Serving as a mentor for iSchool students has been a rewarding experience for Leora Siegel (MS '91), senior director of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library.
"My experiences over the past two decades as a librarian have provided insight into the profession, and I'm happy to share my knowledge if it can benefit a student or new grad or new professional, figuring out the path they wish to take," she said.
Since 2000, Siegel has worked in various capacities at the Lenhardt Library, which is focused on plants and the natural world. The Library has a renowned rare book collection, circulating book collection, kids' corner, and science library for scientists and graduate students in a joint plant biology and conservation program at Northwestern University. The library offers many public programs, including four rare book exhibits each year with associated talks, a seed library, and "one-book one-garden" book discussions.
"Collaborations are vital for a small research library, and as such we have a membership in the Chicago Collections Consortium supporting our institutional archives and a partnership in the Biodiversity Heritage Library focused on our digitizing efforts for the rare book collection," Siegel said. "With two digitization grants underway right now (from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Illinois State Library), there is always important work that needs attention."
She highly recommends the iSchool mentorship program to other alumni, noting that the minimal time commitment makes mentoring "workable for those with a busy schedule."
"In one semester, there are three half-hour Skype calls with targeted questions and one optional on-site visit. By the end of the semester, I got to know my mentee and her career aspirations, and we are keeping in touch," Siegel said.
She encourages students to find mentors in their fields of interest to get a better sense of the day-to-day responsibilities. In addition to helping students determine whether they have made the right career choice, the mentor program allows students to explore options they hadn’t considered and interact with the iSchool's alumni network.
"Additionally, it's always good to have another person to call on for a job reference," Siegel said.