Powered by Partnerships: Winning Formulas for School-Public Library Collaborations

Joining forces provides ways to share resources, ideas, and programming to better serve students and promote reading. A new partnership toolkit from ALA offers strategies.

SUE ABRAHAMSON, the children’s librarian at Waupaca (WI) Area Public Library, wanted to partner with the local elementary school, but she couldn’t make any inroads.

Students from the Waupaca Learning Center Elementary School would come to the public library with their parents, looking for books to help them reach their Accelerated Reader goals—and often feeling frustrated that they couldn’t find what they needed. Abrahamson wished that their reading experiences could be more enjoyable than earning points for schoolwork. But her offers to work with the school’s librarian on the issue were mostly ignored.

“In hindsight, I can see I was a bit of a bulldozer,” Abrahamson says. “Schools are filled with people telling them what they have to teach, how they have to teach it.”

She changed her approach. Abrahamson joined the parent-teacher organization, volunteered at the school book fair, and donated duplicate copies of public library books to the school. After the school librarian retired, the new one was more open to collaborating—having Abrahamson’s public library team lead booktalks, storytimes, and other activities at the school.

Now, Abrahamson and her two staff members are at the school all the time, and they regularly visit Waupaca Middle School. The elementary school made badges for them so that the secretary doesn’t have to buzz them in. “We built this level of trust,” Abrahamson says.

Such partnerships are on the rise, providing ways to share resources, ideas, and programming to better serve students and promote reading. Because they operate in systems of varying sizes and with different requirements, collaboration can be challenging. A new Public Library and School Library Collaboration Toolkit  from American Library Association (ALA) youth divisions will provide support. Three years in the making and drawing on examples of successful partnerships thus far, the toolkit provides step-by-step suggestions, resources, and even collaborative planning forms for those wanting to form alliances.

Students at a school-based summer program enjoy books
and library cards from IPL. Photos courtesy of Indianapolis Public Library.

Patience is a critical aspect of building a partnership that benefits students, as Abrahamson’s experience shows. “Making those connections and really establishing a good relationship with your counterpart” is a key early step, says Allison Barney, 2017–18 chair of ALA’s interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Collaboration (SPLC), which released the toolkit.

Over three years, representatives from the American Association of School Librarians, the Association for Library Service to Children, and the Young Adult Library Services Association built the toolkit to help school and public librarians identify partners, understand research about the benefits of partnerships, and find examples of successful collaborations. “Both public and school libraries are community centers at heart, with the same goal: to provide a safe, welcoming environment for all patrons and access to information in a variety of formats,” write the toolkit authors.

The resource also provides practical tools that make collaboration easier and highlights the reality that school and public libraries together can often accomplish much more than they would individually. Summer learning programs, for example, are a natural starting point for school-library collaboration, as is digital and media literacy, and to some extent early learning.

Successful partnerships that are highlighted include the “assignment alert” program in Multnomah County, OR, in which teachers and school library staff inform public library “school corps” members of assignments they are giving to students. Public library staff then prepare print and online materials related to the topic. School corps members also conduct classroom visits to share books or explain how to access materials at their local public library.

BLAST: Bringing Libraries and Schools Together is another example. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provides a variety of literacy outreach programs for school-age children and those in early-childhood education centers, especially those serving children in low-income families.

Supporting schools

Partnerships can and must take many more forms, depending on community needs. In 2015, for example, the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) opened a branch inside the DC Prep Benning Elementary Campus, a charter school in a low-income neighborhood. It was a pilot effort to increase children’s access to books; charter schools are less likely than traditional schools to have libraries. The pilot lasted about a year, as DCPL gave more thought to the best ways for public libraries and schools to work together. “We’re looking at how we can help support the work that takes place in public schools,” says DCPL spokesman George Williams. “That is an ongoing conversation.”

Now the partnership is more on a systemic level. For example, DC students are issued a One Card, which lets them ride public transportation for free and also serves as their library card. The system also no longer charges fines or fees to any students under age 19. In addition, DCPL is purchasing books for school libraries, which “frees up school librarians to do more curriculum support,” Williams says.

DCPL has also tried to be mindful of how its programs impact students. Because some schools in the district have an extended school year, for instance, the system adjusted the timing of its summer reading program so students who were still in school didn’t miss out.

Bins of books are ready for delivery from the Indianapolis Public Library’s (IPL) Shared System program.

Other metro-area library systems are also partnering with schools by sharing systems. In Indianapolis, 47 public, private, and charter schools from multiple districts in Marion County, and two art museums, pay annual fees (schools pay $1,275) to be part of the Indianapolis Public Library’s (IPL) Shared System. The collections in those schools become part of the IPL’s catalog and in turn those schools can request books from anywhere in the system. The public library delivers books that teachers and students request to the schools, often on a weekly basis or more frequently.

“It adds two million volumes to everyone’s collection right off the bat,” says Sarah Batt, IPL Shared System’s manager. School librarians can see what’s popular before they decide to make a purchase, members of the public can check out titles from school libraries, and teachers can order books to support the lessons they are teaching.

IPL is also piloting a new shared ebook system in partnership with Baker & Taylor. Schools will purchase and share ebooks, while IPL will also share its juvenile and teen collections. Educators will also be able to reserve titles that coincide with their lesson plans.

A will, and a search for a way

Many librarians want to collaborate—they just haven’t figured out how. SLJ’s 2017 School Spending Survey asked school librarians about the extent to which they partner with public libraries. Respondents ranked their collaboration on scale of 0 to 10—with 0 indicating no partnership and 10 representing complete integration. Only 18 percent of librarians indicated a seven to nine range. Half answered with a range of one to three, and four percent hadn’t partnered at all.

However, some wanted to form a connection. “Considering the lack of budget for our school library, the question about partnership has ignited my desire to meet with a public library staff person and find out how we might be able to tap into their resources,” one wrote.

In Mentor, OH, a 2014 renovation of the Mentor High School’s media center, now called the HUB, led to changes in the way students use the space and a collaboration with the public library.

“We wanted it to be the focal point of what has evolved into modern-day student learning,” says William Porter, interim superintendent of Mentor Public Schools. “The spaces are very collaborative. They resemble workspaces in more cutting-edge companies and corporations out there. They are wired for the technology needed today.”

School staff members had to “chase” students out of the HUB at the end of the school day, Porter says. So he began having conversations with the Mentor Public Library about taking over the HUB into the evening hours—to allow students to continue working, give them a safe place to gather, and let community members “access some of our best spaces.”

During the extended hours, which may eventually include weekends, patrons can use the HUB’s makerspace, receive “device advice,” and even attend a workshop on Medicare. As the partnership gets started, staff and administrators from the library and the school will gauge how students and community members use and interact in the space.

“We are going to learn a lot as we do it,” Porter says. “We are both committed to trying to make this work.”

Connecting with families

Public libraries can also teach school libraries a bit about how to create more inviting spaces for families. That’s the idea behind the Enoch Pratt Parents’ Places inside the 14 Baltimore City Public Schools’ libraries that have been renovated since 2011.

With guidance and support from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the school librarians have worked to create corners that feature books on how to support their children’s learning and help students with specific learning needs. Most spaces also have a dedicated laptop that parents can use if they need to look up information or fill out a job application. Deborah Taylor, coordinator of school and student services for Enoch Pratt, says the library may provide school librarians training around family engagement.

There have been some challenges with the use of these spaces as well. “Some libraries are on second floors, making them too difficult for folks to access,” Taylor says. “We are in the process of rethinking the space and working on making it less about the space itself and more about the kinds of activities that would encourage parent engagement.”

Almost like a bookmobile

At Waupaca Middle School, library media specialist Sarah Hanneman says the partnership has increased students’ access to the books that “they are motivated to read” and also makes them aware of what the public library has to offer.

“Some of our students aren’t able to get to the public library,” she says. “This is us bringing the public library to them—almost like a bookmobile, but they get to talk with the librarians and hear wonderful book talks to spark interest.”

The teachers also benefit because Abrahamson makes sure they have supplemental instructional materials, and multiple copies of books, so more than one student can read a title at once.

Hanneman adds that they’ve also learned lessons that can help others form stronger relationships.

“Make time in your schedule for one another,” she says. “Having the public librarians speak to a full grade level can take away teaching time for that day, but the benefits far outweigh that.”

More broadly, the ALA toolkit urges librarians to “really develop a clear direction,” says Barney. “Create a memorandum of understanding so that everyone is on the same page about initiatives including data sharing, how that happens, and expectations on both sides.”

Comments

Sandy Bucher

Thank you for this great article! In my district, we have 15 schools and we all collaborate with our local public library, some more than others. I have made a concerted effort to bring our wonderful public library into my middle school a number of times a year, from Summer Reading to teaching classes in green screen and STEM projects. I view them as our natural partner and school-home connection, so anyone who doesn't feel the need to collaborate is missing out on a wonderful resource!

Posted : Jun 28, 2018 04:12


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