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Mentoring Lessons from the ViMLoC Mentorship Program

By Dan Bostrom posted 03-29-2021 11:27

Mentoring Lessons from the ViMLoC Mentorship Program
By Melissa Fraser-Arnott

Mentoring relationships are a powerful resource for personal and professional growth. Mentorship can be empowering and impactful for new, mid-career, and experienced librarians and information professionals seeking to grow either as a mentor or a mentee. These relationships can be particularly valuable for visible minority librarians.

The Leadership and Management Development Community Marketing Section connected with the Visible Minority Librarians of Canada (ViMLoC) Network mentorship program coordinators Yanli Li, Valentina Ly, and Xuemei Li about developing a successful mentoring program. They offer advice for mentors, mentees, and organizations.

What is the ViMLoC Mentorship Program?

The Visible Minority Librarians of Canada (ViMLoC) Network recognizes the need to help visible minority librarians, especially new librarians and new immigrant librarians, develop their professional careers, as well as the need to encourage and guide visible minority library students with career planning. Lack of mentorship is often cited as a challenge among visible minority librarians. The ViMLoC Mentorship Program recruits experienced visible minority librarians as potential mentors, as well as facilitates the matching of potential mentors to mentees. Through our 2018 and 2020 mentorship sessions we found that small acts of mentorship were able to make an impact for our mentees. Due to the demand and positive feedback we've had from the program, we will continue to offer the program annually while there is still a need.

What are the most important elements in a successful mentoring relationship?

Strong communication skills are key to the rapport building. Both mentors and mentees need to clearly communicate their expectations or thoughts to allow for a smooth and consistent exchange of information. Communication can be done using methods that both mentoring partners feel comfortable with: e-mail, text, phone, or in-person interaction. No matter what modes they adopt, communication between the pair needs to be professional, reliable, timely, and effective. Being open and honest is also important to building a successful relationship. The mentees would benefit more from the mentorship if they were able to share genuine interests and concerns with the mentor. A successful mentorship relationship also relies on flexibility on both sides. Be flexible about when and how to communicate. Sometimes meetings had to be rescheduled due to illness, projects, or other reasons. Being located in different provinces would require the mentoring partners to use emails, phones or online teleconferencing tools to communicate flexibly rather than relying on in-person interactions only.

What advice do you have for mentors?

Empathy, patience, willingness to share, and enthusiasm are all the good qualities that we see from excellent mentors. It's important for mentees to feel supported and have someone who is their professional cheerleader to encourage them. Mentors are able to provide comfort for the mentees so that they can be open about their concerns and pain points in career development and other issues. Moreover, be responsive to your mentees, otherwise they may feel discouraged from interacting. Mentees may have a different background and be relatively new to the profession, so mentors should be open-minded and non-judgemental when presented with a new perspective. Mentoring experiences are a great way to grow professionally, as it is not a one-way flow of information from mentor to mentee; mentors can learn a lot from their mentees as well. Listen carefully, understand the mentee’s needs, and provide relevant information or guidance. Mentors may not have all the answers for the mentee and that's okay. Reach out to someone in your network for answers or to refer the mentee to someone else.

What advice do you have for mentees?

Mentees are reminded to be mindful that mentors are volunteers. While they are there to guide you, they can be busy or have other priorities. Please be respectful of their time and effort and make sure they know they’re appreciated. Mentees are encouraged to take initiative to communicate with their mentors. They can start sharing their background with their mentors, e.g. CV or LinkedIn profile which helps break the ice to get familiar with each other. It is always helpful to schedule time in advance to communicate; short and more frequent communications are recommended for effective relationship building. Mentees’ clear and realistic goals are essential for a successful mentorship experience. We also recommend mentees seek out more than one mentor. Sometimes a mentor can assist you with one aspect of your professional development, but you might also want to grow in different areas that are unfamiliar to your mentor.

What advice do you have for organizations that are considering implementing a mentoring program?

You will need to decide on the structure of your program, for example, how long it formally takes place, how much support or training the program will provide to participants, how you will match mentoring pairs, etc. While we’ve had good results meeting the expectations of our participants, it can be hard to ensure that participants know what to expect from the program, especially when they are new to mentorship. While we want relationships to flourish naturally, it can benefit participants to have guidelines and some structured protocols in place to keep everyone on track. However, be mindful about what demands you put in place, as all participants are there voluntarily.

While we’ve consistently had high demand from mentees joining our program, we’ve had a much harder time ensuring that we have enough mentors. This is not unique to us and a trend we’ve noticed in other mentorship programs as well. For us that means that we have to tap into our network to meet the demand and advertise specifically for mentors. If you’re going to implement a mentoring program, ensure you have the resources to meet demand and start advertising it in a way that highlights the benefits for the mentor.

It would be valuable to collect feedback from participants after the mentorship program to learn how you can improve it in the future. While we don’t have much control over what happens with our volunteer mentors and mentees, we always ask participants to fill out a follow-up survey to learn more about how they experienced the program. Without this feedback, we might not have realized how important this mentorship program could be for visible minority librarians to connect with others like them.


Xuemei Li.

Xuemei Li graduated from UBC iSchool and currently works as a Data Services Librarian at York University. Her focus and specialty is on finance and other business data to support York University communities. Xuemei’s research interests are scholarly communication and research impact evaluation.

Yanli Li.

Yanli Li, PhD Economics, MLIS, is the Business and Economics Librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University. Prior to working as a librarian, she was an associate professor in China where she taught courses and engaged in research focusing on privatization of public services and supply chain management. Her current research focuses on academic librarianship and information seeking behaviors of diverse library users.

Valentina Ly.

Valentina Ly is a Research Librarian for HMSTEM disciplines at the University of Ottawa. She formerly worked at Sinai Health in Toronto, assisting research and managing the patient library. She is currently involved in many projects on diversity in librarianship through the Ontario Library Association’s Cultural Diversity & Inclusion Task Force and the Visible Minority Librarians of Canada network.

Melissa Fraser-Arnett.

Melissa Fraser-Arnott is the Co-Chair of the Leadership and Management Division’s Marketing Section. She is the Chief of Integrated Reference Services at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada. Melissa has a PhD from the SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD Program and an MLIS from the University of Western Ontario.