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Harvard Library Strategic Conversations Hosts 'Modern Mentoring' Event

Panel discussion and break-out groups to gain career insight.


October 2, 2012—What does it mean to be a modern mentor?  Hours reading a colleague’s papers, weekly formal meetings?


Not at all, said Darla White, records manager and archivist for the Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library and chair of the HLSC Mentoring Working Group. Modern mentoring is self-directed and frequently reciprocal, and can be as informal as asking a co-worker out to coffee and asking questions about his or her career path and expertise.


Harvard Library Strategic Conversations sponsored “Modern Mentoring” on September 28. The event was structured as a panel discussion with break-out sessions during which attendees discussed their mentoring experiences, brainstormed ideas and perhaps established new mentoring relationships.


“I was informally mentored by a librarian for 20 years,” said panelist Jane Eichkern, manager for metadata and cataloging for Harvard Library Information and Technical Services. “I’ve also been teaching a mentoring-based singing class at the Boston Center for Adult Education for 33 years. We’ve have many tone-deaf students come to class, and without positive mentorship they would never be able to get up in front of the class and sing.”


Helen Shenton, executive director for the Harvard Library, noted, "In my experience, there are many different types of personal and professional development under the broad umbrella of 'mentoring.' Many people I know have benefitted from different types of mentoring at various points in their careers—I am very supportive of this initiative and very appreciative of the HLSC for creating this event."


The initiative reinforces that mentorship can mean as little chatting with colleagues while waiting for the elevator. Panelists encouraged participants to be open both to mentoring and being mentored. The HLSC Working Group mission statement notes that “mentoring requires the active participation of individuals to nurture and focus their aspirations toward tangible goals through mindful reciprocal relationship building.”


Panelists emphasized the importance of  taking the initiative. Staff members interested in moving forward in their careers should seek out a team of mentors with varied accomplishments and skill sets. “I have experience participating in a formal mentoring program at the Harvard Medical School,” said panelist Wendy Brown, access and reference assistant at the Countway Library. “But most people have told me that they feel more successful when they establish informal mentoring relationships with colleagues.”


Since initiating the event as part of the HLSC series, White said she has read a great deal about how to initiate successful mentoring relationships. In doing so, she realized that quite a few alliances she had built over the years were, in fact, mentoring relationships, and that every conversation could be an opportunity to be mentored if you were paying attention. “In my conversations with panelists before the event, one person said something that really resonated with me,” White said. “‘In the next two weeks ask out one person who is older than you and one person who’s younger and ask about both of their career paths and expertise. That’s the best way to learn.’”


“Modern Mentoring” was organized by Darla White and sponsored by the HLSC.


The event was moderated by Kyle Courtney, document delivery librarian for the Harvard Law School Library.


The five panelists were:

  • Wendy Brown, Access and Reference Assistant, Countway Library
  • Jane Eichkern, Manager for Metadata and Cataloguing, Information and Technical Services, Harvard Library
  • Kimberly Hall, Learning Technologies Manager, Harvard Law School Library
  • Joshua Parker, Head of Access Services for Humanities and Social Sciences, Harvard Library
  • Lisa Schwallie, Chief Financial Officer, Harvard Library.


Click here to join the HLSC Modern Mentoring LinkedIn network.


The HLSC Mentoring working group also created a Library Guide with mentoring resources for librarians and archivists here.


Learn more about Harvard Library Strategic Conversations here.