In this small town library, given its small staff, partnership with local organizations is key to fulfilling the library’s mission of increasing access to new learning experiences.
For instance, one summer Heidi brought in a Yoga teacher, who normally offers classes at the rec center that require payment, to do free classes at the library. Heidi said sometimes it is simple and reaching out and saying, “we’d love to have you come” and do something at the library. The classes didn’t cost the library any money, as the Yoga instructor offered them as volunteer outreach, and the community got access to new experiences.
Another critical partner is the local school system. So much so that for certain initiatives the library is fine with a 70:30 split in which the library does 70% or more of the labor. A major initiative with the school system has been a collaborative StoryWalk launched during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Whelan said she applied for a grant but she didn’t have enough money in her budget to implement the StoryWalk. In organizing the grant, she talked with the school department to develop a proposal wherein an author would go and do a school visit with all of the elementary schools, give a copy of this book to every classroom and library in the elementary schools, and then have a library program where she sold her book, and people who weren’t in the school, or had little siblings, could come to it so everybody could be involved.
The author’s visit also included a StoryWalk featuring a book written by the author and according to Whelan “really good for anywhere from toddlers up to fourth or fifth grade” because of its focus on the regional geography of Maine.
Whelan said, “The author that I chose to work with had never heard of StoryWalk. So she ended up giving me PDF files of her book, and I created a StoryWalk out of that with one of my assistants who has InDesign experience. We sent it to a sign company that actually printed it on the best quality sign you can get.”
Whelan said that even though she and the library did most of this work, it is critical to have the library listed as a 50/50 partner because it is strategically good for the library to be seen as working closely with the school. It adds credibility to the library and also helps ensure the library has access to school-age students and their families.
Summing up her approach to building these relationships, Whelan said, “I feel like the library needs to take a leadership role and plan events because we are a trusted place that people look to. We bring in people, who bring in different organizations and groups to present to our patrons. So that could be an organization that is kind of hidden out in our community, and no one really knows about them. By bringing them in, it does a service to our patrons, so they can understand what our town has to offer, because they may not know otherwise.”