Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

Career Services

Booktalking "The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent Americans Recall Their Mentors" edited by Matilda Cuomo


This book reads like a brief biography of prominent people, and it includes their essays about the people who influenced their lives. It focuses on the importance of mentoring in young people's lives. Matilda Cuomo wrote about the fact that it was personally fulfilling for her to see the girls she mentored in Albany succeed in life. Many of the people mentioned their parents as mentors, and some mentioned teachers.

Arthur Caliandro was 35 years old when he met 78-year-old Amos Parrish. Parrish said to him, "I like you. I think I can help you. Would you mind if I adopted you?" This typifies the almost parental-like relationship that mentors have with their mentees. Caliandro wrote, "There are few things more important that any human being can experience than the sincere affirmation of another significant person."

It is interesting to see how famous people have benefitted from mentors in their lives. Cindy Crawford mentioned that she got insights about modelling being a job that focused on making the customers' clothes look as good as possible from photographer Victor Skrebneski. Mario Cuomo was enamored with the world of books. Julia Child started her cooking television show at a time when that was revolutionary. Hugh Downs wrote that rereading classic books at different stages in his life gave him different perspectives on the books. Several people mentioned books and/or authors as mentors.

The Person Who Changed My Life, edited by Matilda Cuomo, 1999

Training New People: I first became enamored of welcoming and training new employees to the ways of the company when I was working in a healthcare communications company in suburban Pennsylvania in 2006. I noticed that new people often found it stressful and difficult to acclimate to a new work environment. In addition, employees that had been with the company for awhile tended to be wary of new people and sometimes hung with their established friends. I discovered that I have a love of and comfort level with new people that not everyone shares.

The reason that I love new people is that I get to learn about their skills, interests and talents. It is also interesting to educate them about the social mores and norms of the company. I try to make explicit what other people sometimes will not say so that they can get a better understanding of how the company works, and consequently they adapt faster. It smooths the transition process for them. The process usually takes a couple of weeks, and it definitely depends on the particular person. Then, the new person becomes established and makes other friends.

Not everyone loves the McDermott welcome wagon, unfortunately. However, there are enough willing participants to make me happy. At the healthcare communications company, I developed my skills in this area. I helped acclimate three medical writers and the manager of a database I was working on. These professionals were so interesting to me. I loved talking to them about their backgrounds. The manager of the database had recruiting experience, and one of the medical writers was a former academic professor. He and I had great fun working together; he was well-published on PubMed, and I heard many stories about his daughter.

I learned much from everyone I welcomed to the company, and each person has different needs. It is so important to tailor the initiation program to individuals' interests and needs. In addition, some people want more help than others. Some employees are more closely aligned with my field, so more professional development can occur with those individuals.

Training Children's Librarians: I came to the library in 2008, where I was very happy to help train new individuals. In a branch in the northeast Bronx, I trained an information assistant on children's services and helped her get used to the company. While I was there, I also remotely trained another information professional at another branch on how to manage a children's department at a small branch. I also visited her branch in the Bronx and demonstrated a toddler story time. We previously met on our very first day of work at a library in the southeastern Bronx.

Providing Reference Training: At one of the larger libraries in the Bronx, I trained several information assistants on the reference department policies of that branch. I helped train a library manager who worked with me at a large branch in Manhattan on an intermittent basis. At a library in the western Bronx, I trained an information professional on the library policies and children's work in a small branch. Admittedly, that was a little bit dicey, as I started at the branch only one week before she did. However, I was training her mostly on the adult desk, though I did (as is somewhat typical with me, I'm embarrassed to admit) give her a lengthy essay about everything she might want to know about children's librarianship and the library. She appreciated the help and the essay. I commenced training her after I had been at the branch for three weeks and she had been at the branch for two weeks.

Playing Career Counselor: I have always had an interest in career development, and I am thrilled to be able to help my colleagues in this way. (I was very happy to give my sister job searching advice twice in her career; now we are very lucky to have her close by, and she is okay with her job.) I met a volunteer for the library at a library conference in March of 2012 who was looking for a job. I spoke with her at length about her job search strategies, and I offered to look at her resume and cover letter. I was able to help her modify her cover letter and resume, and I provided her with emotional support. I really wanted to help her because she was volunteering by teaching computer classes and adult literacy for the library, and she was very nice. She ended up interviewing in Massachusetts with a public library, and she recently got hired as a youth services librarian for a public library in another state.

I was happy beyond belief when ACRL/NY accepted me as a mentor for their new mentoring program. They paired me with a librarian who also has a law degree who lives in upstate New York. She is very smart and considerate, and she is very focused on obtaining an academic or law librarian position. It has been great fun working with her, she has a lot of great skills, and whoever snatches her up will be lucky. We conducted a telephone mock interview, and a friend and I plan to meet up with her in Connecticut to conduct a team mock interview of her. I know that my friend will be a great help in this regard because she has had decades of management and supervisory experience. She has a much greater understanding of human resources than I do, as well. My mentee is helping me get together with my friend, as well, whom I have not seen in five years!

Why I Like Mentoring: I really enjoy helping librarians develop their skills and achieve their goals. Since my mentees have been self-selected (with the exception of the ACRL/NY mentee, which has worked out great), I have been fortunate to work with people who are very nice, considerate, skilled, and motivated to succeed. The volunteer that I helped find a job helped the library a lot; she developed her skills as a librarian before she even got hired as one! That impressed me a lot, and I knew that she would become a valued professional.

My ACRL/NY mentee is working very hard to improve her job seeking skills so that she can get hired as a librarian and start using her librarian skills full-time. She resigned from a job that she had for years that was not in her field. I also took that step about five years ago, which people vehemently advised me not to do. However, I wound up in a large urban public library system, which is exactly what I wanted, even if I did not know it at the time. It is fulfilling and interesting to see someone improve her cover letter, resume, and interviewing skills in such a short time. I also learn from her perspective, and it is good to network in the field with librarians of different backgrounds than my own. She will be an asset to whomever hires her.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

A great pitch for a great

A great pitch for a great activity.

Post new comment