Step Up to the Plate: Archival mentorship for students and early professionals

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post about early career mentorship comes from Adriana Flores, Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

As an early professional, my path to becoming an archivist has been filled with mentors. I have no doubt that I would have eventually made it to where I am today on my own, but I arrived much faster with the help and guidance of professional mentors. Although I was extremely lucky to have multiple mentors who prepared me for graduate school and assisted me in my career, not every young archivist is provided that service. Since I made the transition to full-time archivist and now supervise student employees and interns, I have contemplated what makes a good mentor and how to become one myself. I explored archival literature, interviewed people I know throughout the field, and reflected on my own personal experiences in the hopes of starting a greater conversation on how to become a mentor and why mentorship is vital in our field.

Be open and willing to share with others

Archivists first need to be open and willing to share with others. There have been many conversations lately about archivists moving away from a “gate-keeping” mentality, which we can practice not only with our patrons but with our students and early professionals. If archivists are more willing to openly share their experiences with others, within and beyond the profession, then our profession will be much more visible and approachable. In an article entitled “Mentored learning in Special Collections: Undergraduate archival and rare books internships,” the authors elaborate on this point in the context of student internships:

It is imperative for all library professionals, regardless of their responsibilities, to reach out to and mentor individuals who are interested in our profession if it is to remain relevant and vibrant in the future…By creating meaningful internship experiences for our students and volunteers, at the very least we will engender goodwill for our profession and create future ambassadors for our institutions and for our professional role in society. (page 60)

By being open and sharing knowledge with others, archivists can generate mentorship opportunities.

Actively look for mentoring opportunities

Next, I encourage all archivists to actively look for opportunities to become mentors. Although outgoing students will often seek out mentors themselves, it drastically helps when the mentor takes initiative and identifies mentorship opportunities themselves. If you actively search for opportunities to share knowledge, either through a workplace supervision role, at a local LIS program, or at a conference, you will foster potential mentoring relationships.

One of the easiest ways to become a mentor is through supervisory work. When asked about the main difference between a supervisor and mentor, Simmons College’s Professor Donna Webber responded:

I would say a supervisor directs and instructs work and the relationship usually ends when the internship ends. A mentor develops a long-lasting relationship and helps guide a new archivist into the profession. (Webber, personal interview)

If you are hoping to transition from supervisor to mentor, talk with supervisees about life beyond daily responsibilities. Ask them to take part in office meetings, explain the institution’s organizational structure, or discuss archival trends and issues with them. All of these actions will instill confidence in your protégé and will help guide them through their early career.

Don’t let your age or length of career stop you from mentoring

Even if you are a young archivist, I recommend thinking about becoming a mentor, even if you’re also a protégé. It is hard to recognize when you have learned enough to pass on knowledge, but in my experience it happens much quicker than you would expect. One of my past fellow interns and the current Project Archivist at Hoover Institution Archives, Paige Davenport, spoke with me recently about her attitude towards becoming a mentor as an early professional. She shared:

Although I have not participated in an official mentorship program, in my current position I supervise two graduate interns. It is my hope that I can guide them into the field as my internship supervisors did for me, as well as excite them about being part of this field. (Davenport, personal interview)

Like Paige, you do not need to participate in an official mentorship program to become a mentor. Start small if you’re concerned about your qualifications, but never pass up an opportunity to help and advise others due to your age or number of years in the profession.

Support mentorship programs

My last suggestion is to support any and all archival mentorship programs, especially programs that focus on diversity. Mentorship programs provide structure and resources for professionals who are new to mentoring, and they provide an avenue for students and early professionals to seek guidance and support. Mentorship programs are vital to the survival of the profession and programs that emphasize diversity are key to making our profession more reflective of the society we live in. Marginalized groups of people deal with many professional barriers and mentorship may help young archivists from these groups successfully navigate the workplace. If our profession is to grow and prosper, then we need to support the amazing mentorship programs that are available and create more to address the profession’s shifting needs.

Avenues for mentoring

Here are a few resources to explore if you’re interested in becoming a mentor:

  • Become a SAA Mentor. Learn more about the SAA Mentoring program here.
  • If you can attend the annual meeting, become a SAA conference navigator and advise a student or early professional through the experience. Keep an eye open on information regarding this program as SAA 2017 approaches.
  • Support any of the Association of Research Library’s diversity programs, especially their joint program with SAA, the Mosaic Program.
  • See if your regional association has a formalized mentorship program, such as the Northwest Archivist Mentorship Program or the New England Archivist Mentoring Program. If not, and you’re willing, start one up!
  • ALA’s Libraries Transform has a broader range of library and information science mentorship opportunities if none of the above hit the mark.

Please share other suggestions for mentorship opportunities and mentoring in the comments. I hope that this has been thought provoking and helpful; I owe a lot to the mentors in my life and I hope I’m doing my part by becoming a mentor myself and keeping the conversation going.



Adriana Flores is the Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. She graduated in 2016 with her MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archives Management. Currently, Adriana is also a contributor for SNAP’s “Year in the Life” blog series.



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