I Partner with my Public Library Award

Libraries Recognize their Community Collaborators

Noah Lenstra /

We all know that public libraries struggle with public relations. When Dr. Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, shined a light on public libraries in his book Palaces for the People, he also raised the profile of public library work in the national consciousness.

In 2019, Klinenberg shared on X (formerly Twitter), that “Yesterday [Brooklyn Public Library] began promoting Library Lanes, its amazing virtual bowling league for older patrons. But, IMHO, I think they’re underselling it. (Marketing has never been the library’s super power.) So here’s a little bump,” along with a video of the program and the hashtag “BowlingTogether.”

As librarians continue turning outward to communities, the public relations challenge escalates. We not only have to share information about core library services, we also have to share information about how and why we work with community partners on everything from animal adoption to equity in the foster care system.

Celebrating those who see public libraries as critical community partners

By creating a platform for public library workers to celebrate their partners, the I Partner with My Public Library Award exists to emphasize that successful public library work requires partnerships.

We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic that public library workers got burnt out and even suffered trauma from being volun-told to fill in the gaps in our social safety net. As John Herron, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library, recently wrote in The Washington Post, “Our nation’s public libraries are a valuable asset in tackling some of America’s thorniest problems. But we can’t do it alone.”

Let’s celebrate those community partners who recognize the fact the public libraries “can’t do it alone,” and who are teaming up with public libraries to make real differences in communities!

In Summer 2023, we invited public libraries to nominate their community partners for the inaugural I Partner with My Public Library Award, requesting library workers share specific contributions the partner made to the library and the community. In the end, we received 55 submissions from public libraries in 22 states that serve a mixture of urban, suburban, small town, and rural communities.

Where did this award come from?

As I finished up a three-year, federally-funded project looking at how and why 18 public libraries collaborate with community partners to increase access to healthy living opportunities (HEAL at the Library), I began thinking and talking with my graduate student assistants about what we could do to create a platform for public libraries to share their partnerships with others.

We found in this project that what public libraries did with their community collaborators took a wide variety of forms, encompassing everything from community gardens to bike lending; from StoryWalks to free, hot meals for older adults. Read more in our 18 case studies.

Before the project ended, we created an award structure, solicitation, timeline, and vetting process, and then in June 2023 we released our call for nominations to the world. The final list of inagural 10 awardees was informed by the following criteria:

  • Geographic diversity
  • Length, depth, and impacts of the collaboration
  • Mutuality of the relationship

Join us in 2024!

The I Partner with My Public Library Award invites you to recognize the accomplishments of exceptional partners. Each year, up to 10 are honored at an online ceremony held in their honor.

Submitting a nomination is the perfect way to thank your partners, and to celebrate the work you have done together. These annual awards also inspire others to reach out to new partners.

Nominations for the second round of the award will be accepted through the end of August 2024. Final decisions will be made on October 15, 2024, with a public awards ceremony occurring in November, 2024. Awardees will be publicly celebrated on the I Partner with My Public Library page on Let’s Move in Libraries. Join us in this endeavor!

Submit 2024 nomination

Who won in 2023?

Outdoor bench designed and painted to look like an open book

To give you a sense of what we are celebrating, and to encourage you to nominate your partners in 2024, here are brief snippets about the 10 winners. Read more at our webpage, which also includes even more Honorable Mentions, as well as the recording of the Awards Ceremony, which featured brief remarks from Austin Beutner, founder of Vision to Learn.

The winners are sorted into two categories: (1) non-profit organizations/individuals and (2) government agencies.

Non-profit organizations and individuals

  • Community Action Thrift Store: Erie City (Kansas) Public Library Director Julie Kent noted that in this small town of 1,100 people, “As the library has become the hub of the community, we often know about families that may need clothing or food so [we] can call the thrift store for a specific need,” which the thrift store works with the library to meet.
  • Dr. Laura Munski of the Dakota Science Center: For nearly 15 years, Dr. Munski has worked with the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Public Library to increase access to STEM learning opportunities. Munski and the library have also worked together to share their model with public librarians across North Dakota.
  • Holly City Development Corporation: For the past six years, Millville (New Jersey) Public Library has worked with this organization on the annual PlayStreets celebration, a yearly summer event that closes a street to traffic to open the street for a day of play. The organization has also helped identify and secure $1,170,000 in state and federal funding to support library expansion.
  • Stop the Violence Team: To commemorate Juneteenth 2023, Norfolk (Virginia) Public Library sponsored its annual festival, which was made more successful due to this partner, who helped the library coordinate a Community Parade. This event brought over 700 people together, and it was such a success that the community is already inquiring about next year’s festivities.
  • Tony Faiz Khayat: For nearly 30 years Mr. Khayat has volunteered his time to teach free Yoga classes at the Donald W. Reynolds Library, which is especially notable since Mountain Home, Arkansas, has only 13,000 residents. Tony accepts small donations which he hands over to the library, and over the years his classes have raised $80,000 for the library.
  • Vision to Learn: This national non-profit increasingly works with public libraries (alongside schools and other community organizations) to close the “eyeglasses gap.” Cobb County Public Library was the first public library partner, starting in 2018, and in 2023 alone the partnership enabled 484 children in Cobb County, Georgia, to return to school with new glasses.

Government agencies

  • Child Care Resource and Referral of Washington County (Oregon): Among other accomplishments, this organization invited public library staff to join them on the planning committee for an Early Childhood Mental Health Summit, where public library staff had the opportunity to network with others while also attending trainings on self-care and mental health.
  • City of Chillicothe (Ohio) Transit Department: This partner fully integrated the Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library into the community’s transit system, including designating a portion of the library’s parking lot as a transit hub, complete with a “Main Library Bus Stop Bench” shaped like an open book.
  • Columbus (Indiana) Department of Parks and Recreation: Bartholomew County Public Library has worked with this partner to create a permanent wheelchair accessible StoryWalk, and to support a Come Out and Play program, a free, supervised camp on summer weekdays from 1-4:45 pm, as well as on many other smaller but still impactful collaborations.
  • Hartford (Connecticut) Public School: Hartford Public Library worked with this school to create the Boundless program, a partnership that involves library staff working closely with school staff to address equity gaps in the educational system. Hartford Public School Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez called librarians, “partners-in-learning.”

Images courtesy of Let’s Move in Libraries.

Noah Lenstra is an associate professor of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He co-chairs the Partnership Committee of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries and in 2016 started Let’s Move in Libraries.