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The benefits of working with a community partner
Working with community partners can strengthen the library's relationship with the community, and enable the library to present programs or services that it might not be able to do on its own.
For example, community partners can:
- become important advocates for the library;
- bring new and more diverse audiences to the library;
- raise library awareness in a wider segment of the community; and
- provide resources that the library doesn't have, including funds and materials, volunteers, and broader access to media sources.
Choosing a partner
Before choosing a community partner, it can be helpful to do a brief needs assessment. For example: What are your program goals? What do you need to achieve your goals? Which of your needs can be met by the library? How can a partner help you meet these needs and achieve your goals?
This process will help you evaluate your existing resources and prioritize your remaining needs, thus helping you to choose the most effective potential partners to assist you.
Here are some questions to ask to help evaluate your needs:
Audience: Do you need help in attracting certain target audiences to your program or to the library in general?
- Consider a community partner that has connections or influence with your target audience. Think about community leaders.
Publicity: Do you need help publicizing your program?
- Approach people with PR and publicity skills who can create press releases/flyers/posters etc.
- Get acquainted with your local reporters and media sources. If you have a cordial and established relationship, they are more likely to help out. Find out who has the "library beat" at your local media outlets â€“ who is responsible for covering events at the library? Find out if your local paper will run a public service ad or article for free.
Funding: Do you need additional funds to present your program?
- Offer local businesses the opportunity to sponsor your program. Businesses often set aside funds for community projects since it gives them the chance, and the PR value, to support local causes.
- At big events, consider offering local vendors or community groups a chance to have a booth at the event (with a percentage of their profit going to your library). Think about bookstores (chains and local) as well as local specialty stores.
- Could a partner raise funds for the program or for the library?
People: Do you need additional people to help you plan and present your program?
- Everyone is a potential volunteer! Examples include local businesses with employee volunteer programs; seniors; the library's teen group, or high school teens who need community service hours; parents who want to become involved in the community; civic groups; your friends group; colleges with community involvement programs; family, friends and the neighborhood dog.
- Overestimate how many volunteers you need â€” it pays to have too many.
- Think about the skills your volunteers might need. Do you need creative people to help decorate the library? People who are detail-oriented? Tech-savvy? Develop an ongoing list of reliable volunteers - they are a valuable and constantly needed resource.
Space: Is your event too large for the library?
- Could a partner donate space to hold part, or all, of your event? If not, could your partner assist you in renting more space if needed? Assess your space and staffing needs realistically to see if this is something you need help with.
- Try developing ongoing relationships with local theaters or business centers - these relationships can prove useful in many ways, beyond offering potential space.
Ideas and know-how
- Perhaps a community partner has organized an event similar to the one you are planning and could provide ideas and tell you about potential pitfalls.
- They might also be able to put you in touch with partners and resources that they used for their event.
Presenters and performers
- Utilize your pool of local talent. Everyone is or knows potential talent. Scan the media and keep a list of groups or individuals who appeal to you for future reference.
- Build contacts with the local Screen Actors Guild office, school drama departments, and art groups, local authors or celebrities, local dignitaries, media personalities etc. The worst they can do is say no, but quite often they are happy to help libraries, or can point you in the direction of someone who can. Make sure to compile a list of contact names, numbers, and emails for future program use. They might not be able to help with this program, but maybe they can help with another in the future.
Think inside the library
- You don't always have to come up with new and different people to partner with. Look at the partners you currently have to see how you might develop those relationships further.
- When considering your choices for community partners, get input from other staff members and groups, such as your teen advisory group or Friends of the Library board members. This can help you to get different perspectives and ensure support from your colleagues and staff.
Approaching your chosen community partner
Be clear about what you want from your partner
- For example, do you need your partner to be actively involved in the planning and/or presentation of the program? Or do you want to develop the program and need them to help provide funds or materials, or to help you promote the event?
Think about how the partnership will benefit your community partner
- What's in it for them? A successful partnership will benefit both parties, and a partner is more likely to come on board if they can see those benefits. The PR value of being listed as a sponsor can often mean a heightened local media profile for your partner, and this can make it worth their time and effort to become involved. A successful partnership can also ensure their interest in future projects.
- In addition, you can build contacts by offering your library's resources to other community organizations. Meet local PTA/PTO members by volunteering to attend Back to School Nights, or offer your meeting rooms and plan programs to appeal to local college groups and professors.
- Have information about your program and the library ready to give to the potential partner.
- Be sure to research potential partners and be informed about them. When evaluating a potential partner, it can be helpful to talk to people who may have worked with them before. This may help you decide if they are the right partner for you. You might also find that you have a colleague or friend in common, which can give you more credibility with the potential partner as well.
Working with a partner
The importance of communication
- Establish the terms of the partnership clearly. Be clear about your goals and expectations, and listen to your partner. Communicate regularly and get everyone's input on how the partnership is progressing. Include other staff members in your plans and meetings so that you aren't the only one communicating with your community partners. This can help everyone avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
Agreements: Get everything in writing!
- Avoid confusion and bad feelings for everyone involved by getting an agreement in writing detailing what special guests, volunteers, and/or sponsors will be doing for your program, when they will be needed, and where. If there are fees involved, or special needs, make sure others on your staff know where to find this information in case you're not available. A happy working relationship ensures a future relationship!
- Life happens. Be prepared for partners, guests or volunteers to back out, even at the last minute. Have a back-up plan in mind for each area, in case of problems or cancellations. If you are prepared, it can greatly ease the chaos of a last-minute scramble before your program.
Last but not least:
- Thank and acknowledge your partner both privately and publicly.
- Keep your partner up-to-date with what's happening at the library: add them to the library's mailing list, and stay in touch.
- Make sure you're on their mailing list and follow what they're doing.
- If the partnership worked for both of you, plan to work together again!