Sometimes they appear on the forum with a question or two and, in a refreshing change from other coin forums, they get a warm welcome and a prompt answer without the sneering and patronising snobbishness so common elsewhere. (well done you folks on the Coin ID forum) Sadly, far too many then simply fade away. If our beloved hobby is to survive in an age where coins are being phased out and pop culture is pushed on our young people then we need to embrace these new collectors and inspire them. How many potentially great numismatists have we lost because they felt excluded, intimidated or were ripped off by unscrupulous types (including former admin team members!) and either went elsewhere for their resources or gave up entirely and took up knitting instead.
So what can we do that we are not already doing? Simple, a mentoring program. Voluntary of course and discreet too.
Here's the goal -
By matching experienced collectors with eager to learn newcomers we can help them to build relationships and develop the kind of worthwhile contacts which will turn a curious newcomer into a lifelong collector. The mentor's role will be to offer advice on a specific area of collecting, introducing the new member to others with the same interests, informally vetting any proposed swaps to keep the hustlers and sharks at bay, offering help with grading and valuations, provide links to other commonly used web resources, introduce them to Numista's many features beyond the catalog and encourage them to become active on the forum and should they decide to do so, prevent them from being bullied or harassed by the lunatic fringe of the internet.
I think I'm correct in saying that no other numismatic website offers such a thing.
The ideal candidate for a mentor's role should be -
- Experienced. - If you've only been collecting for a year there's not much advice you can give and it's likely to be wrong despite your good intentions. It depends on the individual of course, some folks just absorb knowledge like a sponge but in general it's going to take quite a few years to get beyond the basics.
- Honest, Sane, Respected - Clearly it would be counter productive to put a fox in charge of the hen house. This isn't a role for the teenage hustler, KennyG / Eitan types. Also there are some pretty unhinged, barking mad people on the internet who I wouldn't be happy to have my child in contact with especially as it might need the exchange for personal contact info, email addresses, mailing addresses etc. No trial of coins leading into a digital white van please! I think most of us could come up with at least a couple of names who would fit into this category. If you don't have the respect of your peers then how can you open doors, make introductions or conscript specialized help for a newcomer?
- Free Time - Not everyone has an abundance of leisure time so giving up a part of it without any personal benefit is a pretty big thing to ask. The program will surely fail if people bite off more than they can chew and end up abandoning or ignoring those needing help.
- Fluent in English - As most people have a working knowledge of English, and that's the language of the forum, the catalog, 90% of the internet, that's going to be a firm requirement. It's great if you both speak only Swedish but how are you going to introduce your fledgling to other collectors if you can't open communications with them?
- Articulate - You will need the ability to explain things concisely and clearly. At one end of the scale is the guy who uses a lot of specialized terms which don't help the newcomer and can be intimidating, at the other end is the text speaking lighthead, 'hw r u, u hv ne silvr coinz!!!!?" Don't be those guys.
- Active - We need to know who you are! There's nothing wrong with being reclusive and enjoying your hobby in splendid isolation but the role is suited for those who have plenty of contacts and have a network of friends who can be dragooned into lending support.
- Established - You will need to be a long time member who knows how the site works, who to turn to in the event of a problem and who to avoid.
- Pleasant and Personable - No matter how much you might know about numismatics and how wide ranging your contacts are you are going to struggle with the social aspect if you have the personality of a toad. Cajoling others into giving help to your charge is one of the most important aspects - it's going to be tough if everyone hates you. We don't want to scare away our neophytes by pairing them with the socially awkward.
The role of the beneficiary is much simpler - be willing to learn and appreciative of the help you are being given. It should not be viewed as something only for the young or the new collector. We all have our ambitions and sometimes we feel the need to explore new avenues of collecting. One day I'm going to put together my accumulation of vaguely attributed ancients into a real collection and when that day finally arrives I would welcome the help of a mentor.
How do we implement this?
First of all, canvas opinions and suggestions. Decide on the most workable format.
Get together a list of those wishing to become mentors.
Next, decide on the technical aspects. I think the most elegant option would be two side by side lists, one for those seeking a mentor, one for those offering to become a mentor. Alongside the names would be fields for their areas of expertise, languages spoken and a little green/ red button to indicate if they have an opening for a new recruit or not. Some people might be happy to be mentoring several newcomers at once, others might prefer a one on one relationship. At the sign up stage ask new members if they would like to opt in to the program.
Apart from appearing in the list, mentors should have the title and area of responsibility added to their forum tagline and profile page so that newcomers may recognize them if they need to seek out someone for advice.
Once we have a clear idea of what's needed, we can present the idea to Dear Leader who will ultimately decide if it's A} technically possible, and B} desirable. I can't see any reason why he would object on either grounds.
OK, over to you guys. Any thoughts, suggestions or objections? Please keep it civil, productive and free of clownish spam.