Written By: John Connolly, our Vertical Files podcast host. 

Libraries and information centers are an integral part of our communities and work places. They promote information literacy, bridge the digital divide, provide access to their collections, are a freely available public space, and guide patrons to reliable sources of information. As we emerge from a pandemic, many libraries are attempting to fulfill their missions with fewer resources than in the past. In this context, it becomes critical to explore every option to extend the reach of the library into its community.

As libraries push the boundaries of their limitations, it’s better to focus on achieving more through the power of a partnership mentality. Do what you do best, and partner for the rest! Strong partnerships can extend the reach of the library , bringing diverse programs from subject experts whose practical knowledge in a given field can exceed that of the library’s staff.

It’s more important than ever to explore and enter into partnerships that serve the mission of the library and promote the library’s resources. Here are some tips to building solid library partnerships that will work for the library’s mission, promote library services, and further develop the library’s reach.


Clearly Define your Goals

The best approach to a partnership is one of clarity. What’s in the partnership for both parties? It’s usually beneficial to lay out the goals and responsibilities in writing before entering into the partnership. Clear goals that are agreed upon by all parties simplify the evaluation process, where partners determine whether or not the partnership has been successful. An evaluation process is a critical component of the partnership agreement. It will normally set time boundaries for the partnership and keeps all parties focused on the mission, and how to achieve it.


Keep it Mission-Focused

It’s easy to get “into the weeds” when exploring partnership opportunities. The benefit of having a strong mission statement is that it gives you a measuring stick for judging program ideas. Does it fit within the mission? Does the partnership’s goals serve the mission, and to what degree would success forward the mission of the library? This is a two-way street as well: can the library’s partnership forward the mission of the partner? Libraries can position themselves as hubs for their communities, bringing together many different organizations with a variety of missions to work synergistically.


Think Outside the Box

The good thing about library missions is that they tend to be very broad and allow for flexibility in specific partnerships and programs. With a service mission tied to a specific community of patrons or library users, it’s not difficult to find connections between the well-being of the library user and a diverse array of potential partners and their missions. Many partnerships can be developed at minimal cost to the library and the partner organization.

With this in mind, it’s possible to explore partnerships that go beyond traditional programs. Examples of potential partnership organizations include museums, historical societies, food pantries, writer’s groups, professional associations, age-based groups, and government units devoted to development of economic opportunities and small businesses. There’s almost no limit to the potential in the community, and the library can bring its unique advantages to bear in the partnership: a unique user base, expertly organized staff members, collection resources, and space for programs to occur.


When libraries cultivate a partnership mindset, new opportunities open . Strong partnerships develop advocates for the library and can result in growth opportunities . Libraries can stretch the partnership paradigm to include creative collaborations that enrich the lives of library users and strengthen the communities that libraries serve.

John Connolly is a librarian with over ten years of experience in the field, including technical, administrative, and supervisory roles in a variety of library settings. He blogs on librarianship, leadership, and management topics.