In addition to networks of nonprofit organizations, most communities also have networks of for-profit businesses. The library has looked to them as well. Marie started going to the meetings of Discover Clinton, a network of small business owners, “because I felt the library needed to reach out and do more outreach” according to Marie.
When Marie approaches a network like Discover Clinton here are the questions she asks:
- How can we help?
- What can I do?
- How can we work together?
- What can we do for you and what can you do for us?
These last two questions are key to ask because sometimes library outreach falls into the trap of merely seeking to offer more to communities, rather than turning things around and asking how the community can work with (and help to improve) the library.
As Marie said, in the best partnerships “we would sort of cross pollinate each other.” That cross pollination led Marie to start talking with the owner of a local family fitness center about the idea of library patrons being able to use their library cards to access the fitness center.
Marie recalled the partnership beginning as follows:
“I went up to [the business owner] after one of the Discover Clinton meetings and said, ‘how would you like to do this [partnership,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, let’s see how it works.’”
And from there they were off to the races. The business owner had her gym manager work out the math, and Marie and the library staff developed a survey they would have people who accessed the program fill out. Marie also approached her contacts in the local philanthropic community to see if someone would help fund the program to get it going. Ultimately the hospital was able to fund the pilot project, which had a delayed start in late Fall 2021, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The key part of this story though is that it all started with a conversation that occurred because the library was part of a community coalition. You can have the best ideas for programs, but if you aren’t talking with the right people, they won’t happen.
The second major take-away from this story is that you don’t need to have all the details worked out to start a conversation. Marie had heard through her involvement in the public library profession that some library somewhere had started checking out gym passes. That was enough information for her to go to a gym owner and her town and pitch an idea. They worked out the details from there.
Even though, as of February 2022, the program has only been going for a few months, it has already generated a lot of buzz and interest, which has led the partners to start talking about possible expansion ideas.