Completing a degree is daunting. Which classes are the most useful? Which skills are your profession looking for? How can you ensure you are employable? While I was completing my Master of Information Studies degree at McGill University, the Mentorship Program from the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) was the only mentorship opportunity I was aware of for archive students. This program requires students to purchase an ACA membership to participate, which I could not afford at the time. Instead, I explored different avenues for connecting with archivists to gain guidance and support. As I graduated during COVID-19, I also adapted to virtual methods for creating mentor relationships. Here are some tips for finding mentors that I hope will benefit other Library and Information Studies (LIS) students and recent graduates.
Get Involved in Student Associations
Student associations are a great way to connect with other students to gain insight. Students who are soon-to-be graduates are familiar with the program and the professors. In some cases, these students have professional experience in the field. They can give you advice and ideas for completing your program and gaining experience. Student associations allow incoming students to establish a support system to help navigate a new program. While I was studying at McGill, I joined the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) student chapter and the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) student chapter. I met several students in their second year who were happy to speak to me regularly about their experiences. They gave advice on gaining practical experience in the program, networking, and finding employment in archives. Student associations also provide opportunities that are otherwise not available in the program. Student associations organize a variety of activities such as symposiums, workshops, and tours. During my time at McGill, a student association organized a workshop at a digitization lab on campus. In this workshop, students received training and gained practical experience digitizing various materials with different scanners. This workshop provided students with an opportunity that was not available in the School of Information Studies course offerings. As most LIS programs are currently virtual, these student associations may provide opportunities in the form of virtual tours, workshops, and presentations.
You do not have to join an Official Mentorship Program to have a Mentor
It is possible to secure a mentor through informal methods. Your program will provide you with opportunities to connect with professionals. This may be in the form of a guest lecturer or a special event. While you may not be able to approach them in person, you can virtually introduce yourself and ask questions. You can also find their email, Twitter, or LinkedIn and invite them to speak with you one on one. Some of these professionals will be open to virtually speaking with you in a mentorship capacity. Remember that your professors can be a valuable resource as well. Your professors are connected to a large network of professionals. In my first year at McGill, I approached one of my professors and told him I was interested in digital archiving. He suggested that I speak to John Richan, a McGill alumnus who is employed as the Digital Archivist for the Records Management and Archives Department at Concordia University. I met with John and we had a great conversation. I decided that I wanted to meet with him again so I asked if he would like to mentor me. John happily agreed and we met several times during my studies. Through my mentorship, I learned more about his time at McGill, his position as a Digital Archivist, and the experiences that led to his employment. John also sent me employment opportunities, spoke to me about volunteer opportunities, and supervised me for GLIS 689 Selected Topics. In this project, I preserved print photographs from a family album and created a digital archive on Scalar. This project was a hands-on experience that helped me secure employment. The project can be found here.
Email and Social Media are your Friends
You may become aware of a professional through a blog post, a publication, or even a staff directory. Find them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. You should also search for professionals who work in positions you find interesting and connect with them online. This is a great way to make yourself known in the field. These professionals can see your ideas or examples of your work and they may like, comment, or share your content. Reach out to them. This can lead to a new connection, a mentorship, or even employment. If they are not active online, then contact them through email. As a recent graduate, I have connected with several archivists through email, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These archivists have been helpful in sharing my content with their network, providing me with information, and sharing tips for finding employment. Recently, I connected with Rebecca Hankins, who is an Archivist for Texas A&M University Libraries. I wrote Rebecca an email to discuss her presentation “Capturing Controversy and Digitizing Racism: Yearbooks at Texas A&M University.” Since our initial conversation, we have developed a professional relationship. Rebecca has supported me in several ways, including providing me with suggestions for my resume and cover letter, reviewing a workshop proposal, and providing resources for my presentations.
See Everything as an Opportunity
Networking does not have to be limited to formal associations and networking events. You can join online interest groups, volunteer, and complete internships and practicums. Through these opportunities, you may be connected to more professionals who can support you. While I was completing an archive internship, the archivist offered me the opportunity to tour 3 archives I was interested in. I toured the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Archives, the Law Society of Ontario Archives, and the University of Toronto Archives & Records Management Services (UTARMS). At UTARMS, I connected with Tys Klumpenhouwer, who is the University Archivist and lecturer for the Faculty of Information. At the time, I was enrolled in INF2175H Managing Organizational Records I at the Faculty of Information. I was interested in speaking further with Tys. I contacted him to ask if he would like to mentor me and Tys happily agreed. Amongst other things, Tys gave me advice about my course, spoke to me about his career, introduced me to several professionals, and gave me tours. Through Tys, I was connected to other archivists and I secured a practicum position at The Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University. While these times are challenging, it is still possible to connect with professionals virtually and gain meaningful support. Put yourself out there, you never know how a connection can help you.
Are you a LIS student or recent graduate that is interested in speaking with me further about my experiences? You can connect with me on LinkedIn or reach me by email at melissa.j.nelson[at]outlook.com