Communication and Partnerships

Communicating is often a mysterious process, even when it goes smoothly and all sides understand one another. But when the topic under discussion is technology, the participants rarely share the same ideas, experiences, and terminology. Also, the technology lexicon is notoriously vague. One word often refers to multiple concepts, and multiple words often refer to a single concept. To help you avoid misunderstanding, we’ve included some helpful communication advice, as well as lots of stories and suggestions from your fellow librarians. The topic is approached from both the viewpoint of the techie and the viewpoint of the non-techie. Also included are some key resources about the various stakeholder groups you might find yourself talking to about technology.

Technical Communication Basics

It’s often impossible to fix a misunderstanding where technology is concerned. If you haven’t identified and communicated your needs clearly at the beginning of a technology project, there may be little or no room for changes later on. Software systems have so many dependencies that a seemingly minor change can ripple outward and cause dozens of unforeseen, undesired consequences. Therefore, a change that might have been easy to implement early on is virtually impossible during the later stages.

Why Does Communication Matter Where Technology Is Concerned?

  • As with anything, misunderstandings in the technical realm lead to wasted time and effort. Anyone who’s worked on a help-desk can tell you about a time when he or she spent hours researching and troubleshooting something for a client, only to realize later that they were solving the wrong problem. Of course, this is a loss for the end user as well, who has to wait that much longer for an answer.
  • Of course, poor communication often erodes good will and poisons office relationships.

Key Actions

You should ask yourself several questions whenever you have a major conversation about technology, whether you’re talking to an individual or a group:

Talking with Techies

There are really only two types of technology conversations: the ones you have with techies and the ones you have with non-techies. For the purposes of this discussion, a techie is really just anyone who knows more than you do about technology and a non-techie is someone who knows less.

It never pays to over-generalize about a group of people, so take the following advice with a giant grain of salt. However, a few themes come up over and over when folks discuss their successful, and their not-so-successful, interactions with tech wizards and IT folks.

If you are a non-techie looking for some tips on how to bridge the communication gap between you and your IT staff, we suggest you read our “Building a Better Relationship with Your Techies” tool.

Key Actions to Consider

  • Use consistent and precise terminology when you describe a problem.
  • Describe the symptoms carefully and don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Don’t be shy about telling your techies when you’re having a computer problem.

For elaboration on each of these points, see the following "Stories from the Field."

Stories from the Field

Challenge your techies

Well when we told the guy who's devising this new profile the types of things we wanted and what we wanted to use it for, he introduced some ideas to the staff, some of it being the Linux stuff; Edubuntu and stuff like that. And that gave him motivation and interest, because we were asking him to provide his expertise in what he knew about. So I feel like if you show them what you want and you give them a challenge, they will rise to that type of level if they're really good. We've got some really excellent guys that are working there, and they do rise to the challenge."

Claire Stafford
Madelyn Helling Public Library, CA

Use consistent and precise terminology

Try to learn the proper terminology, and try to use it consistently. I don’t know how many times I've heard ‘the system is down’ when what happened was the on/off switch on the monitor got pressed. The person starts using terminology like ‘system’ without actually evaluating the system. They didn't turn the mouse upside down to see if the light is still on or is the green light on the CPU unit on things like that.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Describe the symptoms carefully and don’t jump to conclusions

Be observant and don’t jump to conclusions. The story that I tell on this one is that when I was in college, I took an experimental psych class where we ran rats through mazes, and the professor would pound into us that we couldn't always draw conclusions on cause and effect. And so what I find people frequently making mistakes on is they'll describe to me a conclusion rather than focusing on what the symptom is that they're really seeing.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Instead of getting an email saying, ‘Well this computer went down and here's what happened. The patron was doing this and got this error message.’ That's what I need to help to fix the problem. Instead, I get an email saying, ‘It's broken.’ And it's like, well, then I've got to spend twice as long going down there and actually doing the research and investigation to figure out what happened, what was going on, whereas if they'd spend just a couple minutes longer to help me I can help them faster. That's always a problem.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

Follow the latest technology trends, and play with gadgets

Well, I would recommend looking at things like Wired magazine and some of the other introductory PC magazines just to get used to the language. Scan the environment, know what’s going on out there so you can talk to them intelligently about trends. Get a gadget. Have an iPod. Try and make iTunes work on your home computer. Just experiment with it and realize that it can be fun. And you’re learning new things while you’re doing it that can help you in your job. I think that’s really key. And ask your IT guys for help if you’re confused or if you have a problem at home or if you have difficulty with a gadget. It opens the conversation and the lines of communication.

Stephanie Beverage
Orange County Public Library, CA

Make clear that your techies aren’t miracle workers

When you have non-technical staff, they don't always understand why things don't work and why you can't just push a button and have it fixed tomorrow. I frequently get complaints such as, ‘Well, this worked yesterday and it doesn't work today.’ Well, it's a Web page that went down. There's nothing that I can do to fix that. You can't control when the Internet goes down from the ISP. There's nothing I can do about that except call them and hope they get it back up right away.

Anonymous Library Director

Open up communication channels so no one is shy about telling them their troubles

And we’re in Minnesota, and we’ve got this fabled ‘Minnesota nice.’ And it’s true, people will not do anything that they think will put somebody out in a lot of cases. And if our staff think that we’re too busy, sometimes they don’t even call. And sometimes they’ll call and say, ‘Are you busy?’ And you have to say, ‘Well, yeah, we’re always busy, but we need to help you if you need something.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

Because people are aware that I'm a department of one, sometimes they don't want to bother me because I'm too busy to hear about their little problem that, maybe the keyboard doesn't work sometimes. Well, I wish they'd tell me, but they don't. So, a lot of times I hear about things if I visit a branch that have been ongoing, and no one's told me.

Eric Brooks
Placer County Library, Auburn, CA

Further Resources

We’ve included a few resources that cover the fine art of managing communication with techies. Most have been written from a corporate perspective, but the underlying advice is universal.

Talking with Non-Techies

It may sound odd to you if you’re the accidental techie in your library or if you’re a newly employed librarian, but sometimes, you actually know a lot more than your colleagues do. When you’re pushing technical innovation in your library, how do you avoid the temptation to speak over everyone’s head? How do you put your colleagues at ease when they’re feeling overwhelmed by all this new hardware and software?

Key Actions to Consider

  • Be patient.
  • Teach your colleagues so they can help themselves.
  • Remember…your less tech-savvy colleagues often know more than you think.

For elaboration on each of these points, see the following “Stories from the Field” section.

Stories from the Field

Good tech support involves lots of training

In the long run, I try to be more of a teacher than a doer. If somebody has a problem doing something, I’ll go downstairs, even if they call me on the phone, to show them how to fix it or show them what happened or why it happened. That way, it won't happen again. That prevents a lot of repeated issues....I have one branch that has connectivity problems periodically, and they're a pretty busy branch, and now they know how to reset their network equipment, and they just do it every morning to deal with the fact that their lines go down all the time. So, you go show them and you give them written instructions, and now they just do it.

Eric Brooks
Placer County Library, Auburn, CA

Develop tools that facilitate communication

A problem I have here is constant, absolutely constant, interruptions with minor computer questions that they won’t put in writing. They just walk into my office and want to take up half an hour of my time. And I don’t have the time. So I developed a form, a simple form. Make it easy for people, make it simple to click, make it as automated as you can, and put it on their desktop. They just have to fill it in and click email and it’s sent to me by email.

Alice Weiss
St. John the Baptist Parish Library, LaPlace, LA

Listen to non-techie librarians and front­line staff; they know the public better than you do

Our non-­tech staff, especially the front desk staff that are working with the patrons, they’re the ones that the patrons come up to tell if a computer’s not working. Because they see the public so often, [through the process of elimination] they sometimes end up with a really good idea of what a problem might be, but they don’t necessarily know how to explain it in tech terms. [However,] their input can solve the problem for the tech if they just have good lines of communication.

Loren McCrory
Yuba County Library, CA

A lot of librarians are amateur techies and they know as much as you do about the latest technology trends

It’s something I found online that was cheap, and it was so funny because they finally came back to me, well, maybe six months to a year later saying, 'Well, I guess we’ll go with this one that you showed us initially. I guess it’ll work.' And that was back when I used to get frustrated by those things. I’m now used to that kind of process. It takes a little getting used to ‘cause they don’t expect librarians to know. That’s part of the problem and why I was saying that you really do have to keep up with stuff in order to talk with the IT staff, because if you’ve got ideas about things, they’re not going to believe you the first time you tell them anyway.

Loren McCrory
Yuba County Library, CA

Have a sense of humor and avoid the blame game

Yeah, and then I think from the geek end, from the technology side of this whole communication process, try to use consistent language and have a sense of humor. And don’t get into the blame game. I think there's nothing that will more quickly shut down an end user than if they start feeling that they're being held accountable for something. For the technology person to start saying, you know, 'This was done wrong and that was done wrong,' well, boy, forget it, all communication is gone at that point. So everybody needs to stay away from the blame game.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Remember how complex and confusing technology can be

The communication issue is always going to be something that's challenging just because a lot of times you forget, especially after you've been doing this for many, many years, how confusing this can be. So that naturally has to be kept in mind when talking to people who don't use technology on a regular basis.

Robin Hastings
Missouri River Regional Library, MO

IT staff should cultivate a customer service mentality

Do your best to keep open relations with the front­line staff. Let them know that you and systems people are there to serve them. We talk about having internal and external customers. So we serve both the staff and the patrons. When it comes to things like what you need for new computers, where you need them, what your plans are going to be;it’s really the front­line staff who are going to be driving that. I never want to start with technology and then find a use for it afterwards. Because it’s not about the technology; it’s about the people and it’s about the public.

Aimee Fifarek
Scottsdale Public Library, AZ

Keep the library context in mind when deploying and maintaining technology

I think the IT guys have a different attitude toward the computer than we do. We supply the computers for the public, and within reason, we want them to be able to do what they want, including playing games on the computers. Sometimes, what I hear is the IT guys don't want the games on the computers, and they think that the computers should only be used for research which, is silly. And when they give us a newly re­imaged computer, it won't allow anyone to play bridge or anything like that. I do know how to get in so that it will allow games, but every time they re­image a computer, I have to remember to go back in and do it all.

Robyn Holden
Mendocino County Library, CA

Get constant feedback about major projects

To other staff, I’m sure that seeing me working away on a project that springs fully formed from my laptop is [possibly] equally frustrating. I learned at my last library job how to ask for feedback on projects as I worked, to try to get people to feel like they were part of the process while at the same time not just saying 'So, what do you guys think of the new Web site?' Getting responses on the new Web site design that indicated that I should change the colors, add more photographs or rework the layout when we were a few days away from launching made me gnash my teeth thinking 'But I’ve been working with you on this all along, for months...!' and yet their responses indicated that clearly I hadn’t been, not in a way that was genuine to them.

Jessamyn West

Further Resources

To find out more about communicating with non-techies, check out our Further Resources section.

Discussing Technology with Library Shareholders

Imagine a library where the director makes all the decisions and controls every last detail of the organization. The director is, of course, benevolent, well informed and creative, with unimpeachable judgment. Have you ever encountered this library in real life? Probably not because, in reality, we only have full control of very small projects. With anything else, we have to turn to stakeholders, both inside and outside the library. We need their support, funding, advice and approval. The following resources can help you talk about technology with some of the biggest “library stakeholders.”

Funders, Politicians and Other Key Decision Makers

The governor has just walked through the door, along with Bill Gates and the Pope. Quick, say something! This is your chance to get some money for your new building! In management jargon, you’re face to face with some “key decision makers.” Of course, every decision maker has different values and interests, so there’s no script that works in every situation. But a few pieces of advice will serve you well:

  • For a good introduction to this delicate topic, see this article on Talking to Power at the WebJunction site.
  • Also, take a look at Key Decision Makers which tells you how to locate major players and uncover their interests.
  • Keep in mind that talking to key decision makers is just one part of the larger process of advocating for your library, demonstrating your library’s value and building partnerships. There are a slew of great articles on this topic in WebJunction’s Funding Strategies section.

IT Department and Other Technology Employees

See Talking with Techies for details.

Colleagues and Supervisors

Mary Niederlander at has compiled an excellent collection of quotes and links about Co­worker Relationships and Communication. Also, check out Michael Stephens’ Ten Steps to Ensure Staff Buy-­in for Technology Projects.


The subject of communicating with vendors is covered in Vendor Selection and Management, which discusses the purchasing equation.


The right technology consultant can make or break a new initiative. Sometimes, you can “fake it until you make it.” In other words, you can struggle with a new technology project or a new subject and figure it out as you go along. But sometimes, you just don’t have the time, and even if you feel equal to the task, it’s sometimes useful to get an outsider’s perspective. However, if you hire the wrong consultant and give him or her too much control, you’ve just thrown away a lot of time and money.

TechSoup has several excellent articles to help you get started. Read the following articles, roughly in the order listed:

  1. Do You Really Need a Consultant?
  2. Defining the Consultant Project
  3. Choosing the Right Consultant
  4. Writing a Contract
  5. Managing a Consultant


A lot of the conversations we have with patrons happen informally and spontaneously while answering reference questions. The same rules apply to these situations as during any reference interview. However, if you run into tricky situations, you can also look at our advice on Talking with Non-Techies, or you can look at WebJunction’s resources on Patron Technology Training.

One specific situation…and challenging conversation…that often arises in libraries is the unsolicited computer donation. Accepting an outdated PC can actually end up costing you money as you struggle to upgrade it and replace parts. Also, a library full of mismatched, nonstandardized computers can be frustrating and time-consuming to support and maintain. Consider creating a written donation policy that outlines what you’ll accept and what you won’t accept. For more advice, see TechSoup’s Donated Computers for Non-Profits and Six Tips for Accepting and Rejecting Donated Equipment.

Stories from the Field

Communicating with library boards

So I usually go to the board meetings, and a lot of them are not really technically minded and they kind of trust me; it’s like, well, we know that Matt knows what’s good for the library. And so I don’t make outrageous requests, and they’re pretty good about it. But just having an open dialogue so that everyone along the way knows what it is we’re doing. Last year, I was asking for a lot of money for a program called VSpaces, which was a federated search portal application. And it’s like, if you went to a board and said, ‘I want this amount of money for a VSpace; it’s a federated search platform.’ They’re going to say, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ So as long as my accounting department knows what it is, the director knows what it is and the board knows what it is, those communications are there. I think that makes a big difference. And sometimes, you have board members who are resistant to things, and we’ve had board members in the past who questioned everything and wanted details about why did you buy this many computers and why was it over this amount? And it’s just a matter of working with them on communication.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

Communicating with consultants

I sort of played dumb when I called the companies and asked what they would charge per hour and how they would support us. I had one man, I can't remember, it was a couple of years ago. And I told him what we were running on our servers and how many servers we had. He kept saying, ‘Well, you have to upgrade to Server 2003’ or something like that, and he said, ‘I can do that for you.’ So I said, ‘Well, we can’t upgrade to Server 2003 because our library automation system has said they’re not supporting that yet. They will eventually, but at the moment, they can’t.’ But it was like he didn’t listen. He just kept saying, ‘But you need to upgrade to that.’ So I wrote him off right off the bat. I just said flat out, ‘We're not interested in using you as a company because you’re not listening to me. And you’re trying to sell me things that I can’t use right now.’ So I think that was sort of a combination of not listening and not really understanding the library part of it.

Becky Heils
Dubuque County Library, IA

Effectively Collaborating with Other Libraries and Partners

Why is It Important to Collaborate?

Many libraries encourage staff to participate in opportunities for the library to actively engage in the community outside library walls…with good reason:

  • Collaborations can enhance the library’s ability to serve your community and make library services more visible and valued. By establishing relationships with varied people from different community groups whose purposes align with the library, including local agencies, religious organizations, local schools, and parents groups that share the library’s goals and philosophy, the library can increase its knowledge of the community and its needs while expanding the library’s sphere of influence. By working across traditional boundaries, the library can deliver better service, value, and outcomes for your library’s customers, stakeholders, and communities.
  • Working collaboratively opens up possibilities and enables libraries to share and conserve resources, reach new audiences, and expand services and programs. Collaboration allows libraries to provide more than they could alone.

What are the Benefits of Collaboration?

Successful collaboration can have many benefits including:

  • Maximizing the power of participating groups through joint action and building human capital and community support
  • Avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort or activity
  • Sharing talents and resources
  • Providing superior quality services
  • Developing and demonstrating public support for an issue, action, or unmet need
  • Increasing funding and grant opportunities
  • Expanding programming and outreach by reaching new audiences, creating and enhancing programs and services
  • Assisting with marketing library programs and services or heightening awareness of the library
  • Increasing staff job satisfaction and a better understanding of their roles in a broader perspective
  • Fostering cooperation among grassroots organizations and community members
  • Being visible not to just those who are library patrons but also to those who can provide funding
  • Taking part in community meetings, city council meetings, etc allows the opportunity to voice the importance of libraries and form partnerships that might not have been formed otherwise
  • Creating community connections
  • Accomplishing more than any single organization could

How Libraries Can Develop Collaborative Partnerships

Some Good Examples of Partnerships

Partnerships can range from short-term agreements to share a venue and the associated costs of a single program, to long-range arrangements between government agencies or businesses to provide ongoing services. Examples include:

  • Sharing technology skills and technology costs with neighboring libraries or community groups through consortiums or committees
  • Collaborating on shared program development and promotion such as computer training classes, consumer health information or resources for new immigrants
  • Sharing the expense of employing a technology trainer, web designer or tech support person
  • Disseminating local expertise and information
  • Sharing the expense of purchasing and maintaining technology among several small libraries
  • Training and funding partnerships
  • Partnering to build and share audiences
  • Fostering political alliances
  • Working with local and state agencies to provide business development workshops and research
  • Providing career centers for locating and applying for employment opportunities online
  • Cross-promoting of events

Who Are Compatible Library Partners?

Collaborations start with relationships; it is all about interactions between people. Common interests can be a great starting point as well as personal connections that already exist through the library board, trustees, staff and volunteers. Each community is different, and every library serves different constituents. Look locally to find complementary organizations. Many libraries find collaborations successful with national organizations that have local affiliates. Other partnerships include those with libraries of same type and other types, museums, schools, healthcare organizations, community groups, literacy councils, businesses/chambers of commerce and economic development organizations.

For a helpful list of possible partners, check out our “Compatible Library Partners Chart” tool.

So…What Valuable Assets, Resources and Attributes Does the Library Bring to Collaboration?

Resources can be either tangible (funds, facilities, staff or customers) or intangible (reputation, goodwill, connections or useful information). Libraries are often valuable community collaborators; however, many organizations don’t always immediately think to include them at the table. Libraries shouldn’t just be at the table. They should own the table. Invite the community to your library and share with them some of the key benefits of collaboration, as outlined here.

  • Brand and reputation: The library’s enduring standards of inclusiveness and accessibility are valued by other partners. Public libraries represent the common good as trusted and credible institutions. Libraries often have a proven track record of delivering what we promise, and partners will value our participation. Businesses want to support specific causes and be public with their support to give their companies identifiable personalities, showing that they support the community and the people in it. Libraries can help them connect to customers, investors, employees and the community.
  • Neutral institution: Libraries are perceived as fair and ethical with no political agendas and with support of democratic ideals.
  • Information clearinghouse: Libraries provide help with research and data collection.
  • Community center and meeting place: Libraries offer programming and community linkages.
  • Service orientation: Libraries provide good customer service.
  • Promotion of lifelong learning: Libraries provide many learning opportunities and tools.
  • Economic development: Libraries provide career assistance, business resources and support community and neighborhood development.
  • Infrastructure: Libraries can provide publicity, space, project supervision and research expertise.
  • Staff involvement: Library staff are committed to serving and supporting their community.
  • Strong skill base: Libraries are often leaders in the area of information technology, particularly in the area of content development and management. The information skills of staff are relevant in a variety of environments.

Further Resources

Talking with Techies

Talking with Non-Techies

David Lee King has collected some links on how to communicate with people who don’t know as much as you do about technology. Also, check out Bridging the Gap Between Techies and Non­Techies and Seven Tips for Talking with Nontechnical People. Of course, this sort of conversation occurs when you’re talking with patrons, trustees, directors, politicians and even IT folks themselves, but the same logic applies in every variant of this situation. Be patient, be understanding and listen carefully to their concerns.


The essence of collaboration is suggested by the word itself. Collaboration is about co-labor; it occurs when people from different organizations work together through shared efforts, resources and ownership of a common goal. Strong partnerships occur between organizations with similar backgrounds; clear loyalties and interests; clear communication channels; responsibility and accountability for success and sharing of resources, risks, and rewards.  The following tools are designed to help you form strong, collaborative partnerships inside and outside of your organization.

Building a Better Relationship with Your Techies

Be as specific as possible. Have you ever called tech support and started a conversation with “My computer won’t turn on” or “The Internet’s broken”? These sorts of calls will make your IT department prematurely grey. Help-desk technicians prefer to spend time diagnosing and solving problems as opposed to figuring out exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred. For example, instead of saying that the Internet’s broken, tell them exactly what program you were in, what web page you were trying to visit and what type of error message you received. Also, if you know something about network troubleshooting and you’ve done some work to narrow down the problem, let your IT folks know what steps you’ve already taken.

Be empathetic. We ask our IT departments to implement technology that’s reliable, secure, user-friendly and cheap. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, so keep in mind the pressure your techies are under and the competing interests they have to balance.

Don’t pretend to know more than you really do. If you fake it by smiling and nodding your head, they’ll bury you in jargon and you’ll walk away with a headache. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for an explanation of some basic terms and concepts. You’ll learn more that way, and they’ll respect you for your honesty and willingness to learn.

Challenge your techies. A lot of tech folks love to solve thorny problems and grapple with new ideas. Take advantage of their curiosity and their thirst for knowledge (they want you to). If you don’t have any big projects for them to research or difficult problems for them to solve, make sure they have some time each week to pursue their own interests.

Talk to the techies in your organization in a relaxed, informal setting. Ask them about their workflow, their projects, the things that motivate them and the technologies they’re excited about. Like anyone else, techies want to be heard. If you listen carefully to their enthusiasms and their concerns, they’ll be more likely to do the same for you. Moreover, as you listen to IT staff talk about their projects, you’ll start to absorb a lot of IT lingo and knowledge.

Become an amateur techie. The more you learn about technology, the more likely it is that your techies will see you as a peer and the more willing they’ll be to trust your instincts when it’s time to make a decision. Some good ways to become an unofficial member of the “tech collective” are as follows:

  • Talk to techies and ask them questions.
  • Do a little research on your own. Subscribe to PC Magazine, PC World or Wired (these magazines cost between $10 and $30 a year), and skim each issue when it arrives. Then read the three or four articles that look most interesting. When you encounter terms you’re not familiar with, look up the definitions on Webopedia or Whatis. Of course, you can read the Web versions of these magazines, too, but you may find the print version more congenial.
  • Learn a little about “geek culture.” A good starting point is Wired’s Geekipedia.
  • Play and experiment with computers. If possible, have an old PC around (at home or at work) and use it to download interesting software. If you want to do this at work, make sure you clear it with your IT department, because a “sandbox” computer can be a security risk. Even if you’re doing it at home, be careful about the software you download. Programs that are downloaded from disreputable sites are often filled with viruses, malware and spyware.
  • If these suggestions seem too basic, see our article on Keeping Up with Technology.

Possible Resources and Tools for Establishing Library Collaboration

Clubs, Nonprofits, Charities and Other Organizations

Research state and local foundations at Michigan State University lists service clubs and civic organizations that provide funding at Your library friends groups, board, staff and local directories may also help identify clubs and other organizations that are potential collaborators. 

TechSoup for Libraries and TechSoup TechSoup for Libraries and TechSoup are both sources for collaboration information and resources.
Building Digital Communities IMLS initiative focused on communities working together across sectors to make progress on digital inclusion initiatives (
WebJunction WebJunction offers many articles and discussions around the topic of collaboration and partnerships at
ICMA, the International City/County Management Association ICMA's library page ( offers news and resources, including Maximize the Potential of Your Public Library, a research report on public library partnerships with local governments.
State Libraries (
State Library Associations (
Urban Libraries Council

Publications on collaboration, leadership, and other topics, as well as annual library "Innovations" awards for civic and community engagement (

National Network of Libraries of Medicine Public Libraries and Community Partners: Working Together to Provide Health Information, including tips from a successful partnership.


Compatible Library Partners Chart

Businesses/Chambers of Commerce/Economic Development Organizations
Local employers, small business owners, visitors’ centers, chambers of commerce, economic development councils, industry councils, real estate agents, restaurants
Community Services Organizations/Associations/Clubs
Literacy organizations, YMCA, AARP, AAUW, American Red Cross, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, United Way, neighborhood associations, organizations serving the homeless, Salvation Army
Cultural Groups
Theater groups, art leagues, dance supporters, arts commissions, historic preservation groups, state humanities councils
Educational Organizations
Public schools, private schools, colleges/universities, PTA or PTO groups, school boards, home school organizations, multilingual programs, higher education institutions/organizations, tutoring organizations
Ethnic Organizations
Ethnic chambers of commerce, NAACP, tribal councils, Latino/Hispanic groups, Asian groups, Urban League, refugee rights associations, refugee/immigrant centers/services, refugee rights association
Family Services Organizations
Family service agencies, social services departments
Financial Representatives
Bankers, credit unions, financial planners, stockbrokers
Government/Political Representatives
Mayor, city/county manager, city council, county supervisors, city/county fiscal office, city/county planning office, law enforcement officers, job training programs
Health Organizations
American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, hospitals, public health nurses, public health clinics, National Network of Libraries of Medicine
Legal Organizations
Legal aid, ACLU, bar associations
Library Representatives
School media center staff, college or university librarians, special librarians
Media Representatives
Newspaper, radio, TV, ethnic media, local magazines, community newsletters
Organizations of/for People with Disabilities
Center on Deafness, Council of the Blind, state/county/city health and human services, Easter Seal, Goodwill, independent living centers, United Cerebral Palsy
Professional Groups
Medical associations, board of realtors, bar association, business and professional women’s groups
Religious Groups and Organizations
Churches, ministerial alliance, youth groups, Jewish community centers, Young Life, Catholic Services
Senior Centers/Service Organizations
Area Agency on Aging, senior centers, RSVP
Technology Experts
Computer clubs, consultants, community colleges, Internet providers, universities
Youth Services Organizations
Big Brother/Sister, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, FFA, FHA, child abuse agencies, city/county recreation programs, Junior Achievement, Head Start, Even Start, child care associations, local Association for the Education of Young Children, school-age care and enrichment programs
Women’s Centers/Service Organizations
Women’s shelters, YWCA, National Organization for Women, Junior League, Soroptimist, sororities

What to Consider When Entering into a Collaborative Process

  • Assess needs. It is important for you to really examine your community and see how the library can most meet the needs of its members. Evaluate your library and community goals, and incorporate existing strategic plans based on community needs. Envision what your library could be in the future to consciously make the choices to get you there.
  • Use appreciative inquiry to examine opportunities. What is working well? What services are most used and valued in your community. For example, are there long lines for computers or people wanting to share computers, such as teens or families? What could be done to support this service?
  • Build sustainability to support your programs and projects into the future.
  • Look locally for partners that will help make an impact. Collaborative efforts should center on finding an answer, making a difference or taking charge of a community issue.
  • Determine if there is strategic alignment. Will the collaboration help fulfill the library’s mission and goals? Find common ground between the library and community organizations that can help with implementation of library services and goals.
  • Focus on the cause and the people — whether it concerns literacy, children, unemployment, etc. Be careful to not get caught up in focusing on how the individual organizations could benefit, but on what you can accomplish together to serve your community members.
  • Specify shared goals and rewards that your partnerships will foster.
  • Use open communication; share timetables and have periodic meetings to share information with your partners.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities in any collaboration.
  • Ensure the ability to make necessary decisions for situations that arise.
  • Consider what your library has to offer and how you can better reach out to your community.
  • Complete a SWOT analysis. Determine the library’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the threats and opportunities in the community.
  • Examine the implications of sharing resources.
  • Consider the chances of success for each partnership.
  • Create a memorandum of understanding for collaboration. Clearly communicate what is expected of the collaboration and what the responsibilities are. Use a detailed, signed agreement that confirms expectations in writing. Terms not to use, as they could denote a legal arrangement, include partnership agreement (this can imply equal liability and shared profits and losses) and also joint venture. Some things to include:
    • Summary of assets and needs identified
    • Description of target audiences and constituencies
    • Description of goals, objectives, purpose and shared agreements
    • Resources and equipment needs and how needs will be fulfilled
    • Defined roles and responsibilities
    • Milestones, timeline, what happens when
    • Key contacts and decision-making process and approval
    • Expected deliverables
    • Termination procedures: what to do if the collaboration doesn’t work out
    • Plan for program documentation and evaluation. What will success look like? What information needs to be gathered for evaluation, and who will be responsible?
    • Budget and funding sources and responsibilities
    • Plan for public awareness and marketing

Tips and Techniques for Creating Strong Partnerships

  • Build from existing relationships.
  • Make sure the library is in the right place at the right time.
  • Join existing coalitions and networks.
  • Target groups and initiate specific strategies.
  • Conduct focus groups to stay aware of community needs and opportunities.
  • Organize a committee or meetings with community leaders.
  • Contact members individually or meet one-on-one with leaders informally.
  • Identify local groups and potential community partners.
  • Include individuals and organizations that are well connected to the community.
  • Make sure there are benefits for all parties.
  • Utilize effective communication strategies.
  • Have designated and responsible representatives.
  • Focus on a specific project, program or issue.
  • Put the right people in the right positions. Because collaborations are built on trust and convergent goals, the major determinate of success lies in the human factor.

Ten Examples of Successful Library Collaborative Projects

Tempe Public Library is located in Maricopa County, Arizona, the fastest growing county in the nation. With a constant flow of newcomers, the library is one of the only non-commercial places for residents to gather, learn about their new communities and exchange social and educational information. The library offers special opportunities to bring families with young children together and to build social connections between older adults, young parents and relevant community services.

One of their strategies emphasizes collaboration and co-location. Tempe Library has located its branches near other public services, such as the Escalante Community Center, which operates under the city's Community Services Department and houses the Tempe Community Action Program, the Escalante Senior Center, the Youth Assistance Program, summer camp programs, health services, adult employment services and recreational activities as well as a library branch. The library offers opportunities such as the Family Place Libraries program to bring families with young children together and to build social connections between older adults, young parents and relevant community services. The library’s outreach staff collaborates with colleagues at the Escalante Community Center to maximize possibilities for community engagement.

Tempe Public Library also obtained funding for the construction and operation of the Tempe Connections Café and program space through a $547,644 grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. Civic Ventures is a community-focused think tank that partnered with Tempe Connections and is part of Civic Ventures’ national initiative, The Next Chapter, which encourages communities to create new approaches that help retiring adults transition to new life phases by providing a supportive community for ongoing learning, development and societal contributions.

The Friends of the Tempe Public Library operate the café and program space, with all profits used for the support of Connections programs and services. Community collaboration and citizen involvement is a key part of the Tempe Connections program. During the planning for the grant, Tempe Task Force on Aging members provided input, and now a Connections Advisory Council sets project goals, hires staff and plans for operations. More than two dozen community organizations and educational institutions partnered with the city of Tempe to participate in the planning and delivery of program offerings. A few highlights include:

  • Lifelong learning and new career opportunities in partnership with Arizona State University, Maricopa County Workforce Development and other partners
  • Life planning workshops
  • Wellness classes, screenings and exercise programs provided by St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center
  • Civic engagement through peer mentoring
  • Volunteer information through Civic Ventures’ Experience Corps and Tempe’s Volunteer Office

Salt Lake City Public Library has established itself as the community gathering place. The city block it occupies, called Library Square, includes retail outlets such as The Community Writing Center of Salt Lake Community College, a nonprofit artist’s cooperative, public radio station KCPW, a delicatessen, a coffee shop and Night Flight Comics, a graphic novel and comics shop. The library’s contract with the retailers stipulates that they must be community-focused. They share programming, training, broadcasting and implementation of large events. More than 1,000 other groups and organizations meet at SLCPL, including the League of Women Voters, Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice, Utah Quilters, Utah Storytelling Guild, the Authors Club, Women in Recovery and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Most of these groups partner in programming with SLCPL, making the library not only the place to meet in Salt Lake City, but the place to develop events as well.

Laramie County Library System, Wyoming, was Library Journal’s Library of the Year 2008. Some of the many agencies and organizations with which LCLS has formed alliances include The Wyoming State Museum, Old West Museum, Laramie County Head Start, Stride Learning Center, Cheyenne Animal Shelter, YMCA, Cheyenne Boys and Girls Club, Cheyenne Lions Club, Cheyenne Rotary Club, Cheyenne Eye Clinic, Starbucks, Cheyenne Women’s Civic League and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Library Journal selects a library of the year annually. Online profiles of these libraries demonstrate the commonality of great collaborations as evidence of a strong and valued community library.

Nashville Public Library and their community partners provide a constant stream of programs in literacy, culture, public affairs, education, design and local history. Partners include the Vanderbilt Symphony, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Nashville Kurdish Association, the Women's Bar Association and the Intermuseum Council. To educate the community about the significant role that Nashville citizens played in the civil rights movement, the library built a Civil Rights Room and presents programs with the National League of Cities, Fisk University, the First Baptist Church, the First Amendment Center and the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. According to the Tennessee state librarian, the Nashville Public Library is “a diverse and welcoming activity hub and a center for public discourse...The library is committed to building strategic community partnerships and responsive public programs that enhance the lives of all residents of the Nashville community. It demonstrates the power of libraries to inform and bring communities together.”

Boston Public Library’s Kirstein Business Branch provides business development services to new immigrants. A microlending program in New England sends aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs to the Kirstein Business Branch. The library developed a Spanish version of a popular workshop, Getting Started in Business, in partnership with the Small Business Center at the University of Massachusetts.

The September Project is a grassroots effort that encourages libraries and communities to come together in meaningful ways throughout the month of September. September Project events explore issues that matter — like peace or freedom — and can include book displays, panel discussions, civic deliberations, film screenings, theatrical performances, community book readings, murals, kids’ art projects and so much more. The September Project began in 2004 and continues to grow. In 2007, there were more than 500 free September Project events organized locally in libraries in 30 countrie including public forums, discussions and round tables.

Brooks Memorial Library in Vermont partnered with their local college IT department to get computer donations to use as backups when the library computers are in service so that they can still provide the public with basic Internet and word processing services. (source: MIT interview, Jerry Carbone)

Southwest Harbor Public Library in Mt Desert Island, Maine, created a computer committee. Libraries are creating technology advisory committees to help with planning, tech support and community needs assessments. “The computer committee is a group comprised of patrons and several staff members. It’s all volunteer. There are about five or so core folks with experience in computers because of their professional background or out of interest. It’s an opportunity for me and for other staff members to bring up things that have come up in our daily computer interactions, and it’s also an arena through which we can plan. This has been a focus that we’re trying to move towards, and it’s been really great to have outside information and ideas. It’s like a think tank, and when I get frustrated I can say, ‘Hey, I really don’t know what’s going on. Does anyone? Have you heard of this?’ These are folks that I can email or call. They’ve just been really quite invaluable.” Kate McMullin, MIT interview

Pryor Public Library collaborates with the local high school to support their technology needs. Shreffler, who teaches the high school computer classes and acts as Pryor Public Library’s technology consultant, explained that when the current librarian wanted to spend money to hire a full-time IT staff member, he stepped in and offered his students’ services instead. “I have students that are available about every hour, and we train them to help,” Shreffler said. “And it’s a good thing for us and it’s not a lot of trouble.” Shreffler and his students visit the library several times a week to perform a variety of maintenance chores on the computers, including replacing malfunctioning computer components, installing software and troubleshooting occasional connectivity problems. Because most of the computers are more than four years old, having a regular maintenance team has been especially useful in keeping Pryor Public Library’s machines functional. MIT interview

Richland County Library in Sidney, Montana, collaborates with local businesses. For example, Renee Goss said she received a lot of free help from the local computer store in exchange for letting the store train its employees on library computers. Goss has also been working with local electronic stores to offer discounts on mp3 players for library card holders. “I think it’s in collaboration that you learn about your community, they learn about you and you figure out how you can pair up with somebody,” she said. “Collaborative efforts are the key to whatever it is you’re doing. Work with as many groups as you can.” MIT interview Renee Goss, Director

Princeton Public Library Discussion on WebJunction: Unconventional Partnerships by Janie Herman

I just thought I would share a few of the unconventional partnerships that Princeton Public Library has established over the years to increase our level of programming without incurring too much additional cost.

One of partnerships is with local theaters to provide previews and pre-performance lectures or ‘meet the cast’ sessions prior to the show opening. One series is called ‘McCarter Live @ the Library,’ and we normally have anywhere from 75 to 100 people show up for these programs. We also do ‘Passage Theater Previews.’ The theater benefits with a bit of extra promotion, and our patrons love having a chance to mingle with the cast and crew and to hear about the behind-the-scenes making of the productions.

We have also teamed with the local arts council to create an art gallery in our reference section. They change the installation every three months and feature the works of two artists per show. When the installation is complete, we host an ‘Art Talk’ with the artists — the library provides food, the arts council brings wine and it is a classy night. Attendance ranges from 50 to 100.

Another unique partnership is with a local Italian restaurant that pays the public performance rights for our Italian films series and then hosts a reception at the restaurant after the films. We have a large Italian community that just loves this event.

We also collaborate with a local poetry group to do a ‘Poet Invite’ every month. They select the poets and host the evening; we just provide space and PR.

There are several other partnerships, but the one thing that all of our partnerships have in common is that we get quality programming for minimal expense.

Create a culture of collaboration. Library leaders should not just understand the value of collaboration; you also need to convince and inspire others to initiate collaborations and work to help them succeed. One of the first steps in this process is to articulate and promote a vision of collaborating without boundaries — not just as a short-term response to an immediate need, but as a critical element of the library’s long-term strategy. Management has to make it clear in both word and deed that everyone needs to find potential collaborators to help them solve problems and create opportunities. Speak about it and model it. Celebrate successes and make the benefits clear to everyone at the library. Encourage library staff to attend meetings and networking opportunities outside of the library.