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Pandemic Connections: Being an ALSC Mentor/Mentee in 2021

The ALSC Mentoring program seeks to match individuals with an interest in library service to children together to learn from each other and support ALSC’s goals. Each person comes to the program with their own hopes, ideas and experiences and the program is well structured to support both mentor and mentee in connecting productively over a fairly short period of time, January- June.

Why did you choose to participate in the Mentor program in 20-21? How has the experience been so far? What about challenges?

Emily: I am a first time participant. Although I’ve never had an official ALSC mentor, many patient librarians have informally mentored me for more than two decades, and I wanted to show my gratitude by offering my time. The experience of working from home during the pandemic caused me to crave connection and also removed any trepidation I had about meeting online. I was also hoping to connect with someone far away who had different ideas and challenges who I could learn from.

Being a mentor has exceeded my expectations. I was delighted to be connected to Jennifer in December. She is a creative and inspiring person with a unique perspective in a special place I have never visited, Hawaii. I’ve learned we have a lot in common in our professional experiences of the pandemic. Although I’m in what she calls “Admin” in New York and she is a youth services librarian in a branch, we are grappling with the same questions of how to serve our patrons during this time. For instance, Jennifer coordinated and edited this awesome video to promote her library system’s recommended reads for kids. My team at NYPL has also been making creative videos with librarians and authors about our Best Books for Kids.

As far as challenges, I’m sad I can’t visit Jennifer’s library or meet her at a conference and buy her dinner. But those are not essential tasks of a mentor even when we are not experiencing a pandemic and the ALSC mentorship program is well designed for remote work. Each pair sets a goal and works toward it during their regular meetings. 

Our goal is to support Jennifer in developing a conference presentation on how public libraries can help homeschooled students. This has given us an interesting research opportunity and topic to share knowledge with a goal in sight of applying to present to the Hawaii Library Association conference this winter. According to this NPR report from March, homeschooling doubled during the pandemic, so we anticipate this will be a growing need and area for enhanced programming for our national School Age audience in public libraries.

Jennifer: I am thankful to have another opportunity to participate in the ALSC Mentoring program after the COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2019-2020 round and am glad ALSC refined the project guidelines for the 2020-2021 cycle, which helped me narrow down a manageable project. In both cases, my mentors and I could discuss how we and our libraries were navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and also support each other during work from home periods. Emily is an enthusiastic mentor and immediately suggested monthly virtual video chats, which I think really helped us to connect personally and professionally. In Hawaii, there is only one public library system in the state, so one thing that appealed to me about the ALSC Mentoring program was the opportunity to connect with and learn from a public librarian from another location and system. I wasn’t quite expecting to get matched with a librarian from (literally) the opposite end of the country, but despite the challenges of the time zone differences I have had another wonderful experience with the ALSC Mentoring program and highly recommend it to other new librarians and recent graduates.  

My presentation on homeschooling is inspired by both the rise in homeschooling during this pandemic and also the somewhat mis-use of the term for at home learners, the students and families who were suddenly forced to school from home because of the pandemic. As a homeschool graduate, it hurt to see people equating my upbringing with pandemic-induced quarantined schooling: the experience of being stuck at home all day doing your work and reinforcing the negative stereotypes of being isolated and socialization problems homeschoolers can still regularly face. In reality, many homeschoolers also were affected by stay at home orders, unable to socialize and learn together at co-ops, extracurricular activities cancelled, and sporting events and travel postponed. When I did a small email inquiry, it surprised me that many of my colleagues, though familiar with the concept, had a lot of questions that I thought were common knowledge about homeschooling. Along with my presentation, I hope to share some ideas of how librarians nationwide are helping both homeschoolers and distance/virtual learners. 

You can get in touch with us through the contact information below if you are interested in contributing to Jennifer’s project. 

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.

Jennifer Fuchikami uses the term “The Artist Librarian” to describe her educational background of a BA in studio art and her MLISc. Besides representing her two passions, it also reflects her goal to instill a lifelong love of reading, creativity, and learning in all patrons regardless of age.  She adores being a Youth Services Librarian at the Kapolei Public Library in Hawai’i and is excited to welcome children, teens, and their families back into our library spaces. Get in touch with her here

Emily Nichols is the Associate Director of Children’s Services at The New York Public Library. She’s a member of the School Age Programs and Services committee of ALSC. Emily has been creatively and collaboratively supporting children’s learning in public libraries since 2003. Her recreational interests include bird watching, mycology, and fiber arts. Reach her at

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