In my former life, I worked in a profession that absolutely “gets” mentoring.  Teachers understand that no matter how much academic training you have, there are a barrage of new situations and quandaries that bombard new teachers. So we try to share stories to prepare newbies for certain scenarios, and we’re available to pick up the pieces when things go awry.  Mentors also provide professional critique and feedback that can assist new teachers in honing their skills and finding their professional niche.  In best case scenarios, mentors are paid for their time and expertise.  But many teachers have an ingrained empathy for those following in their footsteps that causes them to provide mentoring even when it’s not compensated or required.  I sometimes even informally mentored people who worked in other schools.

Archivists talk about mentoring, increasingly over the past few years.  I was hopeful when I heard Jackie Dooley’s presidential address in 2013 and she spoke about the plight of new archivists — and at the time, I was a newly minted MSLS graduate looking for a job.  But while I have found individual archivists here and there that have been willing and able to provide me guidance about particular topics, I don’t think archivists embrace mentoring in the same way teachers do.  I’ve seen scant evidence of a desire to protect others from pitfalls endured or systematically to encourage people to reach their professional potential.  Or even to guarantee an ongoing professional relationship.

Perhaps it’s a simple supply-and-demand question — where ARM programs churn out many more graduates than there are jobs, in my lifetime there’s usually been a dearth of qualified teachers.  So maybe archivists have been lulled into a sense of security that if one new employee doesn’t pan out, another is waiting in the wings.  Or maybe it’s that the teaching profession finds value in actually training teachers to be mentors — recognizing that the relationship could and should be something more involved than simple check-in meetings — but this sort of training is not de rigueur in the archival world.

But I still think archivists can do better about how we bring new professionals into the field.  In the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of the American Archivist, Alex Poole wrote about a study he conducted with recipients of the Harold T. Pinkett Minority Student Award.  He then analyzed the recruitment, retention, and mentoring of archivists of color.  He provided an outline of what a good mentorship program could look like — for all archivists:

  • the needs of the mentee should be assessed
  • both mentors and mentees should receive mentorship training
  • roles and responsibilities should be clearly identified for both mentor and mentee and goals established
  • mentoring should be consistently evaluated

As is so often the case, I find myself with dreams for the kind of world I see in the Star Trek universe.  In one of the episodes of Picard that was released this year — entitled “Broken Pieces” — Picard discussed with Soji how he hoped Data would remember him.

Soji: “If I could see you with his eyes, with his memories, what would I see? . . .”

Picard: “I hope he would remember Jean-Luc Picard as someone who believed in him, who believed in his potential, celebrated his successes, counseled him when he fell short, helped him if he needed help, and if he didn’t need it, got out of his way.”

In my way of looking at things, Picard provided an excellent explanation of the mentor-mentee relationship.  Maybe SAA can use this as a model.