It’s Always the Right Time to Find a Partner

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Who do you work with in the community? For our Summer One-Question Survey, Maria Cahill asked about partnerships between the school library and the community, revealing both their popularity and the variety of organizations involved.

We encourage you to use these surveys to help you reflect on your own practices. Subscribers can view our archive of past surveys here.

Be a part of our next survey! 

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What’s a school librarian’s favorite greeting? Well, it should be, “Howdy partner!”

We asked school librarians to identify the community organizations and businesses with whom they partner, and we were impressed that more than 85% of the 400 respondents confirmed partnering with at least one community organization, agency, or business, and most of those librarians identified multiple community partners.

Because instructional partnership is such an essential piece of the school librarian’s professional responsibility, it’s hard to attend a school library conference or read a publication targeted to school librarians and not encounter the idea of teacher and librarian collaboration; however, most school librarians also develop collaborative partnerships beyond the walls of their own schools. Both Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs (AASL, 2009) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions School Library Guidelines (2015) convey the importance of engagement with leaders, businesses, and organizations in the community as means for school librarians to support students and their families.

Given the overlap in their organizations’ missions and services, it is not surprising that school librarians frequently partner with their public and academic librarian counterparts. In fact, one of our respondents wrote, “I don’t know how school librarians survive without partnering with the local library.”

As the chart above demonstrates, most school librarians do partner with the public library, and many also partner with an academic library. Naturally, most of the academic library partnerships are with secondary school librarians: nearly a quarter of high school librarian respondents to our survey identified a collaborative relationships with academic librarians.

Local bookstores also tend to be natural partners for school librarians, and they tend to support reading incentive programs, author visits, and state book award promotions and activities.

There are also many other community organizations, agencies, and businesses with whom school librarians collaborate. This chart illustrates the breadth of these community partnerships for school librarians.

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In addition to the collaborations conveyed in these charts, school librarians also commented on other interesting partnerships. One librarian worked with a local comic bookstore to create a Library Comic Con, another partnered with a local community organization to support homeless veterans, and still another worked with the local utility company who provided book fair volunteers and incentives for teachers and students for various library activities and programs.

Given that our federal government supports libraries through an agency titled, Institute of Museum and Library Services, it is surprising that no school librarians identified museums, zoos, or aquariums as partners. Reaching out to professionals in these organizations that specialize in informal learning might be especially beneficial for school librarians designing makerspaces.

As always, we hope participation in the One Question Survey prompts school librarians to reflect deeply on their practices and that reading about and analyzing other librarians’ practices will inspire librarians to build upon existing strengths, identify new strategies, and improve ineffective practices. In that spirit, we challenge our readers, especially the 13% that currently do not collaborate with any community partners, to identify and communicate with one local organization, agency or business that can support or extend a service or program you are already providing. Hopefully, doing so will enhance student learning and student opportunities!


Cahill_MariaMaria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association’s Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.

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