ICYMI: Daniella Smith on Working with Public Libraries

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With PLA meeting in Denver this week, it’s a perfect time to think about working with public libraries. Be sure to check out Dr. Daniella Smith’s recent SLC article about strategies for collaborating with public libraries. 

Nurturing Youth Pathways through Learning

Smith_DaniellaI attribute my experiences in public and school libraries with enabling me to understand the nuances that make both positions crucial to the development of young people. According to Barbara Immroth and Viki Ash-Geisler’s 1995 report, regardless of their location, libraries are institutions of education, whether it is formal or informal. Children are often introduced to their first organized educational experiences in public libraries. The library was my playground as a child, and this was by design. 

My father has always been a cultural connoisseur. When I was a child, father–daughter outings were often spent in museums, at jazz concerts in the park, and in libraries. My parents were avid readers and insisted that I read too. I never lacked books because my parents believed they were a key component of self-awareness. They told me often that I would have to know where I came from in order to know where I was going, and history was preserved in books.

Like many youth, the knowledge I found in books helped me explore my “possible self” and discover my path in life. Because of my parents’ nurturing, my interactions with strong community leaders, and encouragement to pursue an education, I knew from a young age that I was not bound by the traditional views that can create barriers for women. My parents were excellent role models, and I found many more on the local library’s shelves. Shel Silverstein reminded me to give more than I take. Maya Angelou told me I could be a phenomenal woman. Langston Hughes let me know that life isn’t a set of crystal stairs, and Theodore Geisel told me about the places I could go.

Upon completing my bachelor’s degree, I knew I wanted to continue learning. Yet I struggled to find a career choice that would be meaningful for me. Then, by chance, I noticed that the university I attended offered a master’s degree in library science. My love not only for books but also—and more importantly—my love of knowledge and my strong belief in the power of libraries to improve lives influenced my decision to apply to the program.

When I began my studies to become a librarian, I knew that I wanted to work with youth. Although I took all the required coursework to be certified as a school librarian, my first position as a librarian was in a small public library branch in the inner city where I was able to work with youth of all ages. It was a wonderful job because my coworkers and the community embraced my ideas and my programs flourished.

My specialty was community outreach. I approached local youth organizations, daycare centers, and most importantly schools. When I was not organizing a poetry slam, arranging speakers, or administering my after-school program, I was drawn to the local schools where I visited and connected with the school librarians. I spent a lot of time working with school librarians in the surrounding community to ensure that students had library cards and to encourage students to participate in my after-school and summer programs.

I loved my work but found myself struggling to nurture a growing family while often working late in the evening. Through chance meetings and coincidences, I was invited to apply for the school librarian position a block from the branch library where I worked. Thus, I became the school librarian in the same neighborhood where I had served as the youth services librarian.

Building Research

School librarians have access to students during the school year, but it is public librarians who serve children in the evenings, on weekends, and during summer and other vacation times. Young people need access to information every day. Therefore, the hours that libraries are open present a critical reason for school and public libraries to collaborate.

My understanding of the need for collaboration has inspired some of my research. In a study of 88 rural public youth services librarians, I asked the librarians for suggestions for improving collaboration between public and school librarians (Smith 2014). Although the study focused on rural libraries, its results offered insights for librarians that serve youth in all settings. The participants recommended that school and public librarians should identify or establish mutual interests, aim to be flexible in regard to meeting times, and spend time cultivating their relationships. However, most participants noted that buy-in from school administrators is required to facilitate successful partnerships.

For another project, I worked with graduate students to explore collaborative resource sharing between school and public libraries (Smith, Shea, and Wu 2014). An analysis of 265 online survey responses from public youth services librarians revealed that 88.9% of the librarians participating in the study felt it was important to collaborate with school librarians. However, regarding their participation in interlibrary loans, 25.8% answered that they never engage in interlibrary loans with schools; 23.5% answered that they rarely do so; 24.9% reported they did so occasionally; and 24.9% noted that they frequently participate in interlibrary loans with school librarians.

When asked about other practices, participants’ responses indicated that 76.3% never cooperatively review materials with school librarians. In their responses about sharing lists of new materials, 33% reported that they never shared; 26.8% rarely shared; 27.6% occasionally shared; and 12.6% frequently shared lists of materials. In addition to asking basic questions about collaborative resource sharing, the survey examined factors that might impact how public youth services librarians collaborate with school librarians. The variables were years of experience as librarians, belief in the importance of collaboration, knowledge of collaborative strategies, familiarity with trends in school libraries, budget deficiencies, and limited staff. The following correlations were found:

  • Participants who felt they had more collaborative skills and greater knowledge about school library trends were more likely to select materials cooperatively with school librarians.
  • Participants who had more years of experience were more likely to share lists of materials.
  • Participants who felt their libraries were understaffed were less likely to share lists of materials.
  • Public librarians who believed in the importance of collaborating with school librarians understood how to collaborate, had knowledge about trends in school libraries, and were more engaged in interlibrary loan practices than those who did not.

Practical Suggestions

The results of both studies are encouraging. They illustrate that public librarians in general do want to establish partnerships with school librarians. Nonetheless, school and public librarians must meet halfway to create enduring and effective partnerships. Here are several practical suggestions for getting started.

Be informative.

If you are writing an electronic newsletter for your school community, share it with your local public librarian. This is helpful for letting the public librarian know what types of projects students are involved in, enabling him or her to create displays and gather resources for students and teachers that coincide with school programs and projects. Moreover, if you are sharing articles with classroom teachers and administrators in your school about trends in school libraries, adding public librarians to your list can help them use literature for identifying mutual interests.

Be an advocate.

Public librarians identified administrators as being key stakeholders in being able to provide services to schools. Therefore, school librarians should introduce public librarians to their administrators and explain the importance of collaborating with them. Provide your school administrator with a list of projects on which you and your public librarian can successfully collaborate.

Work with a team of librarians.

There may be instances when approaching your school administrator alone to describe how collaborating benefits students can be challenging. Consider coordinating efforts with other school librarians in your district. If there is a district coordinator for librarians, consider working with him or her to establish a special program that emphasizes collaboration with public librarians. The coordinator may be able to establish a relationship with the public library youth services coordinator to facilitate meetings, design programming, and offer professional development.

Share your knowledge.

Both school and public librarians have access to presenters. While public librarians may have experience contacting local political figures, celebrities, and organization leaders, school librarians frequently interact with parents and other family members willing to share their expertise or donate materials. By joining forces and pooling resources, school and public librarians can increase their influence in the community and offer youth more programs. Moreover, doing so can be cost-effective when expenses are split.

Share your resources.

Although there are many examples of successful interlibrary loan programs between schools and public libraries, such as the MyLibraryNYC program in New York (Murvosh 2013), these programs can require staffing support and funding to implement. If your school district does not have a formal interlibrary loan program or partnership with the public library, work with your neighborhood youth services librarian to share materials. For example, when you purchase award-winning books, buy a few copies for the school library and alert the public librarian about the titles you’ve chosen to see if he or she is willing to buy additional print or electronic copies. Conversely, offer the public librarian access to lists of books needed for classes and summer reading programs. Public librarians, and in turn the youth they serve, may also benefit by borrowing copies of textbooks for students to use at the library in the evening or on weekends and vacations.

Embrace small steps.

In their book about transformational leadership, Kouzes and Posner (2007) note that it is important to celebrate small steps. Small changes often lead to larger ones. For example, each year thousands of children experience a loss of reading skills during the summer (Mraz and Rasinski 2007). If you can get 15 minutes of your public librarian’s time before summer vacation, you can share the required reading lists for each grade level. If the public librarian is receptive, you will have taken a monumental step toward improving the educational experience of your students.

Share specific strategies.

My research results suggest that public librarians are more likely to collaborate with school librarians if they are aware of strategies they can use for collaboration. When you approach them, be sure to bring ideas that can be implemented right away. Consider making a commitment to presenting one idea to a public librarian and offering your assistance with implementing it.

Fostering Developing of Youth’s “Possible Selves”

Your commitment to working with a public youth service librarian means much more than a child’s superficial visit to a library. It means that you are impacting future generations. In order to be productive citizens, youth need to learn information literacy skills. They also need to experience the power of intellectual freedom and access to information, while interacting with strong role models in their communities. It is similar experiences that have allowed me to overcome barriers and to develop into the “possible self” that I imagined during my childhood. Help your students achieve their dreams.


Works Cited

Immroth, Barbara, and Viki Ash-Geisler. “Preschool Partnerships: School and Public Library Cooperation To Facilitate School Readiness.” Education Resources Information Center, February, 1995. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED399950 (accessed December 9, 2015).

Kouzes, James M, and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge. Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Mraz, Maryann, and Timothy V. Rasinski. “Summer Reading Loss.” The Reading Teacher 60 no. 8 (2007): 784-789.

Murvosh, Marta. (2013), “Partners in Success: When School and Public Librarians Join Forces, Kids Win.” School Library Journal. (January 2, 2013). http://www.slj.com/2013/01/programs/partners-in-success-when-school-and-public-librarians-join-forces-kids-win/ (accessed December 9, 2015).

National Center for Education Statistics.“Services and Resources for Children and Young Adults in Public Libraries.” Institute of Museum and Library Services. Web. August 1995. ww.imls.gov/assets/1/News/ServicesResources.

Smith, Daniella. “Collaboration between Rural School and Public Youth Services Librarians.” New Library World 115 no. 3/4 (2014): 160-174.

Smith, Daniella, Misty Shea, and Wei-Ning Wu. “Collaborative Resource Sharing between Public and School Libraries.” Interlending & Document Supply 42 no. 4 (2014): 159-164.


Activities for School Librarians

    • Enroll students in public library reading programs
    • Register students for public library cards
    • Participate in public library programming sessions
    • Share textbooks
    • Share school newsletters
    • Share literature about trends in school libraries
    • Invite public librarians to observe and discuss resources and services
    • Facilitate class visits to the public library
    • Assist public librarians with understanding the credentials needed to visit schools

Activities for Public Librarians

  • Attend school open-houses
  • Register students for public library cards
  • Create curriculum related displays for student assignments
  • Compile resources for student assignments
  • Purchase books that support the curriculum
  • Invite school librarians to observe and discuss resources and services
  • Offer homework help or a homework club program
  • Visit the school library to do booktalks, storytimes, or library use promotions

Activities for School and Public Librarians

  • Facilitate communication with contacts
  • Meet to discuss the needs of students
  • Share lists of new materials
  • Describe how collaboration between school and public libraries is beneficial to supervisors and administrators
  • Participate in an interlibrary loan program
  • Collaboratively develop lists of electronic resources
  • Cooperatively review materials
  • Collaborate to offer library programs
  • Jointly offer virtual book clubs and reading programs
  • Participate in virtual meetings to discuss ideas.
  • Create a blog or wiki to discuss ideas and share resources.

Adapted from the National Center for Education Statistics, 1995


Smith_DaniellaDaniella Smith, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas. She is an ALA Councilor at large, and writes for the AASL Knowledge Quest blog. She can be contacted at Daniella.Smith@unt.edu.

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