Combine resources, collaborate! It’s a mantra chanted across library school classrooms, conference sessions and mission statements. It can also understandably put us on the defense. Often it’s presented as “figure out what different libraries in your community do well and have only one provide fill-in-the-blank resource/service.” That can make sense, especially if we actually work together in that process to assess strengths and help connect patrons to their needs. It also makes you want to pee in a circle around your programs and resources, figuratively speaking. In working with middle school students, I learned about strength-based, asset-building programming. Build on individual strengths, focus on existing assets and accentuate the positive. Collaboration between libraries in communities can work similarly when we focus on bringing our strengths to the table and when we start by building something together from scratch with our assets.
How about going BIG for your first date with fellow local libraries? As in the Big Read (or One Book, as some towns are doing), the NEA-sponsored program aimed at turning communities into reading communities. It’s the perfect partnership in which everyone can contribute strengths without fear of outsourcing themselves. A Big Read connects school, public, academic and special libraries with each other and their communities with a common goal: get a book into people’s hands. I’m currently working on the 2012 Kenosha Big Read committee and it’s been a positive professional development opportunity for me and my library.
We chose “Sun, Stone and Shadows,” a collection of Mexican short stories. This choice allows us to broaden our reach in terms of community and organizational participation. For example, we can bring the local Literacy Council in, asking them to include the book in tutoring. My college is hosting an exhibit by Mexican artists in our campus gallery. And I’m working with appropriate classes to include the stories in curriculum and have students put on community programs as assignments. Another local college is having all first year students read stories as part of a required course. And the school librarians are working with schools to incorporate the book into learning and also have students put on programming.
Our meetings provide positive, exciting opportunities for us to share our strengths, program offerings and resources around a common goal. And the goal is not centered around figuring out what we can cut because other’s provide it. There is a place for that and it just makes good sense to do that. But doing it “cold” does not necessarily build the good relationships needed to facilitate that process so that it benefits us and our patrons. A project like a Big Read means we get to know each other’s resources and strengths intimately. I hope when public teen librarians see first-hand what my Family Fun Nights are like they will be more likely to promote them to their patrons.
Further, we are able to promote ourselves and connect to other organizations and individuals in the community, offering them the same opportunity to share strengths. We’ve included a local artist and gallery owner on the committee. She does not identify as a reader, which adds a valuable viewpoint to our planning. At the same time, we are able to advocate our value to her, which in turn she promotes to the community as a prominent member. And because we are going BIG, we can reach further out in the community beyond our regular patrons. We are working on a mural project, for example, and hope to host a taco truck war à la the Food Network. It’s kind of like the Wonder Twin powers activating, but instead of turning into buckets of water and fire, we are creating something bigger together than we could do on our own.
The NEA Big Read website offers plenty of tools for starting a Big Read in your community. And they can connect you to other communities for support in how to go about the details.
Finally, a program like the Big Read is something we can all get behind. Who doesn’t want to give people books? Only evil robots.