21st Century Library Collaboration


Public libraries have evolved gradually as institutions of learning, but in the 21st Century, more and more of these bastions of knowledge are asserting themselves as anchors of community activity and development. Long past are the days of libraries as passive repositories of information. To remain relevant, the public library must develop a multi-directional organizational culture that can adjust to constant and rapid changing conditions and that incorporate non-routine, technical, creative, and interactive approaches to public service. [Gleaned from IMLS 2009 publication Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills.] Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of 21st Century Skills.

In this context, the key characteristics of an intentional and purposeful collaboration include:
•The ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams and organizations.
•The flexibility and willingness to compromise to accomplish common goals.
•A shared responsibility for work and value individual contributions.

Another Model of Collaboration

The following outline was prepared by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine MidContinental Region Collaboration Working Group and presented in the webinar series “Navigating Collaboration: A Crash Course in Connecting with the Community”. The model presents four “levels” of partnerships, from simple (First Level) to complex (Fourth Level) depending on;
(1) the amount of time partners invest,
(2) the amount of trust exchanged between the parties, and
(3) the amount of turf partners are willing to share.

A visual representation of the four levels of partnership – Network, Coordinate, Cooperate, Collaborate – and their respective primary goals is shown in this figure.

Examples of Collaboration in the 21st Century Library

Network
•Participate in a health fairs with a table full of library information. While there, stopping at all the booths to say hello to all the other “vendors.”
•Attend a local meeting, for example a community council, city, or county commission meeting.
•Attend a state or regional conference. Present a poster session on a special library project and be there to answer questions and talk to folks as they walk by.
•Participate in meetings and activities of local community-based groups to chat informally with others.

Coordinate
•Alternate hosting of classes or meetings – one session at the library, another session at the partner’s facility
•Share a booth at a health fair. Half of the booth or table at the fair contains library materials and the other half contains materials belonging to the partner agency. Both parties staff the booth equally but each party answers questions only about their own activities.
•Coordinate an event. One group hosts the location while the other provides the speaker.
•Let another agency know what you are doing for Summer Reading Program and schedule your own activities at times that don’t conflict with each other. Here, each agency does their own thing but there is basic coordination – harmonization – to not duplicate efforts and avoid conflicts.

Cooperate
•Share a booth at a health fair, but each organization takes different times staffing it; that means each person at the booth is able to promote both agencies giving accurate information about the partner’s activities.
•Co-present a program at a conference or co-teach a class. Each partner develops and delivers part of the content.

Collaborate
•The library hires a staff person who is embedded in a community organization.
•The partners write a grant application to fund a project – this is from the ground up, from the very beginning, both partners have equal interest pursuing similar and complementary goals.

Gratefully contributed by my USL colleague Juan Tomás Lee.
Readers can expect more examples of the 21st Century Library.

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