Media mentorship is a new term referring to an old role that librarians have been playing for a long time. But it also reflects a new way of thinking. No longer are librarians the experts on a single format—books. They are now the connectors, the link between patrons and information in multiple formats. Today those formats may be books, audiobooks, and apps, but what about a year from now? What will be the best of the new media or latest technology to support early literacy, struggling readers, or aspiring engineers?
Librarians and youth services staff members are already experienced and qualified mentors, but the real question is: Will librarians continue to be the trusted source for media and literacy needs in all their forms? For media mentors, the answer is yes.
In order for individual youth services staffers to successfully take on the role of media mentor, they need to be amply supported by their peers, managers, administration, professors, and professional organizations. This support can manifest in a number of ways, such as access to professional development, inclusion of media mentor needs in budgetary priorities, hiring practices, advocacy, and moral support.
For many librarians, the path to successful media mentorship begins well before the first day on the job. Many library and information science graduate programs across the country have heeded the call for a media mentorship approach to library service and have begun incorporating coursework that supports new librarians to serve as media mentors. Classes like “Youth Development and Information Behavior in a Digital Age” at the University of Washington’s iSchool cover such topics as theories of human development and then ask students to apply those theories to youth information behavior and digital media use at various developmental stages.
Students enrolled in other programs get a taste of media mentorship also. Future librarians at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science are exposed to the ideas of media mentorship and multimedia programming in a course called “Programming and Services for Children and Young Adults.” San José State University’s coursework for aspiring youth services librarians includes “Early Childhood Literacy” as well as “Materials for Children,” both of which incorporate presentations, readings, and discussions about digital media and children.
Mentoring the mentors
Depending on the library and available resources, mentoring mentors already in the field will take place differently. Professional development for practicing media mentors may include participation in learning opportunities such as full-day, in-person trainings; shorter workshops; state or national conferences; youth services–specific institutes; or recorded webinars. Ongoing training for media mentors might also incorporate informal peer-to-peer mentoring, paid time to explore and play with devices or technologies, subscriptions to review sources that deal directly with new media (such as Children’s Technology Review), and the opportunity to experiment with media-based programs in the library. As with any new skill, managers should understand that the human learning process is iterative and that making mistakes or dealing with glitches are part of becoming proficient.
Informal personalized learning networks
As library-school students move into the field and veteran library staffers go about their daily work, some may be unsure where to begin with media mentorship, particularly around digital media. Mentoring the mentors is an integral part of all librarianship, and many staffers regularly support each other in meetings, as part of in-house trainings, or during casual conversations. Media mentorship is no different. In fact, mentoring one another becomes even more important when working with the rapidly changing world of digital media in which “tried and true” equates to six months ago and not five years ago.
With the plethora of digital tools such as electronic discussion lists, Facebook groups, Twitter chats, blog posts, and more, mentoring each other has become much easier for library staff. The combination of face-to-face and online mentorship helps library staffers develop an informal personal or personalized learning network. Sharing research, media recommendations, program descriptions, concerns, and triumphs is an important part of mentoring the mentors and of professional lifelong learning.
Formal trainings, conference sessions, and publications
In 2012, a panel of librarians presented “There’s an App for That: Using Technology to Enhance Children’s Librarianship” at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference. Librarians were clamoring to hear how the newest technology at the time, the iPad, was being integrated into learning environments. Since then, similar sessions, preconference workshops, and formal trainings have taken place across the country. They have included webinars on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and coding, trainings on new media in storytime, panels discussing inexpensive technology implementation, general presentations on media mentorship, and workshops on digital media and early literacy. Many of these are designed not only to inform the audience but also to “train the trainer,” creating mentors who can share the new knowledge.
Media mentorship is not about having the latest and greatest technology. It is about library staff helping families find the best tool and creating the most positive experience possible.
Managing the mentors
Directors and managers balance community needs, budgets, staff expertise, and space restrictions, among other considerations. For some youth services departments or libraries as a whole, the concept of media mentorship is a natural fit. Performing the role of youth services librarian or being part of a library staff that works with children is dynamic and responsive work. For others, incorporating media mentorship may prove more challenging. Beyond sending media mentors to local and national conferences and encouraging staff to participate in online and in-library discussions, how do managers and administration grow media mentors in more subtle ways? Although tablets and apps have specific issues that managers must plan for, important considerations for all types of media include budgetary priorities, staffing, professional competencies, evaluation, space, and advocacy.
Budgetary priorities. In response to shifting and evolving community needs, library administration will need to examine library budgets and consider how different priorities will impact spending. Technology is always changing, and budgets will have to reflect that reality, whether the community wants more graphic novels and audiobooks or more app-loaded iPads for young children. Budget considerations might include the actual cost of a device, its longevity, and the cost of content for the device.
Library expenses will never again include only plans to replace a certain number of paper books in a year. Instead, financial projections will incorporate initial purchases of new technology, new content, and content and device management systems as well as replacement costs, staffing considerations, and space design elements that accommodate use of the new technology. Comprehensive planning will need to include schedules for technology replacements, among other strategic decisions.
Decisions about technology will include many other considerations beyond just the price tag. Ease of use both for staff and patrons, popularity, quality of content, and accessibility for patrons with special needs are just some of the factors to take into account.
Staffing. Hiring staffers who embrace media mentorship will allow the library as a whole to best serve its community. Although still a budgetary consideration, media mentors are key to successfully meeting patron needs. As with other profession-wide initiatives, media mentorship is not about having the latest and greatest technology. It is about library staff helping families find the best tool and creating the most positive experience possible. Engaging families and their 21st-century kids and teens requires an innovative, creative, curious, and thoughtful media mentor.
Space. Technology is not the enemy. It is tempting to operate as if supporting literacy is a zero-sum game in which the players are technology and books. But it is not a simple dichotomy. Whether it involves a simple change in seating or a major space renovation, managers must plan the library’s space in relation to the new technologies. Ten years ago a listening station in the children’s room may have required a small table, a plugged-in cassette player, a box filled with cassette tapes, and hard plastic child-sized chairs. Today, the station may be a cushioned window seat for two and include an iPad loaded with digital audiobooks and two sets of headphones. Although space renovations and updated configurations for new technology may require budgetary adjustments, sometimes all that’s needed is a bit of repurposing or sharing of existing resources.
Libraries have become not only spaces shared by diverse types of people, but also spaces used in diverse ways. For some, the library continues to be a space solely for quiet reading of paper books. For others, the library has become the place to access a multitude of tools and materials not available at home or elsewhere. And for still others, the library is a social space where learning and conversation go hand in hand. Shared spaces are both beautiful and challenging. It is up to media mentors and their managers to identify and fulfill the divergent needs and desires of the library’s many users and to help the community understand, and even appreciate, the library’s unique nature.
Advocacy. Media mentors and patrons need managers and an administration that advocate for the services they provide and the resources they make available. Advocacy first involves understanding both the role of the media mentor and the needs of the community. Advocacy then takes many forms, some grandiose and others more subtle. It may be sharing stories with political figures about positive interactions between mentors and kids, teens, and families. It may come in the form of budget requests for equipment, conference attendance, or temporary staffing for mentors who are attending training.
It may also mean advertising and marketing new, innovative programs; discussing media mentorship at staff meetings; or making presentations to the board and Friends group. Some advocacy goes farther, spreading the word through newspaper or local magazine articles written by library staff about library services, through radio interviews, and through regular literacy or librarian features on the local nightly news. For families, the broader community, administrations, and political figures, each advocacy piece draws a much clearer picture of what youth services staff at a local library can do and offer, and it reinforces the library’s relevance as a valuable, 21st-century space.
Supporting media mentors and patrons
If libraries want to support patrons, embracing media mentorship will involve more than attending a webinar or buying an iPad. The idea of media mentorship is shifting how libraries work and how families connect with the library in a positive way. Access to innovative informal and formal education, institutional support, and collaboration are keys to a fruitful shift.
The evolution and adoption of digital technology have quickened in recent years, and youth services staff are well suited to evolve along with it. Consider past innovations: Graphic novel collections, magazines, 16mm-movie showings, and the use of boomboxes in storytime all demonstrate that the library continues to be a place of thoughtful media use and inclusion. Some librarians continue to push the outer edges of innovation while others adopt practices at a slower pace, but with their communities in mind, media mentors of all kinds demonstrate their continued relevance. The support of managers, administrators, library schools, professional organizations, and funders will help media mentors make great things happen.