Part 5 - Keeping a Torch Lit - School Public Library Partnerships

And now back to the present...

The posts in this series came to mind first after a School Library Journal article last year reported  that overall school/public library collaboration was very poor. I wrote a post about tag-team librarianship to share thoughts when that came out. The recent article in SLJ referenced in Part 1 of this series focused on some fairly large libraries and systems with big staff infrastructures - a sure recipe for the vast majority of libraries that serve far smaller populations to feel, "Well, jeez, we can't do that - we so lack those resources/staff/time."

I.do.not.believe.that. No matter size, staff, budget or time, we all can be great partners.

Here and there, over the years, I've heard a few librarians say  they "couldn't get in at the schools". Then a story is shared about how that librarian purchased "useful" teacher books - without consulting school colleagues - and these materials were never checked out. Or I hear that a colleague refuses to collaborate or look for ways to do outreach in the schools because if the public library starts, it will be an excuse to remove school librarians.Or a homework center isn't well-used but in further conversation, I find out that the library has not mentioned a word of it's existence except through in-house PR. The link in all these "fails" is that the public librarian has not talked and listened to, explored or partnered with their school colleagues. Building a service in a vacuum is never a good idea.

If we want to create those links, we truly have to forge a partnership of mutual respect and listening. School colleagues are under alot of pressure. We need to think in ways that address those pressures and make the case that partnerships will benefit kids and staff  and make a positive difference. It's good to be low-maintenance in terms of what we propose or ask of school colleagues. It's worth it to be a good listener and investigator - what is needed; what would help them or what suggestions do they have for us. And I find that flexibility on our part always makes the partnership better.

A first small step can open doors.  Jen the Youth Services Librarian, who started a new job in August, was out in the schools promoting Teen Read Week programs in October. Colleagues I know invite their school partners to breakfast, for cocktails; initiate youth book discussion groups; invite them along to conferences and workshops or to visit the Cooperative Children's Book Center in Madison; give short, snappy presentations at in-services.They set up an occasional meeting with school media colleagues and see what ideas and conversations result.

With Common Core state standards coming into play, there are even more opportunities to chat, talk, plan and collaborate with school colleagues. Many public libraries have strong collections of narrative non-fiction that can be explored and celebrated.

The possibilities are exciting and endless.We can keep the fires burning and do amazing outreach with our school colleagues. Partnerships work - no matter what size library you work at. 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Image: 'Tiki torch'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/83261600@N00/8189871269 Found on flickrcc.net


  1. I'm lucky enough to have awesome colleagues at the school libraries in my town - they invited me to their multi-county meeting last year and I got to meet many school librarians from different areas and learn more about their challenges and concerns. I have found, in setting up any kind of marketing or outreach with teachers, I pretty much have to start over every new school year. Brain drain in summer isn't just kids!
    Also, one simple partnership that has worked well for us - the public library hosts the district battle of the books. I went over to the elementary school to help out a few years ago and kids were huddled in the hallways, crammed into the lab room, etc. We have a decent sized library with lots of nooks and crannies, so I invited them to hold it there. It's only one morning, the school librarians organize it all, and we get great publicity in the community.

  2. That's the way to see an opportunity and respond. I think you hit a key point. Without your help at early Battles in the school you wouldn't have seen the overcrowding and the invite to the library that resulted. Golden!

    1. And, to be totally honest, I was desperately searching for a way that I could still be involved but not actually have to run any of the battles. One of the kids on a team CRIED when I called his team down a point and I never wanted to deal with that again! They take BOB seriously here!

  3. Marge, thank you so much for doing this series. I am just starting in a new community after a year of forging some great relationships with my last school district, and these posts have been a great refresher on some effective partnerships. One really neat thing my former library was able to do is have the Woods I class design and build us a puppet theatre/play literacy station. The students received the assignment from their teacher but came to the library and "consulted" with myself and the director, stayed to visit the toddlers who would actually use the structure, etc. It was REALLY educational for the students and an obvious win for the library. Something I'd love to try again in my new community! ~ Laura

  4. Thank you for posting this. I will soon be the head librarian for a new joint use library with the public library and a K-8 school and these are invaluable ideas. Do you know any other bloggers who do a lot of public library/school partnerships writing?