This month children’s librarians from all over the country will gather in Oakland, California for the biennial ALSC Institute. There are educational sessions including libraries’ roles in early education, better ways to connect our customers to information, tips on how to be at the “community table” and even, this time around, a trip to fairy land. It is an exciting and inspiring event; to be among so many people who share our passion and commitment.
The greatest value of the Institute though is the space and time to really connect to our colleagues. In the busy worlds of libraries today with the competing demands of customers, stakeholders and administration, made more urgent by shrinking budgets, most of us have little time to consider what drives us to this work. A weekend sharing knowledge and energy is just the thing to recharge.
Even if you can’t get to California, reaching out to like-minded colleagues is a wonderful way to find energy you are sure you just don’t have. ALSC is built on a tradition of mentorship and the street is gleefully both ways. In our modern environment of 24/7 virtual connections, even time zones can’t keep mentor from mentee and vice versa.
It isn’t always easy to get our heads around mentoring. Sometimes we feel we can’t possibly have anything of value to say to another professional. We haven’t been doing this long enough or we have been doing it too long. We aren’t experts. There are things we just don’t know. These perceived gaps of excellence are the very steps to connecting in meaningful ways to others. Ask a question. Offer to go to lunch. Send an email. Tweet passionately or Facebook someone who intrigues you. All of us can name a person who guided us in our lives. It all began, long ago or just last week, with a conversation. So speak up in whatever way works for you.
Mentoring is like friendship. To find one you need to be one. That is the real truth of it. While those of us in California may come away with new ways of thinking about our work, hopefully we will also come away with at least one new friend be it mentor or mentee. We are everywhere. You don’t have to be in fairy land to find us.