Ashe County Public Library (ACPL) was awarded the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Resources Grant. With this funding, I designed a three-month-long program for and with teens broadly called Life Literacy at the Library (LLL). LLL was designed around the county’s most recent community health needs report, which identified three key areas of need for Ashe County residents: “mental/behavioral health, substance abuse and misuse prevention, [and] physical activity and nutrition” (CHR). Through both teen advisory councils and surveys, the teens voiced their desire for programs and collection development geared toward mental health, physical health and nutrition, and structured educational programming, all of which corresponded with the health needs report.
My department began researching ways we could provide teens with programming focused on these needs. We knew that partnerships with community organizations were going to be important, but it was in my reflection on LLL at the end of the summer that I realized how crucial partnerships are to creating a robust summer program.
Programming through partnerships benefited LLL in several ways. First, we were able to offer more variety in program options for teens. We held cooking and nutrition classes, dance classes, writing workshops, mental health classes, etiquette classes, and art classes. This variety worked well because teens could select classes based on their interests and comfort level. Additionally, the variety attracted teens who do not attend regular teen programming.
Programming through partnerships also connected teens with resources in the community of which they were not aware. A large percentage of our teens are home-schooled and utilizing partnerships helped broaden their knowledge of community resources and opportunities.
It also served to initiate new relationships and strengthen existing relationships between the library and community partners. Advertising our programs and our partners brought increased awareness of teen programming at the library, and I had several community members contact me about potential future collaborations.
The other partners I discovered through existing personal relationships. For example, my sister is an accomplished choreographer and gave the library an excellent discount to lead a dance class. The instructor who led etiquette classes is a friend of library staff. The published poet who led the writing workshops is a former English teacher of my department supervisor. A Safe Home for Everyone (A.S.H.E.) led the mental health classes. A.S.H.E. is a local non-profit that provides services to individuals who have experienced domestic and intimate violence, and the library had an existing partnership with A.S.H.E. Utilizing the social connections staff members have within the community is an excellent way to bring new opportunities to the library. The benefits of partnerships also extend to the partnering organizations. Several of the organizations we partnered with have community outreach goals, and the library can help meet those goals. For example, both the Ashe County Cooperative Extension and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts seek to conduct community outreach as part of their organization’s goals. Ashe County Cooperative Extension led the cooking and nutrition classes, and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts led the art classes. After researching the organizations’ missions and goals on their websites, a friendly phone call was all it took to secure these partners. I would advise contacting potential partners as early as possible, since both of these specific organizations fill their calendars quickly. I contacted them in January, within the same week I found out we had received the grant award. I continued to correspond with partners via email throughout the year, answering any questions they had and offering help or assistance when possible.
Finally, programming through partnerships saved the library and library staff enormous amounts of time, effort, and money. Eight of our nine LLL programs were led and co-sponsored by partners. My department and I were solely responsible for one program, a Teen Spelling Bee. Because of the time saved through partner collaboration, I was able to devote more time to planning this event. The teens loved the Spelling Bee and based on their feedback, our county librarian even suggested making a summer spelling bee one of our recurring events. Programming through partnerships for summer learning also served to maximize the grant award. We saved an enormous amount of money by working with our partners, most of whom gave us a discounted rate because of our relationships. With our savings, I was able to purchase more collection items and offer more programs. I wanted to stretch the grant award as far as possible and provide the teens with a full summer learning program with varied learning opportunities, and partner collaborations, along with the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Resources Grant, made it happen.
Molly Price is an Adult Services Librarian at Ashe County Public Library