National Mentoring Month: How to Use Digital Archives to Mentor the Next Generation

Every January, the US celebrates National Mentoring Month. Mentoring programs allow those with extensive experience to pass on the knowledge they've gained while training a new generation of professionals in their field. There are three main goals for this awareness month:

  • educating people on the different types of mentoring
  • encouraging organizations to develop mentorship programs
  • inspiring more people to become mentors

Particularly as the workforce gets younger, many elements of mentorship move into the digital realm. Digital archives become tools for mentoring by preserving materials and ensuring access for generations to come.  

Why Mentorship Matters

Studies show that children who have a mentor who is unrelated to them experience many benefits. Most of these benefits have a measurable impact on future success and quality of life, including:

  • increased likelihood of pursuing higher education
  • being less likely to harm themselves when in stressful or traumatic situations
  • better understanding of right and wrong
  • dreaming big and setting more expansive goals for life

Yet the benefits of mentorship don't end in childhood. While every generation faces new advantages and challenges, it isn't necessary to start from scratch. Mentors can share best practices and other tricks they’ve learned over the years. For instance, an archivist who is new in the field may have learned how to preserve paintings in class, but never actually touched one. In this case, the advice of a mentor who has performed this action many times would be highly beneficial. They will demonstrate the steps and help the new archivist feel more confident. In turn, the protege may have new information on how to add digital versions of the illustration to the archive which supplements the established knowledge

Alternatively, pairing up some skilled digital natives with members of earlier generations can provide veteran professionals with new skills. While they share memories of events or eras they lived through, the younger partners can digitize the information through recordings or transcripts, adding to the already established archives.  

How to Establish a Mentorship Program

Most libraries and museums already have a large bank of archived records and artifacts to draw from when creating new programs. Creating a mentorship program does take time and effort. However, the end result makes the process more than worth it. While every program will have slightly different requirements, these basic steps will help you begin your own program.

  • Set a goal for your mentorship program. Do you want to connect with community members and get them talking? Do you hope to generate excitement in the wider community about a subject covered in your museum? Are you aiming to support new librarians in the appropriate processes for maintaining and archiving your collections? In addition to simply setting these goals, it is important to have a way to measure your success. The more quantifiable the data you collect, the easier it is for you to justify the effectiveness of your program.

  • Determine the mentoring model you'd like to use. The most traditional form of mentoring is called 1-to-1 mentoring and involves one more experienced mentor passing on knowledge to a less experienced protege. You can also utilize peer mentoring, where two individuals of similar experience levels come together to share their unique perspectives and experiences. When your pool of experienced mentors is small, group mentoring may be a better option. This has the added bonus of fostering a deep culture of teamwork. In reverse mentoring, the younger person imparts their knowledge and skills to an older protege. This is especially common in digital and technical applications.

  • Invite and match mentors and mentees. Once you have laid out the foundation of your mentorship program, you'll need to get it started, and for that you need people. Depending on your purpose, membership may be required or voluntary. For instance, new employees are often matched to senior employees for training purposes, and there is no escaping it. However, learning more about a particular time era covered in your archive from individuals who lived through it may be something you volunteer for to expand your knowledge. 

  • Evaluate your program. Once the mentorships have been established for a while, take some time to evaluate the program. Is it working? Are the goals you initially set coming to fruition? Feel free to make changes to the process or even your goals as you continue forward. 

Inspire the Next Generation

The overarching goal of mentorship is always to pass on knowledge and better future generations. You do this daily by preserving information from today for others to look back on and learn from. Mentoring helps individuals get excited about this process, working together to jump into the archives and learn new things every day. Digital archive preservation is key to making sure these partnerships can continue benefiting people for years to come. Invest in a ScanPro® 500 series Microfilm Scanner to fortify digital record preservation. The benefits will continue to inspire generations to come.

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