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Getting Creative with Partnerships – Public Libraries and Community Arts Organizations

As children’s librarians, most of us excel at presenting programs based around our professional and educational training – early literacy storytimes, children’s literature book discussions, or library and research skills classes. We all draw from our unique, diverse backgrounds to provide other types of programs as well, in areas like STEAM for instance. However, no one librarian, or even library department or system, can present programs on every topic of interest to their community on their own. Programming is an area where building relationships with other community organizations can be especially beneficial. In particular, organizations related to the creative arts, such as music, theater, and writing, can be a great fit for collaborating with libraries.

What are some of the benefits to working with these community arts organizations?

  • Adds variety to the types of library programs available to patrons. Regular patrons will be pleased that you’re providing them with more options, and you may even attract new library patrons with new, different programming.
  • Builds relationships with other organizations. While in the short-term you’ll be able to provide a new program for your patrons, in the long-term you could develop a relationship with an organization that continues to benefit both institutions for years to come. Maybe you’ll collaborate on larger events or apply for grant funding together in the future.
  • Costs little or nothing for the library. Many organizations will provide this type of programming for free because they are seeking opportunities to grow their audience and reach out to the community. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, approach organizations that include educational outreach as one of their missions (this will usually be stated somewhere on their website).
  • Requires minimal library staff time. At the start library staff will have to contact the organization and schedule the program. Then there will be some time devoted to promotion of the event and possibly set up of the library space. However, all of this time should still be much less than creating a new program from scratch.

Some examples of partnerships at my library:

  • Knoxville Symphony Orchestra – KSO Library Storytime – each year a string quartet from the symphony visits multiple public library locations to provide a musical storytime experience. Books are read while the musicians provide accompaniment, then children are given the opportunity to talk to the musicians and try out instruments themselves.

Source: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

  • Tennessee Stage Company – Shakespeare for Kids – As part of our yearly Summer Reading programs the Tennessee Stage Company, a local non-profit professional theater group, presents a program at several locations. The program provides an interactive introduction to Shakespeare and one or two of his plays. The actors always include an opportunity to involve the children in stunts and swordplay to make it particularly interesting for them.
  • Knoxville Writers’ Guild – Emerging Writers Workshop – This non-profit organization dedicated to creating a community of local writers has been a long-time partner of the library for providing adult programming like author talks and writing groups. Recently, building on the success of an ongoing teen writers’ group he’s been leading for years at one library branch, one of their members led a ten-week creative writing workshop for children at the library that was a huge hit as well.

Working with community arts groups can be a win-win situation for both the library and the other organization. You’ll be providing new, interesting programming for your patrons, and they’ll have the opportunity to reach a new audience. So reach out and get creative!

Erin Nguyen is the Children’s Services Manager at the Knox County Public Library and currently serves on the ALSC Building Partnerships Committee.


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

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