Posted by: hannah jo | June 16, 2009

Some mentor love

I was actually going to write YET ANOTHER post related to the Sounders, but feel shy about doing that after Lori’s last post. I’ll save my latest Sounders blather for later.

Right now, though, I want to write a few words in honor of mentors. If you don’t have one, go get one as soon as possible. I don’t know where I would be without mine. I feel tremendously fortunate to have had three librarian mentors during the past 8 years. And, I feel even more fortunate that I am still learning from those three women today.

Nancy Pearl, of course, is one of those mentors. Long before I took the GRE and enrolled in graduate school, I listened to Nancy on the radio and read as many of her book recommendations as I could. I even called in to KUOW once, during one of those “good books for summer” types of shows they do every year with her, and was immediately spun into orbit when Nancy purred “You have excellent taste in books” in response to my suggestions. Then I knew I HAD to become a librarian! I met her at a couple of book-related events and found her to be even more charming in person than she was on the radio. In grad school, I was one of those lucky MLIS students who got to take her two readers’ advisory classes and got to know her pretty well. I learned more in those two classes than I did in almost all of my other grad school classes combined. She has been a wonderful friend and teacher since then, in so many ways.

Another one of my mentors is someone I met when I was about half-way through grad school. She was a librarian at the Ballard Branch who kindly accepted my request to “shadow” her for four hours so I could write up my observations for a reference class I was taking. I watched her for two two-hour sessions and my brain kind of exploded. I honestly had no clue what librarians really did until I watched her do her job. My grad school program was pathetic about teaching public librarianship (except for Nancy and one or two other instructors) and, really, you don’t get what it’s like to serve people in a public library until you sit on the librarian’s side of the desk, so perhaps a class wouldn’t have helped. I wrote in my school assignment that watching Ellen do her job at the Ballard Library was a revelation and it was. I felt like a giant door opened in my brain as a result of those four hours. Not only did I get to see an outstanding librarian do her job in a calm and quiet way (in other words, pretty much the opposite of my natural inclinations), I made a connection with this woman that to this day I don’t fully understand. You know that scene in The Breakfast Club when Molly Ringwald is fixing Ally Sheedy’s hair and doing her makeup and Ally Sheedy asks Molly Ringwald why she’s being so nice to her? And Molly Ringwald says, “Because you’re letting me”? I feel just like Ally Sheedy. I don’t know why Ellen was so nice to me then and has been unfailingly nice to me and supportive of me since then, but it’s made a world of difference in my life. Now I have the honor of working with Ellen and learning from her every time we’re scheduled together and I really cannot believe my luck.

hjp_monica1The other mentor to whom I am greatly indebted is Monica, the librarian at Lily’s former elementary school (there we are, to the right, when we were clearly much younger!). She taught me an amazing amount, and like Nancy and Ellen, always did it with an abundant amount of humor, humility, honesty, and generosity. I volunteered there for years, absorbing everything I could about children’s books, circulation procedures, and how a big, busy library can run so smoothly with just one in-demand librarian. I watched her make powerful connections with young readers that I am certain will fuel a desire to read in those children for many years. She was so very kind to me and so accepting of my schedule needs and limitations (and she tolerated my many, many questions!). Today, just for fun, Lily and I volunteered to help her work on the school library end-of-year inventory and it was a great way to spend a day. We worked hard, got a lot done, and were able to catch up on everything we’ve been through in the past year. It was totally delightful!

So, let’s hear it for mentors. Go get one. Or become one. Or love one. You will be glad you did.


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