By Laura Birkenhauer, Student Success Librarian for Campus Engagement, Miami University Libraries
I’ve served in a formal capacity as both a mentor and a mentee, inside and outside of librarianship. We all know that mentoring is unquestionably hard work, but so is being a mentee — all that active listening, notetaking and actually showing your mentor you learned something by transforming your invisible, internal growth into a tangible product or plan. No matter what, though, there is an element of imbalance, as much as we might try to avoid it. Inside the traditional mentoring relationship, one is “student” and one is “teacher.” Which is why I’m such a fan of peer mentoring.
When done right, peer mentoring creates space for sharing knowledge without all the power dynamics. I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a number of peer mentoring programs that have positively impacted me personally and professionally. My goal with this post is to share the common elements that made these experiences work so well, from my perspective:
This is especially important if you’re participating in peer mentoring during work hours. Your supervisor not only authorizing but also advocating for your involvement in these peer mentoring activities is key.
Embrace a Goal, Agenda or Theme
While I personally feel this should go without saying for programs of any kind, it is worth pointing out. Just because you’re peers — without the intimidation factor forcing you to stay on task that perhaps comes along with sitdowns with superstar mentors or your boss’ boss — doesn’t mean your meetings should be a mindless waste of time. What works well if you need space to just check in or catch up? Intentionally plan for your informal time together, whether it’s to talk politics over a cup of coffee or hold an open brainstorming session. This way, you won’t spend too much valuable meeting time on topics that don’t fit into your overall goals.
Take a Field Trip
Keep the process interesting by going out and doing the thing! Are you beefing up your instructional skills with your peer mentor? Observe each other in class! Are you a group of early career librarians exploring the profession together? Plan a visit to another library for a tour and informational interviews with the staff.
Offering one another constructive, written or verbal feedback on previously agreed upon elements (see: goals) is a valuable element of peer mentoring. Whatever the aim of your program, you and your peer/peers will benefit from the input.
Peer mentoring can be a success when it includes the right components. I’d love to hear about others’ experiences with peer mentoring in the comments. What’s worked (or not worked) for the peer mentoring programs you’ve been a part of?