Share. Grow. Serve. The Power of Library Collaborations

Have you imagined the possibilities of collaborating with other libraries to better serve your customers and achieve your goals?

Collaboration has become the buzzword of the day, and it’s an important way to achieve results in an era of reduced funding and scarce resources. While this is true in numerous areas of education, commerce and industry, it’s become particularly important for today’s libraries — regardless of type, size or geography. Much of the encouraged collaboration invokes pursuing other community organizations or other departments within the library organization or educational institution, but collaborating with other libraries is where great treasures can be found. With a shared sense of purpose, at least on some level, it makes sense that libraries find ways to better leverage the commonalities and resources that
they share.

Library co-ops and consortiums have long been utilized to leverage purchasing power particularly for electronic resources, databases and basic library needs. Today’s more collaborative efforts take this resource sharing one step further by increasing the benefits to all libraries involved — allowing them to go beyond what each could accomplish on their own. Inherent in the process are common, as well as new goals, plus a planning process that includes development of joint strategies and ways to measure the venture’s success. In addition, mutual risk and resources are shared or jointly contracted.

Let’s take a look at a few of the unique collaborations that I’ve discovered. Take a look and see what ideas might work in your library!

Collection Development: The Madison Community Foundation created a catalyst that got libraries throughout the South Central Wisconsin Library System working together to make the most of a $750,000 collection development grant. Through this project, the libraries worked together to develop a different niche collection for each library that prevented duplication of materials and strengthened the quality of the collection throughout the entire system. Since there was greater efficiency in developing the collections in this manner, it allowed for the purchase of some more specialized items for each collection that helped to reflect the character of each community. This would not have been possible without intentional, collaborative effort. The collections have included subjects ranging from Food & Nutrition, to World Cultures, to Comics & Anime, and additional programming has been incorporated to truly leverage these special materials. This program benefitted 27 libraries from multiple counties and included the bookmobile.

The libraries worked together to develop a different niche collection for each library that … strengthened the quality of the collection throughout the entire system.

Another great example of collaboration in collection development can be seen in the Limitless Libraries program that was undertaken between the Nashville Public Library (NPL) and Nashville Public Schools. School Library Journal published the details of the arrangement in a recent article. The program leveraged the strength of NPL’s collection development and procurement process to help weed and update the school collection, taking advantage of the city’s purchasing power in the acquisition of the materials. School and public librarians worked together to determine the appropriate materials for the school collections, and many new formats were introduced as well. An additional benefit for students and teachers was that they gained access to the entire NPL collection and could use school IDs as city library cards. The positive outcome for the public libraries was increased staffing to help manage the program and a greater audience for library programs and events.

School and public librarians worked together to determine the appropriate materials for the school collections.

Programming: While the Madison Community Foundation helped to fund an amazing Collection Development project throughout the South Central Wisconsin Library System, they are making an even longer lasting mark with a unique, first of its kind, partnership with Dane County Library Service to build a $1.4 million public library programming endowment. The Beyond the Page Fund will be a permanent endowment that provides countywide, collaborative, cost-free programming for Dane County residents of all ages. The idea behind this program is to improve the quantity and quality of programming opportunities to include a broader range of ages, and to have libraries work together to extend the reach of these quality programs. Programs that have been undertaken so far have included bringing in a traveling “Dinosaur Days” exhibit, and offering a county-wide “Trivia Night” that took place in libraries and local businesses throughout the South Central Library System. Since this initiative is being funded outside the normal funding channels it will not be constrained by the more typical municipal funding and budget issues. Instead it will allow for creative programming on an on-going basis. Each of the libraries is expected to participate in helping to raise funds for the initial endowment. This is also creating programs which may be become annualized revenue generation opportunities.

The Beyond the Page Fund will be a permanent endowment that provides countrywide, collaborative, cost-free programming.

Information Literacy: Through a program at last fall’s Wisconsin Library Association, I discovered another unique partnership underway between the Madison Metropolitan School District and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The project centered on improving information literacy for high school students so they are prepared for the rigors of college-level academic research. Noticing that many of the honors-level high school students entering into the university were not required to take the freshman information literacy course, it occurred to UW-Madison Public Services Librarian, Eliot Finkelstein, that these students quite likely did not understand the resources available to them at the College Library. He teamed up with Kristine Brown and Carol Kaufman, and together they collaborated on a program that involved classroom training and campus field trips that introduced information literacy skills to honors-level students — and reinforced them as part of their high school curriculum. This program took some of the mystery and fear out of the university library setting and made the students more excited and prepared for their transition into the university environment.

The project centered on improving information literacy for high school students so they are prepared for the rigors of college-level academic research.

Staff Training: The State of Illinois has undergone a funding crisis that has drastically changed the organization of their public library systems throughout the state. One of the major casualties of the loss of funds has been the continuing education component that had been available to the libraries in the south and southwest suburbs of Chicago, IL. Not willing to be without these types of resources, the libraries decided to take the matter into their own hands and began collaborating to find a way to continue to extend education to that library staff in the area. Out of this collaboration, ATLAS (Area Training for Librarians and Staff) was born in 2009. The organization has grown into a consortia of 29 libraries and offers a variety of training opportunities for all different levels of staff. It has included everything from basic reference for front line staff, to trustee training workshops, to a weekend long Director’s Retreat. The combination of regionalism, affordability and timeliness have contributed to the success of the program.

Libraries decided to take the matter into their own hands and began collaborating to find a way to continue to extend education to that library staff in the area.

Summing it up: While these diverse collaborative programs have taken a lot of hard work and planning on the parts of all the individuals and organizations involved, they are excellent examples of how combined resources can accomplish fantastic results. A shared sense of purpose and commitment to a joint mission contributed to the success of the programs, and that is more likely to be achieved by libraries that commit to managing these collaborative enterprises together. Best of all, these projects are very sustainable and there is great opportunity for ongoing collaboration on these and other projects.

Additional Resources — Collaborative Library Projects

Academic Libraries

School & Public Libraries

Public & Academic Libraries

Author

Janet Nelson

Janet Nelson

Janet is the former Director of Library Engagement and Solutions at Demco. She managed and developed relationships with key industry leaders to understand changing library trends and services.