What Is Mentorship? An Expansive Understanding

Mentorship – this relationship is relevant to the work of today’s libraries and essential for success as libraries transform and innovate toward the future. 

This IMLS grant entitled Library as Research Lab infuses academic libraries with student-librarian-faculty research laboratories to enhance the research skills of professional librarians and master’s students.  A core component of the grant focuses on the mentorship that emerges as students and librarians work together to develop and hone research skills and use evidence-based practices. The nature of academic library work is emergent with ongoing engagement with scholarly practices.  Library services are informed by these engagements and the evolving standards for excellence in scholarship. There is increased emphasis on high performing teams and collaboration. The need to renew focus on ongoing professional development, combined with the experiences of this grant, inform the recommendations and activities of this guide.

We are using an expansive understanding of mentorship. Our understanding is based on a variety of opportunities through multiple experiences that were learner-centered and intended to support growth. Mentor will be used to describe a trusted partner invested in ongoing growth and development. Mentee will be the learner, developing deeper and more relevant competencies. These roles are increasingly fluid, flexible and embrace a wide range of activities as well as levels of commitment and formality. Within a team, project or time period, movement between the roles of mentor and mentee has become a new norm.   

Intentional mentoring promotes cognitive diversity, equity in opportunities, and inclusion. The mentoring relationship creates space where individual experiences are valued. Mentorship promotes an engagement with different viewpoints and capabilities because there is an expectation of engagement in an environment that encourages sharing and trust. An equity mindset in a mentoring context infuses awareness of, and direct connection with, opportunities; and support to realize these new opportunities. Together the mentor and the mentee deepen their cultural competencies resulting in increased inclusion and a better understanding of each other and the organization.

This guide focuses on key concepts and provides activities to enable mentoring capabilities.  It is divided into two focus areas: relationship building and meaningful work.  Each focus area will provide an overview, followed by recommended exercises designed to promote learning and professional development.