Communication is Key
The foundation of any successful partnership is communication. Partnerships have many forms, from agreements with large institutions, to local organizations, or between individuals. Rather than looking at a partnership from the perspective of two organizations collaborating, I looked at it as an internal relationship between the library and community, specifically the tween community.
Before establishing a partnership, most people look into meaning, purpose, and the hopeful outcome of this collaboration.
After struggling to connect with teens and multiple unsuccessful program endeavors, I thought about what we could do to ensure that we connected with kids before they became teens. If we focused on strengthening our relationship with the 6-8th graders, then we would have an established partnership and hope that this would carry on into high school, resulting in seeing these teens in our library.
Making Your Move
We had a group of tweens who would come to the library almost every day after school. I decided to introduce myself and my coworker to them and ask them their names. This familiarity was the start of a relationship. We were no longer strangers to them; every time they came into the library they would look for us and a conversation would start. We spoke about school, homework, sports and of course, books! The tweens even invited us to their school holiday show.
They were definitely coming back to the library and even bringing more friends with them. They would bring their friends over to us and make introductions. It became an important component—knowing each other’s names would lead to the start of a conversation. We were no longer just the librarians at the desk or library staff but were actually people with names to these kids.
Testing Your Impact
The library was closed for renovations for about 11 months and I was worried that we would no longer see the tweens when we opened up again. We tried to set up school visits and keep in touch but it was not the same as the relationship we had created in the library. We could not carry on the random conversations we had once had during school visits. However, when we opened up again the group was back and they invited a lot of their friends to come to the library. The library became their space once again.
The group of now 7th graders are excited to come to the library even if it’s just for a quick hello. I always try and sneak in a conversation about a good book I’ve read or will be reading soon. Because of this connection we have built with these community members, they can talk to us about the programming they would like to see in the library. Last year they wanted to have a game night with us. They also wanted to set up a book discussion. When I said that would be a great idea, they thought about what time, what day, and how frequently they want the program to be. They came back to me with options: meet once (no more than twice a month), on a Friday after school and gave me dates for the first 2 months.
Benefits of Building Relationships
Establishing a relationship with the tweens allowed them to communicate with me what kind of programs they wanted in the library. It is important to continue building connections within the community because it not only helps users, but it helps library staff better serve them and create programs/events that users want to attend. By connecting with this group, we were not only able to promote the library’s resources, but also able to start a dialogue about the services these students wanted from their library and community.
A few of the titles we have discussed include One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale, March: Book One by John Lewis, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, and Footer Davis Probably is Crazy by Susan Vaught.
Hadeal Salamah is a Children’s Librarian at D.C. Public Library and currently serves on the ALSC Building Partnerships Committee.