Cultivating the Relationship-driven library Planting Seeds start internally-build trust! think about groups/organizations your library represents use strong ties to build inter-organizational partnerships think about existing connections Nurturing the Seedlings: actively listen to your partner- basic small talk identify overlapping goals pitch your project idea Harvesting the bounty: assess and celebrate what was done via your relationships communicate success internally and externally- think strategically Resting the garden and prep for next year: reflect onchallenges, solutions, & partnerships document process and results think about sustaining and letting go of methods or partnerships

Step 1 – Planting the seeds

seed bags with labels interest and needThis step is about exploring your library and community to find seeds (a confluence* of need and interest), identifying where to plant them (the partnerships you need to get ideas going), and then planting them (talking up the ideas to those you need to work with you).

In other words, this step is about figuring out where there is a confluence of interest and need. After you’ve found this confluence, the next step is to figure out how to most effectively move the needle forward on this confluence.

The fundamental idea is that you can do a lot if you’re in dialogue with partners.

You can’t do a lot if you’re not actively in conversation with potential partners.

Let’s talk about how you can “plant” the idea of the library as part of the community conversation, and therefore part of the community solution.

*A confluence is the term for that area where different rivers or streams come together. Similarly, in this toolkit we refer to seeds as that place where community needs and community interests come together. It represents the most promising area for action. 

Finding the seeds: Exploring your library and community

Where do great ideas come from? They are all around us, inside our libraries and in our communities. The best way to find out where there is a confluence of need and interest – a seed – is by being curious, open, and interested in your staff/colleagues and in your community.

How do you find seeds in your community? Let us know!

Gardening tips:

As Pete Seeger and The Byrds sang “To every thing there is a season / and a time to every purpose.”

Finding seeds is hard! You not only need to find a need, you also need to find (or build) enough interest to move the needle forward on that need.

Do not take something on if you do not think there is enough interest to make a difference. You can come back to it later.

Figuring out good seeds to plant is HARD! It’s hard in part because you have to be fully aware of your environment to know what is going to work. Think of trying to plant a palm tree in a blizzard. It’s not going to work.

But. BUT! If you and your partners are able to build a greenhouse, then maybe you CAN plant a palm tree in a blizzard.

on left palm tree in a snowstorm text reads: 'Growing a palm tree in a snowstorm... Doesn't work!' on right palm tree in greenhouse in snowstorm Text reads: 'Growing a palm tree in a greenhouse in a snowstorm Now we're on to something!'

Our approach is that librarians CAN be involved in anything, but to do it well we have to be aware of personal limits, our institutional boundaries, and what support we may need to try something outside of what we consider to be our wheelhouse.

What do you and your staff have the capacity to do? And also what are the capacities and boundaries of others in your community network/soil? Knowing your boundaries and being confident in them is foundational.

The most important seed you can plant

In our research we found that the libraries that are most successful are those libraries that had successfully seeded the idea of librarians and other library workers as critical community partners.

Again and again in the 60 interviews we did with library partners, we found those partners go through a process of transforming their thinking about the people who work in public libraries.

In Stage 1, potential partners see libraries primarily as book repositories, and therefore library workers exist to distribute, preserve, and promote books.

As partners work more with library workers, and begin to learn about the roles of public libraries in communities, they begin to see that the library as a trusted resource (Stage 2), a space that is always there, that people turn to, that is stable, and trusted. But, and this is critical, at this stage partners see the library primarily a a space to use. They do not see all the amazing contributions library workers make to communities.

It takes time, and a lot of work, to get to Stage 3. Here, the focus shifts from the library as a space to the library worker as a critical community partner. In this stage, librarians and their partners work together to figure out what to do in and with communities. There is true back-and-forth going on, and library workers have a seat at the table.

We believe this idea – that the people who work in public libraries are critical community partners – is the idea we always need to be planting. How have you planted this seed in your community?

Don’t just take our word for it! Others have come to similar conclusions. See this research by a team of scholars from Kent State University in Ohio. They studied the process of “building a collaborative preschool-library partnership to support whole family engagement” and found that, as one library worker told them,

“I think part of the struggle of library work is that it can be hard for people to grasp what we can do. I think it would be good for us to have time to talk, so we can remind them of what we can do and then talk about how we could work together.”

Campana, K., Martens, M., Filippi, A., & Clunis, J. (2022). A “library school:” Building a collaborative preschool-library partnership to support whole family engagement. Early Childhood Education Journal, 50(1), 71-82.

Where should I plant my seed? 

The people you may want to work with are vast. The right people for the job are not always obvious. We advocate for looking for partners in coalitions and moving beyond the usual suspects.

Figuring out where to plant the seeds of collaboration involves preparing good soil.

Soil represents the network (formal or informal) of community ties out of which collaborations can be built.

Doing the work: It starts with a conversation

Cold calling (or cold emailing) can be intimidating, but it can also be the most impactful thing you can do to start partnerships and relationships that may transform your work, transform your library, and transform your community.

The greatest things in the world often can be traced back to a single conversation. In the words of the musical Hamilton, you want to be “in the room where it happens,” and that room is wherever or however you and your potential partners start talking and brainstorming together.

Expect that some of your attempts to foster these conversations will elicit no response. That is OK! Not every conversation, or attempt at conversation, has to lead to an amazing partnership. The key thing is to keep trying. Eventually you will reach a tipping point – where organizations start reaching out to you!

Learn more in our Laurel Public Library case study, where that very tipping point took place.

a bag of soil with a shovel in it

Gardening tips: 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – similarly an amazing idea starts with a single conversation.

We don’t always know – we can’t predict – which conversation is going to be the one that carries our idea forward, and thus our job is just keep talking! The more we talk, the better we get at talking, and the more likely we’ll find those we need to help us get things going.