In our last Teen Programming post, we outlined the importance of outreach and how to integrate it into your programming arsenal. Since “outreach” can translate to a wide range of ideas and actions, narrowing it down will help you take your next step towards effective methods of community engagement. This is where partnerships come in! This, however, opens a whole new can of worms. How does one establish positive community partnerships? How do you ensure that your goals aren’t lost in translation? How do I secure beneficial opportunities for teens through partnerships?
When I first began working in my position, I was immediately overwhelmed by the need my community has for the library and its community organizations. During my first few months, I had grand plans to “do it all” and open up so many more opportunity and learning experiences for my community’s teens. What actually happened was that I got burned out and became discouraged. I realized very quickly that I was not going to be able to accomplish many of my goals alone. I needed support from others who were positioned in the community to help me achieve what needed to be done.
So let’s break it down. YALSA’s Future of Library Services report states that today’s teens need libraries to connect them to other community agencies, but how do you establish these connections? Network, network, network! This may sound simple, but community leaders need to know who you are. Start by attending committee and board meetings to get a sense of the issues and climate of your community. PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meetings are another community body that is important to engage with as they are directly connected to the teens that your services will affect. Are there task forces or coalitions that are specifically directed at alleviating a specific need? Don’t be hesitant to insert yourself into the community conversation because you have your library’s resources to back you up. As a library representative in the community, you are an integral voice in the larger network of organizations that are committed to improving the lives of teens. Pinpoint individuals whose resources are in line with your goals and begin a dialogue with them.
When starting this dialogue, how do you make sure that your goals don’t get lost in translation? Communication is so important when you are making efforts to partner with an outside agency. Before any communication begins, make sure that you have your goals and plans clearly defined. What is it that you want to accomplish? What role do you see this partnering organization offering? Additionally, offer your resources and begin a dialogue about how this partnership would benefit both organizations mutually.
How do you make sure that your partnerships bring beneficial opportunities to teens? Last month we discussed ways to discover your community through outreach. During this discovery process, locate areas that your community needs more from your library. Is there a group that’s being under-served? Who can help you bridge that gap? A few months ago, I recognized a gap in the services that we were offering. At the time, we had reached out to just about every group of teens to make sure that our programs and services were reaching our diverse teens’ needs. However, we hadn’t reached out to teen survivors of domestic violence. I made a connection with the director of a local organization that acts as a transitional agency for teens and families who are leaving abusive situations. They offer temporary housing, counseling, and resources to help them take control of their futures and I wanted the library to be a part of this transition. My goal in partnering with this organization was to bring enriching programs to the teens at this facility, as they might not have access to these opportunities during this transitional period of their lives. Upon meeting with the director, my goals were clearly defined and I listened as she described how our organization could benefit these teens. We agreed upon a plan and programs were implemented at their location. We also offered books from our collection that we had discarded. We wanted to give the teens that she serves the opportunity to continue reading since many of them were temporarily not in school. This partnership was a simple way of offering integral library services to a new demographic while still connecting to the larger community.
Ultimately, libraries must work with partners to alleviate their community’s needs. Start small, make connections, and be diligent about following through. YALSA’s Futures Report pinpoints the shift that libraries are experiencing in the 21st century. We have gone from quiet, solitary locations that provided relatively uniform services to spaces, both physical and virtual, that offer a broad range of resources that empower teens and grow their skills, interests, and goals. Partnerships are integral to meeting this standard because they allow us to continue to broaden the services we offer, bridge gaps in your community, and build a better future for teens.
What are your partnership success stories? How do you bridge the gap in your community with partnerships?