We can all agree that community partnerships strengthen the library’s outreach. Executing this tenet is easier said than done.
Regardless, libraries must take the initiative and collaborate with community stakeholders to fill unmet needs, extend their reach, and create positive outcomes. For Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. (OR), the first step was building a sound infrastructure of support, rather than simply creating another new program.
My rural public library system, which serves 83,000 residents, closed in 2007 due to lack of funds. Thankfully, concerned
citizens reopened the libraries in 2009 as an interim nonprofit. We will operate as a nonprofit until public funding can be secured. With minimal staff, an army of volunteers, and a modest budget, community partnerships have become the lifeblood of our library system.
Having to rely solely on donations, grants, and volunteers to remain operational means planning is a major component of our partnership activity. Using a Library Service Technology Act (LSTA) grant, we have spent the last three years working to improve the digital literacy of our residents. In the planning process, we identified potential partners who have similar education goals such as the community college, state and local employment agencies, and school districts. Opening a dialogue and agreeing on grant objectives works best when all partners have an outline of the common mission, desired outcomes, and activities before they come to the table and join forces.
When it comes to building partnerships, staff time is our greatest strength and our most precious resource. We rely heavily on our wonderful volunteer staff. Through the LSTA grant, we’ve developed a volunteer-based outreach system dubbed the “Library Ambassadors.” These volunteers perform a variety of tasks, from helping patrons place a hold on a book to demonstrating how to navigate online databases. Their dedication and library knowledge have allowed us to allocate staff time to support the partner program, lending to its sustainability.
Remember there may be obstacles. Sometimes a community partnership does not take flight initially. Such setbacks are golden opportunities to examine what could have been done differently to achieve a better outcome. As long as libraries remain open to new ideas that will improve their community and strive to be a part of the solution to a challenge, the next partner is probably just around the corner.