A Widening Circle of Partnerships

WebJunction Staff and Partners /
Stories of fruitful partnerships formed by WebJunction Partners

Partnering for Impact

Although partnerships are an ancient tradition and certainly nothing new to libraries, there is a sense of increased urgency to find and form innovative collaborations. Some pressure comes externally from funding agencies that tend to reward strong partner coalitions over solo efforts. More insistent is a deepening awareness that partnership is embedded in the notion of community; no institution can remain an island if it seeks effective reach into its community. There is also the advocacy advantage to libraries in discovering unique and unconventional partnerships—new connections tap into expanded contact with new users. And often, the impact of a partnership ripples out beyond the specific purpose for which it formed, spawning spin-off services and new alliances.

[Photo: a handshake is still the universal symbol of partnership; from WebJunction on Flickr]

Partners of Our Partners

As we focus on partnerships and innovation this month, who better to turn to than our own partners to find examples of success? Seven WebJunction Partners share their stories of partnerships formed to: 

  • Address professional development for library staff:
    • 1. WebJunction Illinois: ILEAD USA
    • 2. WebJunction Mississippi: e-BEAT
  • Address early literacy and children’s programming
    • 3. WebJunction Washington: Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge
    • 4. WebJunction Connecticut: Take Your Child to the Library
  • Address adult literacy, technology literacy, and workforce development
    • 5. WebJunction Pennsylvania: PA Forward
    • 6. WebJunction Idaho: Test Prep with ABE
    • 7. WebJunction Montana: BTOP Partners

1. WebJunction Illinois: ILEAD USA

ILEAD stands for Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply and Discover. Billed as a “21st Century Technology and Leadership Skills Institute,” the nine-month program works with competitively selected teams of library staff in an immersion learning model with instructors, mentors and peers. Teams identify a project and, together, they build their skills in matching the assessed needs of their users with appropriate participatory technology tools and replicable programs. Having hosted two years of successful ILEAD U programs in Illinois, the Illinois State Library received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand nationwide into ILEAD USA. This year, 28 teams will be selected from five states— Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, and Utah.

Collaborators on the National Steering Committee represent the state libraries of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Utah, plus members from OCLC, Syracuse University, and the University of Illinois Springfield.

(Note: this partnership example was submitted by WebJunction Illinois, which is managed out of the Illinois Heartland Library System - Edwardsville Office;  it is not part of the Illinois State Library.)

2. WebJunction Mississippi: e-BEAT

The Mississippi Library Commission partnered with the Mississippi State University Extension Service Broadband Education and Adoption Team (e-BEAT) to meet the dual charges of 1) helping Mississippians use broadband and information technology to further community and economic development opportunities and 2) strengthening and enhancing libraries and library services through the professional development of library staff. The partners are modeling the excellent strategy of capitalizing on the strengths of each. They are working together to develop workshop content and curriculum; e-BEAT staff are conducting training; and Library Commission staff are handling promotion, local arrangements, and registration.

Workshops are designed to improve digital literacy and emerging technology skills of public library staff throughout the state. Workshop topics include eReader Basics, eGovernment Resources, Electronic Resources for Job Seekers, Social Media for Libraries, Cloud Computing, and Using Mobile Apps. In addition, 15 competitively selected library staff members get to participate in Tech Academy, a 6-month training program to significantly increase their basic computer skills so they can better assist community members with job searches, basic Internet use, and online classwork.

The collaboration has now encompassed public libraries in the state; by taking advantage of e-BEAT resources, they are able to provide direct face-to-face training to their patrons on a variety of technology topics. Beginning in January 2013, many public libraries will serve as “local host sites” for a series of e-BEAT webinars for the public. The first will focus on learning how to use that new toy received for Christmas—the iPad.

Both partners consider their partnership a “win-win-win-win.” Libraries further engage with local communities, providing free technology training for residents and staff; e-BEAT reaches more Mississippians; and most importantly more Mississippians increase their digital literacy and technology skills and look to their public libraries for assistance.

3. WebJunction Washington: Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge

A young child’s brain is a remarkable thing.  At birth, babies have almost all of the neurons they will ever have and, by age 3, a baby’s brain will have reached almost 90 percent of its adult size.  By knowing about and utilizing best practices and resources that can help children to maximize their potential, parents and caregivers trusted with the responsibility of raising young children can help them to enter school ready to succeed.  Libraries are a natural partner to spread the word about early learning in their communities, being seen as a neutral and safe setting that provides information to all.

At the request of Dr. Bette Hyde, Director of the Department of Early Learning (DEL), the Washington State Library was invited to draft a proposal that would enable public libraries in the state to support DEL’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.  Activities will include partnering with other members of the early learning community to:

  • Increase public awareness of the Washington State Early Learning and Development Guidelines and encourage their use;
  • Promote the critical role of the Early Achievers quality rating and improvement system in assisting parents to make child care choices;
  • Reach parents with high-quality parenting messages through the Love. Talk. Play. campaign.

This partnership takes advantage of the role public libraries play in serving as local hubs in their communities and of their availability throughout the state. Through increased visibility as key players supporting early learning in their communities, libraries can strengthen their position as anchor institutions in the minds of their stakeholders and funders.

4. WebJunction Connecticut: Take Your Child to the Library

Take Your Child to the Library is a set of promotional materials available to libraries anywhere. It started as a Connecticut-grown, grass-roots project when Nadine Lipman, retired Head of Children's Services at the Waterford (CT) Public Library, dreamed up Take Your Child to the Library Day. Her idea to have an annual day (first Saturday in February) to celebrate what libraries offer children gained immediate popularity. Through a partnership with the Connecticut Library Consortium (CLC) and Upstart, a leading supplier of library promotional materials and reading incentives, now any library can order materials to enhance their own “Take Your Child to the Library Day.” Available products include bookmarks, posters, bags, and library card holders. Purchase of these products supports the work of CLC, which in turn will benefit the Connecticut library community. Another win-win-win.

5. WebJunction Pennsylvania: PA Forward

Launched early in 2012, PA Forward is a statewide initiative to reinforce libraries as the community centers of information, technology, and learning that will fuel educational and economic opportunity for all citizens of Pennsylvania. The lead agency Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) has assembled an impressive list of 18 partners, which include corporations, state agencies, non-profits and statewide associations. In addition, the advisory board is made up of influential community leaders, including representatives from libraries, non-profits, businesses, and two authors/illustrators. This is truly a community-wide effort, with community defined as the entire state.

Focused on five literacies—Basic Literacy, Information Literacy, Civic and Social Literacy, Health Literacy, and Financial Literacy—PA Forward aims to power the citizenry with knowledge, delivered through the state’s academic, public, school, and special libraries. The project will work to ensure that libraries have the resources they need to move forward. For each literacy, there is a vision, examples of technologies that can be leveraged to achieve the vision, as well as strategies and ideas for programming. The effort is backed by a vigorous campaign to raise the visibility and value of libraries in the eye of the public, positioning public libraries in particular as an essential resource.

6. WebJunction Idaho: Test Prep with ABE

The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, instigated the formation of new partnerships across the country. In Idaho, the Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICL) has been active in developing many partnerships to advance the BTOP objectives of increased connectivity and greater access to public computing centers in libraries. Although the BTOP-funded projects are coming to a close, many of the partnerships will be ongoing.

One timely example is the ICL partnership with Adult Basic Education (ABE), which is part of the Professional-Technical Education Department in Idaho. The partners intend to prepare for the upcoming national transition to a new method of delivery for the GED tests. Starting in 2014, the GED tests will be administered by computer only, including the essay writing. The scoring standards will also increase to reflect rising standards in today’s high schools.

Knowing the important role that Idaho libraries will play in supporting the public through the GED transition, ICL has ensured that it has representatives on the state transition team who will be the voice for public libraries, as well as a purveyor of information to libraries. To promote test-takers’ successful completion of the tests,  the ICL has funded a statewide subscription of Learning Express Library for the next year, allowing both ABE instructors and library staff to be able to provide end-users with ready access to test prep activities. Public libraries and their public computing centers will allow students access to the hardware and Internet to work on their skills beyond the classroom.

This is definitely a win-win partnership with the ABE group and public libraries, and a demonstration of how a nurtured partnership can provide ongoing benefits to both parties as well as the end-users they both mutually serve.

7. WebJunction Montana: BTOP Partners

As another beneficiary of the BTOP program, the Montana State Library has forged many excellent partnerships. Their formal partnerships through this grant program led to trainings and webinars offered by subject experts, which were well received by library staff. The Montana State Library and the Job Service Offices of the Montana State Workforce Services Division discovered they were ideal partners to engage in an effort to offer training to library staff members to support their job-seeking patrons. Montana has a public library in nearly every community in the state, and Job Service recognized the impact and supports that libraries could offer to patrons seeking job search and application assistance. 

However, it was the more informal relationships developed through the BTOP program that brought unexpected positive outcomes. The Montana Telecommunications Access Program and MonTech helped the state library deliver information to librarians about using assistive technologies.  Both agencies sent speakers to statewide training sessions, where they addressed the various ways that libraries could better meet the needs of their community members by providing assistive devices and technologies, including computer software for low vision and blind patrons, patrons with hearing issues, and those with physical disabilities.  As a result of these relationships, BTOP monies funded purchases of new computer software and hardware products.

Refresher Resources

Forming and maintaining productive partnerships is a skill set, one that can be honed continually. Even if you and your library have years of experience with partnering and collaborating, it never hurts to review the many fine points. It’s a matter of staying in shape.

1. Build Partnerships! Tools for Strategical Library Development is an excellent manual for reviewing basic partnership guidelines. The fact that it comes from Denmark is just proof of the universality of sound partnership principles. With graphical clarity, this guide collects advice, considerations and examples of how libraries can professionalize partnership work in eight succinct chapters:

  1. No library without partnerships
  2. What are partnerships?
  3. Why are partnerships a strategic tool?
  4. Who can the library collaborate with and on what projects?
  5. How can the library broaden its network?
  6. What will partners gain from collaborating with the library?
  7. Does the library’s organization have an influence on the gains of partnership work?
  8. How does library support its partnerships?

2. Attributes of Successful Partnerships is a brief checklist of the key elements and conditions that contribute to success, along with some potential conditions for conflict.

3. Community Partnership and Collaboration Guide explores best collaboration practices and where to find potential partners, and includes a checklist to evaluate potential partners.