningfully in the time that you have set aside for each conversation. You might consider taking notes during your discussions, either by keeping a document on your computer or using paper and pen. This can keep you focused and give you the ability to return to those notes when remembering advice or recommendations. Good notes are also helpful when it is time to review your mentoring relationship as they track the development of the relationship. Notes may also aid in reporting to supervisors or other stakeholders the learnings from a mentoring program.

Existing Mentoring Programs

There are two traditional routes for getting involved with pre-established mentoring programs: in-house mentoring and mentoring programs available through professional organizations. The institution with whom you are employed may have an existing in-house mentoring program wherein the mentors and mentees are chosen from within the library or a compatible academic department. This can have many benefits including convenience and growth within your specific position. Alternatively, check with your state or regional library associations. Many have programs established to help those new to the profession or new to the state. Some options for professional organizations with established mentoring programs are the ALA NMRT Mentoring ProgramALA MentorConnect in ALAConnect, the Library Leadership and Management Division and Medical Library Association Mentoring.

These are just a few existing programs; there are numerous others to consider and the best way to learn about them is through a specific organization’s website or a simple web search for librarian mentoring programs.

Choosing a program should be dictated by what you wish to learn from the relationship. Are you a new librarian looking for advice from a seasoned professional or are you a mid-level manager looking to gain experience in relationship building and leadership? Consider contacting a specific program to get advice from a former mentor or mentee who has participated in that program. It can be helpful to hear from a previous participant’s past experience to determine whether the program is right for you. Lastly, consider your budget and time constraints. Some mentoring programs require face-to-face interaction while others are purely virtual. Think again about your career path, mentoring goals and level of commitment while researching mentoring programs before choosing one that can provide the structure and outcomes best for you.


As librarianship is an inherently collaborative profession, participation in mentoring will presumably occur in many librarians’ careers (Keener 2012, 136). When done well, it can significantly improve development opportunities for mentors and mentees alike. However, before entering into a mentoring relationship, it is important for you to understand what you hope to gain from your involvement and what resources, including time, you are able to devote to its success. Participation in an established mentoring program may assist in both finding a partner and developing shared goals, but the program should be well-vetted to ensure a quality fit. Lastly, begin the process with a positive outlook, remembering that your participation in this type of professional development is a beneficial step towards enhancing your vocation.


Cohen, Norman H. The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Effective Mentoring. Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 1999. 

Fiegen, Ann. 2002. “Mentoring and Academic Librarians: Personally Designed for Results.” College & Undergraduate Libraries. 9: 23.

Keener, Molly, Vicki Johnson and Bobbie L. Collins. 2012. “In-house collaborative mentoring.” College & Research Libraries News. 73: 134-46.

Braegan C. Abernethy is the Archives and Records Management Librarian at the University of West Alabama. Her research interests include mentoring, digital preservation and information literacy for underserved populations.

Kari D. Weaver is an Assistant Professor of Library Science and the Library Instruction Coordinator at the University of South Carolina Aiken. Her research interests include mentoring, book banning and censorship in the United States and information literacy.