21st Century Librarianship – Part 5, 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. [Paraphrased from IMLS 2009 publication Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills.]

Strategic Partnerships

What better way to show a library’s relevance to its community than by getting involved. I have long advocated strategic planning to provide direction and organization to the library’s resources. The MAIN purpose of the strategic plan is to define and elaborate on the library’s mission and goals. If a potential role of a 21st Century Library is to be a focal point of activity within its community, what better way to accomplish that than through being involved in community activities.

OK, your first thoughts are probably “We are involved in community activities.” We host story hour for pre-schoolers, a summer reading program, homework helpline, cultural events of all kinds, and we’re “busier than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs”. While all these are laudable activities, but – THEY ARE ALL LIBRARY CENTRIC! Not a single one of those activities is outside the library, involve any other agency or business from the community, or are a result of a community needs assessment. Strategic Partnerships are not library-centric, they are community-centric.

In a 21st Century Library, strategic partnerships are built through finding out what THE COMMUNITY needs, and filling that need if it is within the capabilities of the library.

For example, you (21st Century Librarian) attend your city council meeting and hear that your local XYZ Factory is having trouble recruiting workers with appropriate language skills. The community needs some work force development help, but there is no other agency (such as an Office of Work Force Development) or organization (such as a trade school) that appears capable of fulfilling that need. You remember Your Library has a bi-lingual librarian with ESL experience, so you jump up all enthused and yell “The library can do that! We can organize and host ESL classes in cooperation with the XYZ Factory.” THAT creates a strategic partnership between XYZ Factory and Your Library that will benefit a major economic force within your community. (OK, you could wait until the next day, give it some thought and develop a more comprehensive plan before jumping into a major commitment like that, but it sounded good didn’t it!)

Doesn’t it also seem reasonable that the XYZ Factory will reciprocate with assistance to the library, either funding, or equipment, or volunteer support. At the very least at the next city council budget hearing, won’t the President of the XYZ Factory stand up and tell the city council how much Your Library has helped improve their workforce which has improved their business, which is VERY good for the local economy.

That’s what strategic partnerships are all about WIN – WIN! Think outside the walls of Your Library and find those strategic partners with whom you can create that WIN-WIN relationship and solidify your relevance to your community.


Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of the 21st Century Skills model. 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 of individual contributions.

In my Post of September 30, 21st Century Library Collaboration, I spotlighted a new model of collaboration 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. It proposes four levels of partnership – Network, Coordinate, Cooperate, Collaborate, with their respective primary goals.

Examples of collaboration include;
•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.”
•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, 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.
•The library hires a staff person who is embedded in a community organization.

NOW – Consider the example of a Strategic Partnership with the XYZ Factory in the context of the Collaboration model immediately above. What do you envision?

No, don’t read on. Think about what a Strategic Partnership with the XYZ Factory and the example of Collaboration might produce.




Hopefully you envisioned a librarian embedded with the XYZ Factory doing 21st Century Librarianship work, possibly even establishing a library branch. It’s not traditional. It’s not normal. It’s not library-centric. It’s 21st Century Librarianship!!

These new ways of thinking about the role of the librarian in the 21st Century community though strategic partnerships and collaboration, is just one of the many ways that 21st Century librarianship helps lead the library into its new role and back to relevance in the community.

What other skills / knowledge would you recommend for 21st Century Librarianship?

More to come…………………
Next up: 21st Century Librarianship – Part 6:

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