Getting the Most (for Both of You!) from Your Museum/Library Partnership
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the economy and diminishing resources, but there is more talk than ever about partnerships and collaboration in all types of organizations, including libraries and other nonprofits. We are being urged to “maximize resources,” “leverage assets,” and “avoid duplication” in the work we do. At the American Library Association’s Annual Conference this year, every program I attended (as well as the one I presented!) mentioned partnerships and collaboration.
Benefits of a partnership include resource sharing, outreach to new audiences, access to expertise in a different discipline, and the potential for increasing goodwill and support between the organizations and the broader community. However beneficial, though, partnerships should not be undertaken lightly, as they require sufficient time and attention to cultivate and manage. And when considering partners, the best partners are ones that have similar missions, values, and goals (i.e., educational, literary, or cultural) and ones that are complimentary (i.e., they have resources or expertise that you desire). Partners that can provide significant publicity or visibility are also a plus.
Annually, Multnomah County Library (MCL) engages in approximately two dozen programming partnerships. These are as varied as those of the arts and cultural type (the Oregon Symphony Storytimes and the Portland Opera Previews) to more educational- or literacy-focused partnerships (Delta Society/DoveLewis’ Read to the Dogs, Portland Community College’s Brown Bag Lunch, and Learn Professional Development series).
MCL is reaping huge benefits from a recent partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Museum/library partnerships, like the others I’ve listed, are a good fit and meet the above-mentioned criteria. A typical museum/library partnership might draw on the collections of each institution to create exhibits and displays as well as shared programming. Some museum/library partnerships also involve shared physical space.
In our case, OMSI received a two-year, Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to partner with MCL to increase science literacy in adults through book groups, lectures, and a One City/One Book–type program. As informal education institutions, MCL and OMSI share similar missions, values, and institutional goals.
In particular, this project emphasizes and draws on the expertise of each organization. OMSI, as the region’s leader in public science education, has expertise in the area of science literacy and had cultivated a highly successful program series called Science Pub that featured expert lecturers and others discussing popular science topics. The series was targeted at twenty- to forty-year-olds, and was especially popular with men.
The library has a proven track record of engaging audiences, especially older women, in book discussion groups; it also knows how to conduct Reader’s Advisory and has experience working with authors and publishers on events. The library has also run Everybody Reads, a One City/One Book–type project, for the past seven years and has built a strong following.
Both organizations were also looking to diversify their audiences. Both are well-known as appealing to children and families, but the library wanted to increase its male audience for public programs, especially book discussion groups, and OMSI hoped to get older adults, especially women, to visit the museum more.
Finally, both organizations were interested in fostering civic engagement and discussion around important, relevant, and perhaps controversial, topics.
Prior to submitting the grant proposal, the library and OMSI met several times to outline each organization’s responsibilities, such as which staff persons would be part of the project team, what their roles would be, the time commitment required, and the overall project timeline. A project budget was also developed. This information was incorporated into the grant proposal and was also reflected in the library’s letter of support.
Once the grant was approved, a contract was developed between OMSI and the library about how expenses would be invoiced and reimbursed. Because the library is a governmental agency and OMSI is an independent non-profit, the rules and policies governing things such as finances, business practices, and employee conduct varied somewhat and needed to be addressed in the contract.
Additionally, decisions needed to be made about who owned the rights to any intellectual property resulting from the project. This area was of particular interest, as libraries don’t typically function as contractors producing “work made for hire,” and our practice is to share materials and content with other libraries so long as it was properly credited. In the end, OMSI retained the intellectually property rights but pledged to share the project’s work products as much as possible with other museums and libraries.
Having agreement on all these administrative issues in advance of beginning the actual project has made for successful partnership and allowed us to focus on the more interesting aspects of the program such as book, scholar and lecture content selection.
From the library’s perspective, we could not have asked for a better partner. OMSI’s scientific approach to the project itself has produced a lot of data that we will use not only to evaluate this project, but also to help us as we develop other book discussions, lectures, and civic engagement programs. Beyond Fact has also opened the door to the possibility of future collaborations between our two organizations. We have discussed continuing the science-themed book discussions and possibly hosting OMSI-produced exhibits in the library.
As resources continue to tighten for museums and libraries for the foreseeable future, partnerships and collaborations will continue to be looked at as a way of continuing to provide quality services to the community. Thoughtful planning, clear expectations, effective communication, and a shared commitment to quality will ensure that the partnership is a win-win for all.