1.1 What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a supportive learning relationship.

Before someone becomes a mentor, they are often simply a friend. Most often, mentoring happens informally with little to no structure or oversight. Informal mentoring occurs when a young person has independently chosen a mentor because they trust them or seek out their expertise and advice.1 Trusted mentors are characterized as reliable, honest, and open.1

Some mentoring relationships might be established through organizations and include formal training and expectations. More formalized mentorship programs may require time commitment, learning objectives, and key activities. The experience might include regular meetings over a period of time.

In other instances, mentoring can happen in “one-off” experiences where the mentor and mentee meet once or a few times. Regardless of the style and approach, successful mentoring experiences are usually mutually beneficial. Mentors may be motivated to develop leadership skills and to share their knowledge; mentees may benefit from the support, inspiration, and agency they receive.2

In talking with over 90 librarians and library staff who work with teens, we found that mentorship in libraries typically forms around such areas as:

Careers and academic development

Mentors offer advice on career paths or support the mentee in connecting their interests to academic success. For instance, one library’s mentor-led DJ program allows young people to “…learn how to DJ and learn all the technology and software, but they can relay it back to school …when they are using the microphone, making announcements, they enhance their public speaking skills.”

To prepare them for the workforce, other libraries have offered mentorship to teens through STEM career development, internship programs, and leadership experience.3, 4

Friends and role models

Mentors and mentees interact socially, engage in fun activities, and provide each other with life lessons. In the learning labs at the YOUmedia Chicago, mentors foster a camaraderie with young people, creating a safe space for youth to trust them while working together on multimedia projects.5 While the library provides creative equipment like video cameras, art supplies, and design software, the mentors model how to use them.5, 6

Interest-driven and production-centered experiences

These relationships offer someone to generate ideas with, engage in discussion, or participate in production-centered activities and shared passions. A mentor can help youth discover what they are interested in and facilitate them towards honing their skills. Mentors share their expertise and foster creativity through activities like robotics, sewing, podcasting, and open mic performances2, 5, 8 For instance, youth librarians at the Providence Public Library connected youth’s interests in fashion with mentoring and guidance from design educators and visual merchandising experts.6, 7


1: Meltzer, A., Muir, K., & Craig, L. (2016). Being trusted: The perspectives of trusted adults about engaging with young people. Children and Youth Services Review, 63, 58-66.

2: Rhodes, J. E., & DuBois, D. L. (2008). Mentoring relationships and programs for youth. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(4), 254-258.

3: Emery, M. (2016). A teen space made for career prep. Young Adult Library Services, 2016(2).

4: Make Do Share, Kitsap Regional Library.

5: Safe Space and Shared Interests: YOUmedia Chicago as a Laboratory for Connected Learning, by Kiley Larson, Mizuko Ito, Eric Brown, Mike Hawkins, Nichole Pinkard, and Penny Sebring. DML Research Hub, 2013.

6: Connected Libraries: Surveying the Current Landscape and Charting a Path to the Future, by Kelly M. Hoffman, Mega Subramaniam, Saba Kawas, Ligaya Scaff, & Katie Davis. ConnectedLib, 2016.

7: Personal interview with Shannon Lake, April 7, 2017.

8: Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, by Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins. 2013.