Empowering Archivists Through Mentoring

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Below is a post from Alison Stankrauff about mentoring in the archival profession. 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 archivesissues@gmail.com.

In crafting a blog post for Archivists on the Issues, I thought to largely take content from my recently co-authored article on mentoring that appeared in the Journal of Western Archives. Here are sections pieced together that are most pertinent to the key segue way between mentoring those who are new to the profession – or mentoring peers in the profession – and advocacy, and advocating for one’s self as a professional and for one’s institution.

Archivists, like most technical professionals, must deal with myriad issues on a daily basis. They include meeting the demands of learning the latest in arrangement and description standards, new content management systems, administration issues and, in some cases, navigating the tenure process.

Mentoring is a philosophy built upon the idea of advising or passing along wisdom and knowledge to a younger, or lesser experienced, colleague in one’s field. Library science programs, and by extension archival programs, do a good job of preparing students for the professional world. Yet there are many issues and skills that an education program cannot address, but which a Mentor can. In an ever-changing and demanding field like archiving, the Mentor/Protégé relationship has become increasingly important, yet, it is not being used as widely or fully as it could be within the archival field.

The lack of a Mentoring system within our own field makes the goal of preserving history for future generations harder to achieve, as mentoring, through best practice information, helps ensure the most complete historical record.   Mentoring, in and of itself, connects the past with the future. In addition, Archivists also have the goal of attracting and keeping people in our field who are passionate about archiving. Mentoring helps to satisfy that goal by smoothing the road, while sharing the passion of historical preservation. Archivists have had an informal mentoring system for years. We know that the greatest asset to any archivist is the archival community, and by sharing successes and failures, the whole community benefits.

New professionals face a unique paradox: you need experience to get the position, but you can’t get the position until you have experience. To expect a new professional to have the experience of a seasoned archivist is impossible, but to become seasoned a new professional needs to start somewhere. It is the job of the Mentor to help the Protégé gain confidence in their skills, point out resources, and offer guidance. Issues like advocacy and how to deal with budget shortfalls work differently for lone arrangers with little or no support. Lone Arrangers are often asked to take on many additional roles outside the archival scope. Protégés need help with how to cope with taking on non-archival roles like curator, administrator, teacher, and programming. The SAA Mentoring Program facilitates the peer-to-peer mentoring, which takes much of the pressure off the Protégé. A Mentor in a similar situation can offer insights others cannot.

Alison Stankrauff is the Archivist and an Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend.