Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Mentoring / shadowing

Steve Cohen has a post today about mentoring. His starts off by talking about a workshop that he and I both spoke at in Binghamton, NY, for the Upstate NY Chapter of SLA. The Chapter has adopted the technique of assigning student "shadows" for the day to each speaker. My shadow was introduced to me first thing in the morning. I talked informally with her during the morning breaks and was seated with her at lunch. She then introduced me when my turn came to present and will write an article about my presentation for the Chapter's Bulletin. As far as mentoring goes, this was very limited, but I'm sure it gave her information and a view of the industry that she might not have gotten otherwise.

So here's my question. How can we set up these types of "shadowing" arrangements for students at our places of work? Could we have students come and shadow us for a day, so they can see what the work is really like? No, I'm not talking about an information interview, but truly having someone follow us and see the exciting moments, the boring moments, the information we handle, the decisions we make, etc.

Having a student shadow someone during his first semester would help the student understand what he needs to learn and why. It might also help the student sort out what he wants to do after graduation (something that is often a moving target). And having someone around for a day who is new the profession could help to rejuvenate us.

In every semester, I have student do interviews with library managers or people in charge of collections that might be digitized. I've found that this really helps the student understand libraries (and other cultural heritage organizations) from a viewpoint that they have not seen before -- the viewpoint of the manager. It is often a real eye-opener for them. In a few cases, it has led to internships. Sometimes it has made the students realize how broad a field this is.

An interview is not the same as shadowing, but it helps the students. Now let's open the doors for those shadowing experiences. Perhaps you should ask the next student who interviews you for a class assignment if she would like to shadow you for a day?

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