How to Build a Mentorship Program – And Why

Posted on June 8, 2023

Yoda, with text overlay, "Do or do not, there is no try. Today, a mentor become!"

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Erin Krause Riley, Adult Services Coordinator for the Scottsdale Public Library. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

What I’m reading: I’ve gotten into some old English mysteries: Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and a few other authors with amazing detective stories. 

What I’m watching: Ted Lasso – the final season. Sigh. Each episode is a gem. 

What I’m listening to: I have gotten on a Hamilton kick… again… I am not throwing away my shot! 


We just wrapped up the pilot season of our library’s mentorship program. To give a little context, the idea came out of discussions at our Staff Development Task Force meetings, sparked by hearing about a great experience one of our librarians had with a county-wide mentorship program a few years ago. In several meetings over a few months, the task force put together a simple program to test out the idea on a trial basis. Last week, we asked all the participants to come to a special wrap-up meeting to give participants a chance to talk about the program and how we might improve it in the next iteration, if we decided to have one.

Our task force has worked hard over the last few years to enhance our staff experience and promote professional development, starting with comprehensive new-hire orientations and working intentionally on training programs that will help us promote from within when opportunities arise. To that end, we also have an annual all-staff training day every year, set up like a conference, with a keynote speaker and multiple breakout sessions throughout the day, so people can individualize their participation, while still having a team-building experience.   

At our most recent training conference, we spent one session introducing the mentorship program, describing the expected benefits and the time commitment, and inviting potential mentors and mentees to sign on to be paired up for the program. Our working goal was to give newer members of the staff, the mentees, a chance to build their professional network within the library system. For the pilot program, we asked that mentors have three years of experience at our library system, and that mentees have at least six months with us, so that they’d have a chance to learn the basics before they engaged in the mentorship relation. We set up mentor/mentee pairs based on the interests they expressed in topics like library programming, leadership, grant-writing, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

It was a little like matching up your friends on blind dates, thinking about interests and personalities, and hoping for the best. To diffuse the pressure on participants, unlike those awkward blind dates set up by your mom’s best friend’s neighbor and grandma’s hairdresser’s Aunt Lula, we let everyone know that they could opt out at any time by simply approaching someone on the task force, to minimize any potential conflict or hurt feelings. No questions asked. As it happened, all of our pairs stayed together for the six-month season, and the feedback was very positive. I don’t know if anyone’s grandma has that good a record of pairing people up…

Man and woman standing in an office area. Woman is saying, "You just got yourself a mentor."

I participated as a mentor, and I have to say I was delightfully surprised at how much I benefited from the experience personally and professionally. That’s right – as the mentor, the one who was supposed to be imparting “wisdom” and sharing my knowledge – I actually feel like I got as much, if not more than I gave. As we met over the program season, I got to know my mentee, a colleague I’ve worked with for a long time without a lot of one-to-one interaction. We found common interests and shared ideas about books, history, and people, which we wouldn’t have done without the structure of the mentorship program. Ostensibly, we were meeting so that I could share my expertise on grant writing – and we did start our discussions there – but once we started talking, we found a lot to talk about. I learned a lot about her work, which is more technical than mine, and I shared some experiences from my years as a supervisor, not just at the library, but over the years in different jobs.

I know it might sound a bit selfish, but I felt good about myself when I was able to relate an experience similar to what my mentee was going through, especially when it seemed to give her something to think about or steer her in a direction she might not have gone. And I benefited from her insight into some of my own current work issues, because she offered some perspectives I wouldn’t have hit upon myself. 

By the end of the pilot program, we made plans to work on a locally focused project together for next year’s women’s history month. The mentorship program was the beginning of a great relationship that is good for each of us, and for the library, which will benefit from our collaboration. I also suggested that my mentee join the staff development task force to help plan the next iteration of the mentorship program and work on next year’s staff development conference. When she has the time, she’s ready to be a great mentor too. I hope she will benefit from that just as much as I have.

Two people walking away in a gray haze, with text, "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

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