A Personal Anecdote on Mentorship

by Casey Burgess (she/her), Director of Library Services at Musicians Institute

July 19, 2021

My career would not be what it is without mentorship. The people who I’ve met and worked with have shaped my perspectives on librarianship and are invaluable experiences that I cherish to this day. My interest with libraries began in my undergraduate program at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was a music major and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation, so I contacted our music librarian, Antoinette Powell. Not only did she offer me advice, but she offered to mentor me. I was able to shadow her while she showed me the ropes of working a reference desk and cataloging music materials. It was under her guidance that I was able to determine that librarianship was for me, and I will always be grateful to her.

Shortly after graduating from Lawrence, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana and started my MLS degree at Indiana University. I had several mentors while studying and working there, including Misti Shaw, who taught me how to teach. It ended up being incredibly important as I now teach every quarter! I also worked with Naz Pantaloni III, who furthered my education in copyright and gave me ample opportunities to apply it in researching the copyright status of many different items in the media collections at IU. I’ve been able to use this knowledge in developing policy at my current institution and providing resources for students to self-educate on copyright. Many of my instructors and bosses also served as mentors while I was at IU, but these were some of my main influences.

The Music Librarian Association was crucial, however. I attended my first meeting at the 2019 National Conference in St. Louis just a few months before I graduated. I had never been to a professional conference before and I was nervous. I consider myself to be an introvert, so introducing myself to random people I had never met before was daunting. So many people stressed the importance of networking especially before applying for jobs, so I knew I would need to do it, I just didn’t know how. Luckily, the national conference had a mentorship program, so I applied hoping to find someone in an academic setting in California and I truly hit the jackpot with Julie Bill.

At the time, Julie was the Director of Library Services at Musicians Institute, a college of contemporary music in Hollywood. I knew I wanted to return to Los Angeles, so having Julie around to introduce me to other members of the California Chapter was really wonderful for me. Not only that, but I was able to get helpful advice from her regarding my resume, structuring my career, and interviews. She put me at ease at the conference, helped me find other connections, and became an excellent friend.

Getting a job after graduation was difficult. I applied for dozens of jobs and either never heard back from them, or had one interview and was rejected. I felt lucky that I was able to get a part-time position working at the LA Philharmonic Archives working on metadata. I really enjoyed the content I was working on and it allowed me to move back to California with a job. However, it was clear to me from the beginning that there was no room for growth in this position. I continued my search.

It was only through Julie that I was able to find a more permanent position for myself. She reached out to me late in September 2019 and said she was leaving MI, and asked if I would be interested in applying for the position. I said yes and immediately sent her my CV. A few weeks later, I accepted a job offer as Director of Library Services at Musicians Institute, where I still work today. It was only through my connection and friendship with Julie that I am where I am today. Especially in light of the pandemic, I recognize how lucky I was to have someone like Julie who opened doors for me and invited opportunities in. I am eternally grateful to her and the circumstances that brought us together.

And I know I’m not alone. Every person who I’ve talked to about mentors or mentorship programs always comments on how valuable those experiences can be and recommends them to anyone they know, especially students, young professionals, and para-professionals.

Rachel Smiley, the chair of the California Chapter, says, “I joined the mentorship program for MLA Portland in 2018 as it was my first MLA conference. I was paired with Abbey as my conference mentor and we met for a bite the first day plus attended similar sessions/activities. She was my guide to the conference which was super helpful because I remember it being overwhelming! She introduced me to the larger MLA community and even became my “guide” to the California chapter when I moved here in April of that year. I definitely feel like I would’ve been lost at big MLA without a mentor and our rapport has developed so much over the years. Abbey really instilled very quickly the benefit and joy of collaborating and networking with colleagues!”

I know many others have had valuable experiences with mentorship. Share your stories in the comments below!

If you are interested in a mentorship program, the Music Librarian Association California Chapter will be hosting a mentor/mentee program as part of our chapter conference on October 1, 2021. For more information about the sign-up process, go to our mentorship page on the blog.

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