Why be a mentor?

By Christina Zamon

During my time as an SAA member, I have had the honor and privilege of being a mentor for six protégés. Some of them were fleeting relationships, but a few have turned into long lasting friendships.

Why be a mentor?  Early in my career I asked that question, and thought I didn’t have enough experience to be a mentor … but I was wrong. Anyone can be a mentor regardless of how long you have been an archivist. Many colleagues seeking mentors are at a variety of points in their career, and can bring a different perspective to an issue a colleague is facing. Something as simple as moving from a government job to an academic job can feel like starting over. Sometimes a colleague is stuck in a rut and just needs some encouragement or a graduate student is seeking advice on what to expect when they graduate. I have been a mentor for colleagues in a variety of situations and have found it to be incredibly rewarding.

Recently I began reflecting on some of the people I have mentored over the years, and one stood out in particular. Back in 2011, I received an email from SAA asking if I would be willing to take on a second protégé. Since my current protégé wasn’t very active in seeking advice or keeping in touch, I agreed to take on one more. I found out that the person requesting a mentor was looking for a colleague in the Boston area so that she would have the chance to meet a regular basis. Once matched, we quickly set a time to meet each other for lunch. From the outset, it became apparent that she was looking for someone with experience at a higher level of supervision and management than what I had. My title led the matchmakers at SAA to believe that I was in charge of a staff, when really, I was a lone arranger. It turned out that we were peers rather than a typical mentor/protégé, but we decided to keep at it and formed a peer mentoring relationship. We met regularly, and after a few meetings with each other expanded our mentorship circle by adding another peer, and yet one more a few months later to form a four-person peer mentoring group within the span of a year. As a group, we met every few months for dinner after work to discuss issues we were having as mid-career archivists. We talked each other through tough decisions, gave advice, and made suggestions on how we could improve our individual situations or move on to a position that would take us to “the next level” in our careers. Not only did we all become close friends over the last five years, but three of us have moved into different positions to advance our careers as well, expanding our personal ambitions and goals.

This is just one example of how being a mentor has not only shaped my life, but the lives of other archivists in the profession by giving just a few hours each year to my protégés. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me, and one that has enriched both my life and career as an archivist. If you haven’t tried being a mentor, I strongly encourage you to become one. You may find that it was the best thing you’ve ever done, not only for yourself, but for others. Who knows, you may just make a few lifetime friends along the way.

Christina Zamon is the Head of Special Collections and University Archives at Georgia State University, a position she has held since September 2016. Prior to that time, she served as Head of Archives and Special Collections at Emerson College. She is the author of The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository. She is currently a member of the College and University Archives Section’s Steering Committee and previously served as chair of the section (2014-2015).


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