In library school, we always talked about how school librarians and public librarians should work together to accomplish common goals for our teens. It sounded so great! Having fellow librarians to join me in serving the community would be awesome because there would be more adults who know and care about my students and understand the work that I do. We’d run programs together! I’d get all my students to use the public library just like they’d use mine!
To make it happen in real life has been harder than it seemed. There are definite obstacles to collaborating with my local librarians. Time’s perhaps the biggest one. We’re not always at work the same hours of the day, and as soon as I have some time to work together after school, public libraries are busy helping the same tweens and teens who just left me with their homework or planning awesome programming for them.
That’s not all though. I know from talking to public librarians that sometimes school librarians are not always the best at follow-through or express worry about competition for students, programs, or resources. This was shocking to me the first time I heard it, and I apologize to public librarians who’ve been turned off from working with school librarians because of attitudes like this. It’s definitely worth trying again, even if it’s slow going!
Because I think these relationships are so important, I want to come to the table with some ways I’ve already been supported by our local librarians and also a few ideas about how to expand school library programs. While I know not all are welcoming, most school librarians I know would be excited about these sorts of ideas too, so don’t be afraid to reach out!
- Start small and start with relationship building. Get to know me and the challenges I am facing in my program. Consider coming to take a tour of my school as professional development if you can. Invite me for coffee, maybe, if you are into that sort of thing? Or possibly come to a meeting of the local school librarians’ professional association? The best collaborative work I’ve done with public librarians has been with those I’ve known best both professionally and personally.
- If possible, have an annual educator’s night at a nearby restaurant or cafe. Creating a festive environment outside of either the public or school library could be a helpful relationship builder. After a school day, when I’m hungry and probably have grading, planning, or admin work to do, I’m more likely to show up for an event that’s a little casual and has food. A local librarian in my city hosted an event for school librarians to learn about the public library’s summer reading program, and it was a great way to see my colleagues while also getting to know more about the program.
- Offer to make collections of text sets or extra copies for specific research projects or units. While I try to target my collection development to be sure we have extra copies when we need them, I can’t always. My local librarian has saved me a few times by putting together sets for book clubs or research projects when we didn’t have the funds to get more.
- As one of my library school professors used to say, be “aggressively helpful.” Even if I haven’t reached out specifically, offer to send me articles or send invitations to events you are hosting. Consider sending a newsletter that shows off the amazing work you are doing. I promise I’m interested, even if it takes a little longer to respond or attend.
- Come see me and my students at my school when you can. Consider offering to host a program right after school or during our lunch times. I’d happily help plan or just let a public librarian run the show — whichever best served our mutual needs and goals. I struggle to run circulation and a lunchtime book club at the same time, so it would be great to collaborate on programming during those times specifically.
- Offer to fund or share funding for programming or special projects. There are so many cool programs I’d like to try or author visits I’d like to host, but my budget is too small. Joint funding and hosting of these programs would mean more opportunities for my students.
- Consider timing programming right after school if you are close to a local school. I’d definitely go straight to a library program and bring a group of students with me.
- Share reading resources! I’d love to send some of my reading lists, book talks, or blog posts and I’d love to get some from the public library as well.
- If it’s possible, let me know which of my students regularly attend your programs. I can better advertise and promote public library activities if I know other students who attend. Student word of mouth often means much more to my students than anything I say!
These are just a few thoughts of ways school librarians might appreciate being supported by a local public librarian. Despite the challenges, working together is best for our teens because it ensures they have 24/7 library services, safe spaces, and creative programming. Let us know in the comments if you have other suggestions or can share about an effective partnership you’ve fostered.