Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts on Collaboration #sljtt

Collaboration with organizations and populations outside of the library building was a big topic of discussion at last week's SLJ Public Library Leadership Think Tank. I've talked about my library branch's partnerships on this blog previously, but the information shared by panelists, presenters, and colleagues at the Think Tank really opened my eyes to the wider collaborative potential. My favorite sound byte (paraphrased and unattributed, because I can't remember the precise wording or speaker):
Collaboration is transformative when you serve the traditionally underserved. And in that process, you'll find new library customers.

This idea of serving the underserved was evident in all the collaboration conversations that happened. There's Rachel Payne of the Brooklyn Public Library, who in her collaboration with the Department of Education offers school preparedness program series that have proven to draw new faces beyond her regular story time crowd. There's Nick Higgins of NYPL, who takes early literacy workshops to incarcerated parents so they can foster positive relationships with their children and so they know the library is a friendly place for them upon reentry into society. Both these librarians pursued their collaborative partnerships and programs because of the immense benefits they would bring to the organizations, an untapped population, and their communities as a whole.

I think that premise--that collaboration is its most effective when it allows the collaborators to reach outside their usual demographics--is a great thought to really chew on. When do you collaborate? With whom? Why? I'll be asking myself these questions frequently as I consider potential future partnerships, and hopefully the result will be more intentional services with a broader community impact. I want to spend some time thinking about how I can work with other community groups to help the library reach people who are unaware of or are not explicitly impacted by our current range of services.

These conversations about collaboration also left me with three great tips for maintaining productive partnerships:
  1. Set clear responsibilities and expectations for all collaborative partners.
  2. Work, as much as possible, through face-to-face meetings to ensure clear communication.
  3. Pursue partnerships with a buddy--i.e., don't be the only representative of your library who is a part of the collaboration. That way multiple library personnel have the knowledge and know-how, and in the event one collaborator moves to new responsibilities, the partnership doesn't stall or have to start from scratch.

I'm excited to share these thoughts on collaboration with colleagues within my library district--I know there are some great potential partnerships in our county waiting to be tapped. We've got a big collaborative project this summer with our county parks department, and I'm interested to see what other great services we are capable of through collaboration.

I was able to participate in the first SLJ Public Library Leadership Think Tank in New York City. The one-day event, according to SLJ's Editor-in-Chief Rebecca T. Miller, aimed to serve as a lightning strike--a meaningful influx of energy and ideas for the librarians gathered from all over the country. I'm recapping my takeaways from the conference in a series of posts; see my first post, on Pam Sandlian Smith's charge to foster a culture of optimism, here.

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