Easy Steps to Forging a Relationship
with Your Public Library

By Alyson Beecher, literacy and curriculum specialist at Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, Calif.

Over the past several years, I have watched as more and more school librarian positions have been eliminated as budgets become smaller and smaller. This is sad news for our students, especially for those who do not have access to books or reading materials in their homes. For some of our students, even getting to the local public library can be a challenge. What kinds of solutions are available that will address both the needs of the school and the needs of the library?

About a year ago, my school district started discussing ways to share services and support the needs of children within our community. The creation of the City and District Work Plan provided a natural way for new opportunities for collaboration to arise between the school district and public library. The outcomes of these new collaborations will benefit children, families, and schools with a spotlight on early literacy. The new plan also provided structure and direction to ensure follow-through.

I was able to connect with the supervisor for the children’s department of our central library branch. What resources does the branch have? Could it provide literacy classes for parents? What were some of the branch’s goals? How did those goals align with our goals for our students?

Recently, a friend of mine became one of the teen librarians at our central library. Having worked together on a variety of collaborative literacy projects, we were eager to see how we could expand this to include the library and school partnership. During our meeting, we discovered a number of programs and services she could offer, but she had no idea whom to contact within the district.

After generating a list of ideas and possible joint projects, I introduced her via email to some key individuals within the district. She also went back to the other library staff to see how to address some of my goals. For example, without school librarians at the elementary level, we needed help creating a series of student lessons about online research. The result: The public library and an elementary school are entering a pilot program to create the lessons.

Here are some easy steps you can use to create partnerships between your school and your pubic library:

  • Begin conversations – Find the name of the coordinator or supervisor for the children’s department of your public library, and set up a meeting. Relationships are key to a successful collaboration.

  • Identify needs – Public libraries have needs just as schools do. Find out how those needs overlap, and begin there.

  • Alignment of literacy goals – With the lack of school libraries and the need for more books to support the Common Core State Standards, you can find multiple ways to partner with your public library to provide access to books that support curricular needs.

  • Available services – Discover what services that the library has specifically for teachers and schools. Are librarians available to come to your school to do a booktalk? Can the librarians at the public library pull books around a theme for a teacher? How many books can a teacher borrow at one time? Does the library offer a homework helpline resource? Can the library offer classes for students and parents on Internet research and safety?

  • Networking – Every organization has gatekeepers who hold and distribute information or who can connect individuals with resources. Through networking, school faculty can connect with key individuals within the library system and vice versa, allowing information of mutual interest to be shared readily.

  • Shared events – Every organization is short-staffed and short of funds. However, by working together, it may be possible to pool resources to create events that support literacy at both the school and library. Can several schools come together and use a community room at the library for a poetry slam? What about author events? How about a One City One Book event for children?

The possibilities for schools and libraries to collaborate are endless. Take the first step and find out what great things are available through the public library to support your goals for building a schoolwide reading community.

Alyson Beecher has worked in early childhood, elementary, and special education at the site and district level, including six years as an elementary principal. Alyson is passionate about helping teachers and students understand the value of reading for learning as well as for pleasure. She serves on the Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Advisory Board and the Schneider Family Book Award jury while leading the reading initiative for her district. Alyson shares her insights on reading and favorite children’s titles on her blog, kidlitfrenzy.com.
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