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.