Who Mentored You into Being?

Over the past few months so much that has defined us as librarians has changed: we’re away from our beloved libraries and schools; we’ve been placed in awkward digital spaces with our students and faculty or we’ve struggled to even find a place in the academic life of our schools; we won’t be able to have all those small conversations with our seniors to wish them well as they graduate and move on. These are just a few of the changes—large and small—in our professional lives. Lately, I’ve been spending time thinking about what makes a librarian a librarian and what exactly is at the heart of librarianship. I’m not sure I would be where I am right now, trying to make the best of my professional life in the midst of a global pandemic, without the support of my fellow librarians. The blog posts, the tweets, the advice and support on the Listserv, the shared documents, shared links, shared resources—they have all made a difference. Each and every day I find something that I’m grateful for as my AISL friends and other librarians think deeply about our profession and so willingly share their thoughts.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m feeling quite emotional and sentimental these days. I find myself thinking about mentors that I’ve had over the years that I want to reach out to and thank—not just for the practical skills I learned from them, but to let them know how important it was to me that they believed in me, and nurtured me, and inspired my own passion for the field of librarianship. In his acceptance speech for the 1997 Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award, Fred Rogers shared “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.” These days I find myself thinking that we have all had those special people in our professional lives who have mentored us into being as librarians and for them, I am grateful.

In the first year of my MLS program at Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Mary Brown and Debbie Herman, MLS were those people. In the mostly online program at Southern, Mary showed great compassion toward all of us and was one of the few faculty who took the time to make sure we understood program requirements. She stepped in as our de facto advisor—she just cared about us—and to say it made a difference would be an understatement. Many people in the program were able to walk at graduation because she posted deadlines on the Listserv reminding us to file paperwork and order our regalia. Even though we were all adults nearing graduation, I’m thankful someone more experienced was looking out for us, offering guidance, and making sure we made it to the finish line.

Mary did many small things that had a big impact on me as I juggled classes, a full-time job, and a family that included a college student and two high schoolers. She was an exacting professor who encouraged me to think about the courses in my plan of study, and when a paid internship to work with VOICES of 9/11 opened up, encouraged me to apply. She saw my interest in digital archiving and mentored me into positions that allowed me to grow personally and professionally. Most importantly, when an adjunct faculty position opened up to teach the Cultural Memorials and Digital Archives course, she was right there with a recommendation.    

When I was looking for an independent study placement the first summer I was in the program, Debbie Herman, Head of Electronic Resources and Information Systems (ERIS) at Central Connecticut State University, took me onboard even though her work space was being renovated. The department offices were in various stages of reconstruction, but she made a space for me when she could just as easily have said no. She put me to work on the Veterans History Project, then encouraged me to pick a special project to work on. That project, digitizing CCSU’s earliest yearbooks, was the beginning of their archival yearbook collection and my passion for making archives accessible.

Debbie had the vision to see something in me and mentored me in experiences that nurtured those interests. She trusted me enough that over the course of the next year, I was able to work with Wit Meesangnil (currently Digital Services Manager at Fordham University and one of the architects of LibWizard v2!) redesigning and conducting usability testing on CCSU’s library website. I mention these projects not to draw attention to myself, but to stress how willing Mary and Debbie were to mentor me, to make space for me to work on real-life projects and to grow into the profession. I think back to how insecure I was around people who did their jobs with ease, about my own ability to do any of these jobs well, and how crucial their belief in me was to my development as a librarian: they mentored me into being the librarian I am today and I am thankful to them both. 

So as this wild ride of a school year comes to a close, I hope we all take a few minutes to think of and perhaps reach out to those who have mentored us into being as librarians and to continue the wonderful work we all do as AISL librarians mentoring others.

13 thoughts on “Who Mentored You into Being?

  1. This is wonderful, Nancy – now I’m teary too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are not alone in this being a period of much reflection. I’m so glad that last year, I reached out to my elementary school librarian who planted the seed for my future career, as she has since passed. Your post reminds me I need to do the same for a woman who supported me through a challenging patch in my public librarian years.

    I too am so grateful for the support of you and others whom I consider my colleagues (greatly confusing those I work with 🙂 Too often, I feel like a bit of an island – particularly now with support staff laid off, I feel isolated during times of department meetings, etc. AISL has been keeping me afloat, and I’m so grateful.

  2. I want to echo Shelgh’s sentiments here, Nancy! Thank you for this wonderful reminder to reach out and say thank you to the “… special ones who loved us into being.” I am so very grateful that now retired AISL librarian, Susan Kallok at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles offered me a job right out of library school that I had no business getting (I later found out that she’d had two other people accept the job, then have to back out so she was desperate… Hahaha!) who taught me how to be a librarian for the “real world.” I’m equally grateful to have had a supervising principal who met with me every other week as he mentored me into directing our library program. Remembering all that we have to be grateful for certainly is a wonderful way to start the day. Thanks for this gift!

  3. I think of so many educators in different fields who modeled integrity, patience, and curiosity as they answered my many questions. This is true not just of librarians but so many subject-area teachers. Thank you for the reminder to take this time to let them know their conversations with me made a difference.

  4. Nancy, Thanks so much for this heartfelt post. I often think of my library mentors and feel so lucky to have known them all:
    Mrs. Neth, my childhood librarian in North Reading, MA
    Charlotte Hegyi, the archivist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges who inspired me to apply to Simmons College GSLIS program
    Professor Maggie Bush whose passion for children’s and teen services drove my own love of the field
    Doris Seale at Brookline Public Library
    And my first supervisors after I became a “real” librarian: Rhoda Yeager and Marjorie Elwood
    Love them all!

  5. My former father-in-law, Glenn Estes, was a professor of library science at the University of Tennessee from 1967 until his death in 1996. When I decided to go to library school in 1990, he became my mentor and role model. He took me to my first ALA annual conference (1993-NOLA), paid for everything, and made sure we had tickets to the Newbery-Caldecott banquet. At that conference and through other special events, he introduced me to Margaret McElderry, Susan Cooper, Barbara Elleman, William Morris, Augusta Baker, Patricia & Fred McKissack, Ashley Bryan, and so many more greats. He taught me about service to the profession. He served on the Newbery-Caldecott committee twice (yes, it used to be a combined committee), and not long before his death, he chaired and organized the Arbuthnot Lecture. Because he served on a lot of ALSC and AASL committees, I just assumed that that’s what everyone did, and I volunteered as soon as I could. He taught me to look for authentic voices and cultural respect in writing and illustration. Using Molly Bang’s Picture This, he taught me how to look at picture books. He taught me that children deserve the very best in literature, in programming, and librarianship. Glenn died not long after I was elected to the 1997 Caldecott Committee and shortly before the birth of my daughter. In his honor, her first outing after birth was to a children’s bookstore. I keep Glenn in my heart, and I am thankful for his influence every day.

  6. Liz Gray hired me and nurtured my growth as a librarian at Dana Hall these many years. She is one of those librarians that naturally mentors although I remember formally confirming with her years ago that we indeed were going to maintain this relationship of mentor and mentee. How lucky that I scored the greatest friend and mentor in the school library biz. It should also be noted that David Wee is my library spirit animal and I aspire to be more like him every day.

  7. I want to say I am so moved by all of your memories of those who have mentored you and made a difference in your life as a librarian and as a person, because we all know that being a librarian is more a state of being than a career. Thank you for generously sharing your mentors with me. I know I couldn’t have made it through the past two months without all of you.

    • Nancy – your post invoked a wonderful reverie of past mentors, thanks for that. I’d also like to celebrate our many library colleagues—both physical and virtual—who daily teach and inspire us and help to make our libraries better places. You are one of these people, Nancy, always sharing your ideas and practices on the AISL listserv. Grateful!

  8. I remember going to my very first ALA conference in Atlanta. I was at a school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and looking for others in my type of school. I signed up for some kind of “private schools” event, and was stunned to find myself among librarians from so many renowned schools. One of the first to greet me was Diane Dayton from the Westminster schools. She took me under her wing, and really encouraged me to grow professionally, as well as to get involved with our professional organizations. In later years, she dragged me along to a meeting at St Albans, with a renegade group who wanted to start a separate organization just for independent school librarians, AISL! I am so grateful to her – and to this group – I learn so much from you every day.

  9. Thanks for a good reminder that without each other, mentors, and “upstanders,” we’d likely way over our heads. I, for one, could thank many, but the library director here at Pomfret who ushered me into this school and into this profession deserves the utmost recognition. Literally, if it weren’t for her….

  10. My first mentor was Elaine Warner at Friends Seminary, who took a not-quite-graduated library student under her wing and taught me what to do and how to be a librarian. She also encouraged me to apply for my job at Professional Children’s School, and has continued to be an inspiration. There were so many others, like Connie Corson, Barbara Lutz and others in HVLA, and also Debbie Abilock and Sara Kelly Johns at Knowledge Quest. I’m so grateful that many of those mentors are still available to bounce ideas off, to check my instincts and to remind me of what I want to be when I grow up!

  11. Nancy, this is perfectly timed. I was just remembering my own mentors with gratitude. Law Librarian Bob Berring was cheerfully creative giving me places to ‘intern’ while a Library Assistant (post MLIS) at Boalt Law Library, when I couldn’t make up my mind to anything. Lynn Angel (too long gone, sadly) gave me a boost into the world of Independent School Libraries once I headed to LA. Without them, I can’t imagine what blighted beach I’d wash up on. Thanks for the opportunity to thank these guiding lights. (Now, off to write a note to Bob!)

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