So you’re ready to embark on a micro partnership. You’ve done your community analysis, so you’re familiar with current demographic information in your area. You’ve considered which audiences you’d like to target to promote equity. Now all you need is a partner organization.

But how to choose? It’s a little bit like (very platonic) dating: who’s your perfect match?

The dating game

Choosing community partners:  almost nothing like The Dating Game.


Before you begin setting up dates with potential partners, here are three criteria to think about.

1. Are they reaching an audience you want to serve?

This is a big one. Partners who can deliver a built-in audience of the exact folks you want to reach are so dreamy. At my library, we often work with partners who serve clients facing barriers (e.g., youth who are low income, homeless, or English language learners), allowing us to target those audiences directly.

What’s really great is that we’re often able to build on the trust that teens have in the partner organization. Right now we’re partnering with a youth shelter to provide weekly afternoon drop-ins in the library. On the mornings of the drop-ins, we visit the shelter to chat and hand out invitations. If the youth have had previous negative experiences in the library–or even just fear that they might not be welcome–seeing us show up in their space, working closely with staff they trust, helps us prove ourselves as allies.

These partners also help us tailor our offerings to their clients’ specific needs. Instead of creating a program on our own and just hoping it’s relevant, our partners and the youth themselves tell us exactly they need. We get immediate feedback about what works and what doesn’t. And we adjust.

2. Does the organization’s mission overlap with the library’s mission (and your own work plan)?

There doesn’t have to be 100% mission overlap between the partners—in fact, that will pretty much never be the case. But you should be able to create a project that will help both sides achieve something relevant and important to them.

One of our partners is a local government agency that provides academic support and paid internships to low income teens. Obviously, providing academic and career support for youth is also important to the library, and to my department in particular. We work with the partner to create and teach technology workshops to give the teens the skills they need succeed at their internships (the partner’s goal—although we are also totally down with it) while also building digital and information literacy (our goal).

3. Do they have skills or resources you don’t have?

Librarians are pretty great at almost everything, but let’s face it: we can’t do it all. Sometimes we collaborate with partners who have cool stuff or can do cool stuff. College prep & scholarship programs are a good example. Since the complex college application process is not our specialty, my department works with organizations that can provide students with expert guidance.

The very best magic happens when we can match a partner with great resources or skills with another partner who serves the perfect audience for those resources or skills. That’s next-level partnership stuff. More on that later!

I’m lucky to live in a city with a lot of potential community partners. The options may look different where you are, but I bet they’re out there. How do you select partners in your community? What do you hope your partners will bring to the table?



About Hayden Bass

Hayden Bass is a Teen Services Librarian in Seattle. She chairs YALSA's Programming Guidelines Taskforce and is a member of the 2015 Printz Committee.

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