Gimme a C (for Collaboration!): Reach Across the Aisle for Partnerships that Transform Youth Services

Through school-public library collaboration, librarians support one another in expanding and nurturing their communities’ literacy ecosystems. Patricia Jimenez is the school librarian at Sunnyslope High School (SHS) in the Glendale (Arizona) Union High School District. At the time of their collaborative work, Emily Howard was the young adult librarian at the Cholla Branch of the Phoenix Public Library (PPL); she is now the assistant branch manager at Desert Sage. Together, Patricia and Emily developed a series of programs based on their determination to take literacy “where teens are.”

School librarian Patricia and public librarian Emily’s partnership began when Emily reached out about visiting the Sunnyslope campus to discuss what the Desert Sage Branch had to offer SHS students. Patricia was thrilled because she had been meaning to do exactly the same thing.

After their initial meeting, Patricia arranged for Emily and a colleague to visit SHS’s library during lunch periods, helping students sign up for PPL library cards when they are most frequently in and out of the media center. The visits offered a low-key way for the collaborators to get to know one another better. They chatted during the set-up, the time between lunches, and during the tear-down as well.

The collaborators learned they had a great deal in common. Patricia showed Emily some typical SHS library programming, sparking the idea of having Patricia bring that programming to the Cholla Branch. A month later, Patricia boxed up her FebROARary activities and headed to Emily’s PPL branch. Participants in the joint program made dinosaur buttons, colored dinosaur bookmarks, and applied dinosaur tattoos. While the PPL teens were not as excited to participate as SHS students usually are, parents with their younger children stopped in and got involved. Patricia was able to work with a different audience, which was truly fun for her.

For the past year, Patricia and Emily have been going back and forth between libraries, sharing ideas and programming while building a real-life friendship.

These girls colored their own art and then got to watch it made into buttons right before their very own eyes. (February 18, 2017, Cholla Library) Photo Credit: Patricia Jimenez

Here are a few things they learned along the way:

Start Small: Find a simple way to partner with an easy drop-in program.

Take Programs Where the Teens Are: After a book/movie discussion fell flat, they realized that instead of Emily trying to get SHS teens to go to the public library, they capitalized on the fact that the SHS media center is one place where students are accustomed to gather.

Share Resources and Programs: Existing programs can be made better by combining ideas and supplies. Even though the school library’s supply budget was small, SHS did own a button machine. Emily’s PPL branch had a color printer and enthusiastic patrons. It was a match!

Share Ideas to Create Something New: Once a rapport is built between collaborators, it’s time to think about how each person’s skills, ideas, and resources can combine to make something bigger and better for both libraries.

Most Importantly: Remember that to develop a successful collaboration you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Both parties have something to offer. Use that as your starting point and build from there.

Patricia and Emily presented their collaborative work at the Arizona Library Association Conference in October, 2017. The thirty-five or so public librarians who attended listened and shared their ideas to “Reach Across the Aisle: Partnerships that Transform Children’s and Youth Services.” Since that presentation, Emily has moved to a different branch and is reaching out to collaborate with another high school librarian. Likewise, Patricia is reaching across the aisle to a different public library teen librarian for a new school-public library partnership to transform youth services. The relationship they built, the effort they made to collaborate, and their successful programs are now influencing the work of other colleagues. Brava to Patricia and Emily for expanding the impact of their partnership.

Judi Moreillon is literacies and libraries consultant, former school librarian, and retired librarian educator. She tweets @CactusWoman and blogs at SchoolLibrarianLeadership.com. She is a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Cooperation and the chair of AASL’s Innovative Approaches to Literacy Task Force.

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