Located in an urban area, my library has a large population of people experiencing homelessness. All of the schools in the area are Title 1 funded schools, which also indicates a high level of need for transitional housing and other services for families. Although we regularly see homeless populations in the library, I wondered why we don’t see more and what we could do to make these potential patrons feel welcome and aware of not only our warm building in winter months but also our wealth of resources and programming for families.
I developed a loose plan to visit the shelters and homes that serve families, provide a storytime, talk about resources and distribute library cards. I honestly thought it would be a cinch to get the shelters on board. But I was setting myself up for difficulties. I had an elevator pitch that largely skipped why this might be a useful service. When it comes to populations that need food and shelter, the library may be pretty low on the priority list. Honing our elevator pitch to include the ‘why’ is especially important when developing new partnerships.
It was very difficult getting a hold of anyone at any of the handful of organizations I contacted.
I didn’t take it to heart and continued to call and leave messages. What I neglected to do in those messages was to also offer myself up for whatever they might need. Maybe they did not have the time or space for a storytime. Maybe parents really wanted information about our drop-in job hunting courses. Maybe they needed something else. Instead of asking them what they need from the library, I unloaded my assumption of what I thought they needed.
After a few months of calls and email exchanges, one temporary housing organization said they did not have enough staff for my program and they were concerned about their populations’ privacy. That was eye opening because I had approached the partnership entirely from my perspective rather than theirs.
Another transitional housing organization said yes and we were able to schedule visits. Although it was wonderful to provide a storytime, I felt I had much more impact after the storytime when I talked casually with parents and children about the different things the library offers while distributing library cards. In the end the partnership has been successful and we will continue to offer this service once a month at multiple homes.
What have you learned from difficult to cement partnerships?
Arwen Ungar is the Early Learning Librarian at the Vancouver Community Library in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She is passionate about puppies and early literacy, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at email@example.com.