Cultivating Mentorship in the Academic Library

November 16, 2015 / by Lindsay Mullen


It’s not always easy being an academic librarian. You’re in charge of making sure the stacks are in order, students know how to find the right information and the library staff is happy and working well. Whether you’re a veteran library director who can develop a Tableau visualization of your entire stock of books faster than you can say “Melvil Louis Kossuth Dewey” or a newbie who wants to rip your hair out whenever a freshman asks how to do a Boolean search, a mentorship program may be right for you.

Mentorship in the academic library field is growing. The benefits of participating in a mentorship program are clear: younger librarians looking for some wisdom gain access to veterans in the field, and experienced librarians get the chance to give back to others within the industry, boost their profile and gain insight into the operations of other libraries. If you’re looking to get involved in academic library mentorship, here’s how to start.

Need a mentor?

ACRL offers a college library director mentoring program for first-year library directors. In this program, you’re matched with an experienced college library director who can offer assistance, provide guidance and share their years of insight. In this 10-month program, you also have the opportunity to visit your mentor’s library and have them visit you. Mentees in this program have expressed how nice it is to simply have someone around who understands what they’re going through, but the intensity of your relationship with your mentor depends on your needs. If you just need a sounding board for your ideas, they’re happy to provide one, but your mentor can also help expose you to new ideas, figure out new opportunities for your library and gain confidence in your new role.

Want to be a mentor?

If you’ve got your library in order and want to become even more of a leader in the academic library community, it may just be time to consider giving back and becoming a mentor. It’s a rewarding experience that allows you to help others in your field while reflecting on your own experiences. Mentorship can also introduce you to new ideas about how to run your own library: your upstart of a mentee may not know when to direct students to Academic Search Premier or the Naxos Video database, but they might have some innovative ideas for a makerspace that never crossed your mind. No matter your background, your experience in the field makes you a valuable resource to many in the academic library industry, so make yourself available!

Setting up mentorships for students

Don’t just limit your mentorship potential to people already in the field: there may be current students (like those on your campus!) who are interested in a career in academic libraries. Consider starting a program to pair the experienced librarians on your staff with students who have expressed interest in your line of work, and conduct workshops on degree options, library schools and how students can start a career as an academic librarian. Who knows: you may find out that the junior who spends every waking hour (and some sleeping hours) in the classics section is an executive library director in the making.


Ready to get started? Click here to get involved with ACRL’s mentorship program. For minority librarians looking for a mentor of a similar background, check out the Dr. E. J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentor Program, which seeks to empower and guide new academic librarians from diverse backgrounds.  

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to promote your library, we’ve got you covered. Check out the case study we did on the University of Arkansas’ digital badge program, which boosted students’ language learning practices and promoted Mango!

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Topics: Higher Ed

Lindsay Mullen

Written by Lindsay Mullen

Lindsay Mullen is CEO of Prosper Strategies, working behind the scenes to support the Mango team's world of lovable language learning. A language aficionado herself, Lindsay oversees a team of marketers fluent in public relations, content development and strategy (and they speak some German, French, Spanish and Chinese as well.)

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