No Library Is an Island: Community Collaborations
Gone are the days when the library stood in splendid isolation. Libraries partner with all kinds of organizations to deliver programs and produce audiences. Partnerships can have pitfalls, often because one side or the other expects something that doesn’t get delivered. But more libraries than ever are reporting that successful collaborations are central to their planning and no longer an afterthought. For best results, be clear in what both you and your partners can bring to the table, and, as with most successful program planning, the earlier in the process you involve them, the better.
Collaborators come in all shapes and sizes, and don’t limit your thinking to the usual suspects. Anyone and anything that works with you is by definition a collaborator. It can be other people and units within the library, presenters themselves, an enthusiastic patron, or a whole range of businesses, groups, and organizations. They might collaborate on program content, audience development, or promotion, or they may provide an alternate space for things that don’t fit into your meeting space.
Linda Holtslander, Loudoun County (Va.) Public Library, talks about the diversity of both the library’s programming and the interests of county residents as one big reason why collaboration pays off. By tapping into local organizations, the library not only reaches specific audiences but benefits from the implied endorsement of those connections. Whether it’s a local newspaper, health club, or religious organization, it connects patrons with programs.
Holtslander offers these examples from the programming they’re doing for Mental Health Month in May and their current Let’s Talk About It: Love and Forgiveness series:
You might think mental health isn’t the easiest topic to draw audiences, but we have done this series for five years, with programs on stress, a yoga series, Qi gong, and writers’ workshops, such as In Our Own Voices, for those who have and are dealing with mental illness. We have tremendous support in getting the word out from the Department of Mental Health and various groups in the area— in the long run more people learn they are not alone and that these hurdles in life are shared by many. This year, we brought in two authors, both of whom had personal connections to mental health and also offered some name recognition—Pete Earley, former Washington Post reporter, whose book about his son was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and Sally Quinn, also of the Washington Post, who appeared with her son, author Quinn Bradlee. Not only are the two authors coming to talk about what they care about emotionally, they are well-known individuals. I guess the term for this would be “spin” in marketing—bring in the celebrity and give them the motivation of the program (mental health awareness).
For our Love and Forgiveness series, we did this panel discussion with speakers from nine different faith groups. Our partner was an interfaith organization called Bridges—they are our messengers to the community that this type of programming is what we do really well. I have been here nineteen years and have seen the county go from 60,000 to almost 300,000, so I know that we are not just one thing, but a lot of things, lots of concerns and causes.
Judy Cooper, Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, is on the same page. It’s all about self-interest! The best collaborators are ones who meet their own goals by working on your programs. For author programs, she suggests hooking up with community organizations that focus on the same topic as the book or books in questions, as well as with bookstores and educational institutions who find their own reach extended through the library and vice versa. “For local authors, I always explain to them that they’re responsible for helping to bring an audience,” Cooper says. “We’re happy to send them program flyers, hard copy or PDFs, for them to distribute.” The Pratt’s author programming in May featured Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and his latest book, In Defense of Food, and was cosponsored by Baltimore Green Works and the Ivy Bookstore. It got great coverage in the Baltimore Sun to boot!