“Mentor” on my spotlight tool is defined as a highly trusted advisor.
Really, that sort of open-endedness leads me into my spiral of deep thought en la madrugada when I can’t get back to sleep.
tl;dr: with respect to youth services in librarianship, is it mentorship, or is it pseudo-parental-figureship, or is it both? and will it always be this way with working with teens and children? more than anything, mentorship hinges on the emotional connection between people.
2nd warning: lots of soapbox below – over 1000 rambling words.
Three instances happened today — and I need to flesh it out.
(1) Today, a colleague from my former library put me on the phone with one of the kids who used to come to the library often — “T.” I asked him about his art, told him I missed him and would visit soon; he said the more he practiced (art), the better he got. I love T to bits and pieces; from what I know of his family life, it isn’t easy. He needs a lot of attention, but demonstrates it in a much quieter, brooding fashion compared to his overly energetic brother, “Y”, who bursts through the library doors huffing and puffing and continues to run around in the facility until you engage him in some activity.
My colleagues and I (or maybe just me) unabashedly played favorites; T and Y were on the top of the list for awesome-library-patrons-who-pretty-much-ran-the-show. Lots of love went their way, from pinning up their artwork to the Children’s Desk and all around my office, to making sure T got coloring pencils with erasers (he complained to me once about how he couldn’t erase coloring pencil mistakes) and the latest Naruto volumes that our stretched budget could get; from making sure that Y got extra time on the computer for his games (but still needed his time monitored because that can easily be 6 hours down the drain), that both T and Y managed to get some space from each other in the facility, and to undivided attention from all the staff throughout the day. (And to the last part, I remember us clearly tagging each other out in shifts).
Most of these interactions, very clearly, I can say were parental. But T’s interest in art moved on from just needing encouragement, to needing refinement. And there, I think, was the transition into mentorship. From encouragement to use color, to practice, to look at more examples… to knowing when giving a blind compliment would be a detriment to his improvement.
But could I have been able to give that kind of mentorship without first becoming this pseudo-parental figure? Could anyone?
(2) Again, from my former library branch. My colleague told me that “F”, teen patron, asked him to wish me Happy Mother’s Day, because he considered me his mother. There’s a lot of backstory to this; sometimes its a joke, other times it makes me cry. I’ve now known F for 2.5 years, and he’s going to be a brilliant grown-up and change the world. But much in the same way as T and Y, he needed care and concern, and found it in the library, his second home, away from the rigors of school and strict academia. In fact, I think that the strict academia bothered him so much that he loved the library even more as a symbol of free information and creativity. I’ve pulled all kinds of subject material for him, from old english poetry, to post-modern lit, to sappy YA fiction; meanwhile, others have pulled for him political and historical writings. He loves dancing, playing the piano, acting, robotics, long-winded open-ended existential discussions, but is pursuing neuroscience.
Once, he came up to me in a existential crisis (an old soul in his then 17-years) worried about all his varied interests, and wondering when he would ever get the chance to complete them all. I sat with him for an hour, just letting him talk it out, and telling him that he has time, and that because he is so interested in everything — he might always feel this way in different degrees, in different stages — but that it ultimately gets better. I told him that its exceptional to be so talented and that he shouldn’t be too worried, though its easier said than done.
He called me today in the evening for a quick catch-up; I guess passing along the message from my colleague spurred it on. He finished up his Associates, was transferring over to a university, and promised to visit soon to my new job.
And again, throughout those interactions, I question whether or not I would have been in the right place or had the right context to be a mentor if I also wasn’t jokingly “Mom”?
(3) After a full festival day at work, coordinating and organizing the teen volunteers, “E”, one of my newest and favorite teen volunteers was the last to go home. He worked hard with his riotously flamboyant and confident self, bringing people to our makeshift photobooth in the teen area, and finding ways to send people their photos on our old iPad3. Self-directed and a know-it-all, E is already 19 and is feeling some real world realities.
Before he leaves, he asks “Miss, Do you have any kids?”
“Nope. Just a dog and a cat.”
“Nu uh, Miss. You have like 5 kids.”
“Yeah. At least 5. One of them sees you at least every Wednesday and Friday, and he’s in front of you right now.”
Of the four months that I’ve been at this library, I’ve known E for about one. That tugged on my heartstrings big time.
Maybe its the way I approach my work. I’m finding that mentorship is less defined by teaching, and more by teachable moments, conversations, and a real connection. I don’t think it can be a word loosely thrown around. And maybe with youth librarianship, that parental-figure-thing is unavoidable in order to forge that lasting relationship.
And eventually, if you leave that library, the connections that were made there will form their opinion of the facility — so make it a positive one.
Lord, I’ve rambled for over 1000 words. draft. may not come back to it. hitting publish.