In October 2013 I had the opportunity to meet with other marketing folks from around the country at the annual ALCOP (Association of Library Communications & Outreach Professionals) conference in Pennsylvania. During one of the workshop sessions, I presented information on the importance of community partnerships. Whether you work in a small community library or a multi-branch system, forging relationships with local organizations and businesses can be mutually beneficial.
Where do I start?
Participate in community planning! Attend meetings, participate in focus groups for local organizations, go to board meetings, and volunteer for committees. Find out how you can help move their event forward and spread awareness of the library at the same time. The Westmont Public Library serves hot cocoa to participants of the annual holiday parade every year and allows the use of our parking lot for the parade line-up after we close for the day. This is a simple and inexpensive way to improve the experience of all the organizations marching in the parade and to show our willingness to help in any way we can.
Partner with local organizations
Other government and non-profit agencies like the park district, village, and fire & police, are the easiest partners to gain. They already are invested in seeing the community grow and thrive and are usually open to working side by side with the library. Some of the ways we have partnered with these groups are by having a table with free crafts and library information at the town farmers’ market, car shows, and carnivals. We’ve given book discussions at several senior centers and retirement communities. Our space is shared with literacy center volunteers who teach ESL in our study rooms. We collect donations for food pantries and pet supplies for humane societies. All of this promotes goodwill and allows us to interact with people who may not ever step foot in our physical building.
Partner with businesses
The library may not be the most convenient location for residents, so consider running book discussions, meetings, and focus groups in local restaurants or coffee shops. Invite business owners to present special events in the library, like dance classes, workshops on financial planning, tea tastings or whatever else you can showcase using your local shop owners! Become a member of your chamber of commerce and go to their events or host them at the library! My library hosts an after- hours event every couple years that brings in dozens of business owners just looking for a way to support us!
Partner with schools
Many youth departments already have great rapport with schools. If you don’t, schedule classroom visits and encourage field trips to the library! Work with the junior high and high school to start an ongoing teen volunteer program. Attend annual open houses and curriculum nights for a chance to talk with parents and teachers about the library’s fantastic services and collections. And of course, make use of the excellent community colleges and universities near you. They have wonderful resources you can use and will often offer to teach workshops on choosing a college or adult education.
What can we gain from partnerships?
We are always looking for people to help spread the message about library resources and services and local organizations can be some of your biggest supporters and advocates for library use. Not only do you gain supporters, you increase your visibility in the community and have a chance to talk with residents in settings outside the library walls.
What can we offer local organizations?
When a business wants to know what they receive in exchange for their support, it is always nice to remind them of the library resources at their disposal. Additionally, offer to promote them in print and digital publications. Offer your space for special events like recitals, classes, or business meetings. Offering to do a good thing for an organization, even without their official support, is part of what makes the library so special. Sometimes we make partners who can never reciprocate the goodwill be offer them, and that is alright. Helping our community is part of what we do, even if we get nothing in return.
Who does the work?
Finding someone to represent the library in the community can be difficult for smaller libraries, but there are options! Ask board members to attend meetings and events when staff is unable. Designate several staff members as the “face” of the library at local events, but encourage all staff to be involved in the community when possible. Every summer the Westmont Public Library has a table at the weekly street fair and a booth at the big summer festival, Taste of Westmont. Staffing those events can be a challenge, but the response from the community is priceless. Finally, consider asking administration to include “outreach coordination” in the job of at least one staff member or consider hiring a new position to meet outreach goals.
Kate Buckson is the Marketing Coordinator at the Westmont Public Library.