When thinking about new partnerships to cultivate at your library, your local elected officials may not be the first people to come to mind—especially if they are not already library supporters. However, there can be significant benefits to creating partnerships with your local officials. You can show the impact of libraries firsthand, engage in direct advocacy, and connect the community with their elected officials.
At Ramsey County Library, in suburban Saint Paul, Minnesota, we chose National Library Week as a perfect opportunity to invite members of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners to visit storytimes as special guest stars. Inviting them for a specific event and purpose really allowed us to set the expectations of what would happen and what we wanted to accomplish. Rather than seeing this as simply inviting someone to “read a book to kids,” we framed it as an opportunity for the Commissioners to visit the library and see the skill, impact, and delight that are involved in our storytime programs for the community, as well as a chance for them to connect with their constituents in the role of fellow library supporter.
Since our special guests were elected officials, we designed voting activities for our storytimes. As kids came in, they were invited to vote for the stamp that we give out at the end of storytime. We made election signs for our candidates, and posted signs with simple language explaining what it means to vote. Our County Commissioner sat at the voting table, and collected kids votes, which gave her the chance to interact with families before the program began.
After voting, it was time to begin storytime. After making an announcement and explaining who our special guest was and why we National Library Week was special, we went through some of our normal storytime routines–opening song, letter of the day, counting, and (of course) a story. We really saw this as an opportunity to show off the value of storytime to our Commissioner. During our normal activities, we framed everything as a way for the kids to show off how much they learn during storytime, as well as how much fun they have. “Let’s show our guest how we are practicing self-control and teach her our favorite jumping rhyme, Jack in the Box.” Finally, we invited our County Commissioner to read a story we pre-selected, and talk to the kids and families about her job and role in the community. After our closing song, we announced which stamp had one the election, and the County Commissioner gave out stamps to the kids.
This was a great partnership, even if it was a non-traditional one. We were able to advocate for the library, show our value to the community, provide an extra learning opportunity for families, and hopefully garner stronger support for the library. We provided a fun chance for an elected official to get out into the community and connect with constituents in a meaningful way. It was a win-win!