Be There, Be Visible, Be in the Know
The first step to building community partnerships that will get your library a place at the table is to make sure your library has a presence on community boards and organizations.
By Steve DelVecchio
Sometimes just being there in the audience reminds a city councilman about us and the needs of the library are brought up by one of them-that is cool when that happens!!
-- Kim Hicks, Director, Madisonville (TN) Public Library
When we asked WebJunction members for their advice on the best ways to build partnerships in the community so that they would lead to a "place at the table" when planning and funding services, one consistent point was that you have to be there, be visible, and know what is going on.
Chris Moede, the Director of the Brillion (WI) Public Library points out that attending City Council meetings was essential to getting increased resources:
When I came to the Brillion Public Library some 20 years ago, the budget was dismal and we received little support from our City. I sought to first grow the library by writing and receiving a number of grants that added materials and services. I had little success with the city until I began attending City Council meetings and reporting on the Library. I became visible to the funding body and they became more interested in the library. A planning process helped our budget grow. A new city administrator began including me as part of the city management team. As part of the team, we worked together to provide the best service to the people of the city. Other departments provided strengths that we could use. We also looked at ways of sharing things such as purchasing and building personnel. Our city developed a website that included the library. The community development director takes care of the website, which has saved the library time. We also use an individual who works for the city and has a computer background to help us with computer problems and hooking up computer printers. As a part of the city management team, I attend regular department head meetings, attend city council planning meetings as well as the regular council meetings. This exposure has given the Library a position of credibility with the City and we have not had a problem with the City since.
Kim Hicks, the Director of the Madisonville (TN) Public Library describes the value of attending meetings and knowing what is going on:
I have developed a relationship with our local funding bodies by attending their monthly meetings and all budget meetings. I have gotten to know them and let them know me-this has been critical in proving that the library is concerned with and involved with everything that goes on in the city. Their decisions ultimately affect us so I want to be there and give my opinion when it is necessary. Sometimes just being there in the audience reminds a city councilman about us and the needs of the library are brought up by one of them-that is cool when that happens!!
I make sure I read the paper and know what is going on, as well as maintain a close relationship with our local newspaper so I often get more information than gets printed. I volunteer the library to host events held at City Hall - we hosted the grand opening of the new city hall and we will be hosting a gathering at city hall next week to kick off the Christmas parade-we'll take care of the food. I attend Kiwanis meetings periodically and give a talk during their lunches. In fact, I go everywhere they let me to talk about the library. I talk to everyone I meet about the library-what we are doing as well as our needs. While my kids were getting an eye exam I was talking with the Dr. and she told me she would like to do something for us and the next thing I knew, she had purchased a three year subscription to ten children's magazines so we could start a collection of them! I sit on the board of the UT Extension office along with many other active community organization representatives. The networking from that opportunity has been plentiful.
In addition to city council and other funding bodies, the local chamber of commerce can also be a good place to be, as Debbie Daugherty, Director of the Wynnewood (OK) Public Library notes:
I have found that the best way to get in on the decision making aspect and be in the know, so to speak, is to become a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I attend a monthly luncheon and for an hour and a half we discuss things that are going on within the town. We have in attendance several business owners and we all just sit around and discuss what needs to go on for the good of the town and how each and every one of us can have a part. It is a very beneficial time of month for us all.
James LaRue, Director of the Douglas County (CO) Libraries puts it succinctly:
The short answer is visibility: we show up at public meetings, whether we hosted them or not. We make our staff available to sit on boards, to dig up research, to offer rooms, tables, and chairs. We keep our promises.
Beverly Obert, Executive Director of the Rolling Prairie (IL) Library System makes the case for being involved in local organizations and staying in the public eye:
Every library should be a member of their chamber of commerce or Community Economic Development Committee. You can not have a lace at the tale unless you are willing to be out there and share your knowledge and resources. In the past the library I was at was a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. I talked about the library at their monthly meetings, and even served as Secretary. The profile of the library increased with this exposure. The main difficulty was that people did not know what the library did. The library must be out there, in the public eye. You can not hide. Going out and speaking to women's clubs, lions club, churches, PTA's all of these types of activities helped to let people know what the library is and does.
And as Berniece Owen, the Interim Director of the Portland (OR) Community College Libraries shows, this isn't just for public libraries:
The trick is to be seen and heard on a regular basis in a non-controversial environment. Then if problems arise you can go back as a familiar face and a trusted resource (I hope) for information and solutions.
Good advice for all of us!
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