A peer mentor is a person you can rely on for advice, encouragement, and perspective. They may also act as a sounding board or editor. Ideally, a peer mentor relationship is supportive and mutually beneficial. The type of partnership you and your peer mentor will have will be as varied as the two of you. You can pair up with someone who has very similar interests and goals, or someone you admire for their different slant on the world. Don’t limit yourself to purely academic or work-related chats, either – get to know one another as whole people.
Why have a peer mentor?
Having someone to bounce ideas off can be extremely helpful, particularly in the early stages of a career change or further education. Choosing someone who is in a similar situation might help you to understand each other. It can be comforting to know someone else is in the same boat, or has just gone through a similar experience. For instance, if you’re both job-seekers, you’ll be able to encourage your peer when it’s been a tough day, and they can do the same for you.
It’s good to have someone you can call or email when you’re upset and might otherwise send unwise tweets. A peer mentor can be an extra set of eyes on the job boards, a listening ear when you need to rant about that colleague, someone who knows exactly how exasperating that assignment is, or that person who gives you a “sanity check” before you send an important email. It’s just nice to know that someone’s in your corner.
Choosing a peer mentor doesn't have to be a formal process. I’m currently partnered with Amy Walduck, because we “get” each other. She and I couldn't stop talking at NLS6. There seemed to be so much to discuss: career paths, the library profession, job shortages, and social media. After multiple attempts to curtail our conversation for the day, I suggested we keep our discussion going by mentoring each other, and Amy agreed immediately. When I still lived in Brisbane we’d meet for coffee, and now we send email or DMs on Twitter.
Keep an eye on The International Librarians Network. At the moment, the ILN is in a pilot phase, but the intention is to facilitate international mentoring relationships. There is no financial commitment, and anyone who is working or studying in the information or library sectors is eligible. When the program launches, participants can enter details about themselves and the type of person they’d like to be matched with. And if you’re not interested in mentoring but you’re gifted in administrative tasks, ILN will be looking for volunteer country coordinators. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, add @InterLibNet to your feed or follow the blog.
What about career mentors?
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) offers a Career Mentor Scheme, which matches students with professionals. Fellow QUT grad Erica Cooke participated in the program and was paired with a public library professional. As a part-time student, Erica met or spoke with her mentor about every six months for two years. She says it was a good way to bridge the gap between uni and entering a career. Her mentor gave her tips and advice on how to apply for jobs and answer selection criteria, which Erica still finds useful.
Many universities have mentoring programs. Some are intended to cultivate peer-to-peer relationships, while others depend on volunteers to mentor students in various disciplines. If you’re currently studying, it’s worth finding out if there’s a program at your college or university.
Julia Garnett is the new ALIA State Manager NSW