Mindfulness is defined as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” In the context of cultivating the relationship-driven library, being mindful means being aware.
To cultivate awareness, here some questions you can ask yourself. It might be helpful to write down some reflections to these prompts to begin this process.
Did we plant this seed at the right time?
- Planting tomatoes in the snow will not produce a crop, and likewise, forcing an initiative at the wrong time won’t be as well received.
- Recognizing the seasons of growth makes the process flow more smoothly.
Did we celebrate everyone who contributed during Step 3?
- Partners, volunteers, and staff all deserve and desire a bit of praise for their efforts.
- Knowing they are appreciated will help motivate them to delve into the next project.
Did this seed produce a perennial or an annual?
- In gardening, some plants just come back year after year – these are called perennials – and they typically require less work from gardeners.
- Other plants are annuals – requiring gardens to replant them every year
- Do you want to invest your time in keeping this partnership going? Is it a perennial partnership or an annual partnership?
- Perseverance is necessary for long term success, but even perennials change with the seasons. No blooms last forever, so staying aware of any slight changes in the community can help navigate the seasons and maintain partnerships even as they morph.
- Some partnerships are annuals, lasting just for a short time. That is OK! Being aware of your feelings about the partnership is key
- Sometimes annual partnerships are just as impactful as perennials. For instance, a Girl Scout troop approached the library in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina wanting to install a Blessing Box on the property. It was understood from the beginning of the project that the troop would only be involved for the installation, but the impact of that short term partnership on food insecurity in the community is priceless. Four years later the Blessing Box is still used every day. The partnership only lasted for a short time, but the fruits of that partnership continue to produce impacts.
It is one thing to reflect as an individual. It is another to reflect as an institution. You can use some of the questions in the individual reflection exercises to guide institution-wide reflection. Some additional questions to consider include:
- How do we set up structures for reflection?
- What issues arose during the partnership’s gardening season?
- What do you do (what can you do?) when you are involved in a collaborative effort and you feel like your contributions are not seen or valorized?
- Both your contributions as an individual and the contributions of the library writ large?
- What steps can you take to change that culture?
Here is what can be done if your institutional reflections reveal challenges in the relationship.
Pruning and weeding to make space for new growth.
What can your institution let go of, or re-think, to get you ready for next year?
Further up the continuum, we also want to make sure to make space for reflecting and debriefing with our partners. Some questions to guide that process.
What counts as success? You and any collaborators decide. You can ask your partners “were we successful from your point of view, why or why not?”
Gardens are meant to grow, but bigger is not always better. Ask your partners, “where do we go from here?”
In health, and in library partnerships, seek quality over quantity.
The “next” level may be sustaining, fine tuning, or even pruning to allow growth in other areas. Refer back to your own criteria for success will determine when to let go.
Some places the relationship might go include:
- What tweaks can help future programs/services/collaborations?
- How (and when) should you use our relationships to try something new, together, or to invite new partners in to the collaborative?
- Maintain lines of regular communication during the “off” season
- Even if you and your partners hit ‘pause’ you can still stay in touch – often those ‘off-season’ communications lead to new seeds and new opportunities
Up to now, we’ve been focused on structures to promote mindfulness in individuals, institutions, and in collaborations. But to truly understand the success of a relationship, you need to engage in formal evaluation. Evaluation is defined as “the making of a judgment about the value of something.”
In the relationship-driven library, evaluation focuses on assessing the value both of the relationships we cultivate and of the products of those relationships.
Evaluation can be used to see where the relationships worked well, and where improvements may be needed.
If you want to engage in formal evaluation of your partnership, we recommend the resources of the The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a nonprofit community organization that creates lasting, positive change rooted in people through direct services, research and community building. They combine knowledge, compassion and action to improve lives today and for generations to come.
In particular, their Collaboration Factors Inventory is a free tool you and your partners can use to evaluate the value of your relationships, as well as to assess where additional work may be needed.
Here are some additional questions to include in evaluation of your relationships and their products.
Look at what others have done to evaluate
In addition to sharing what you have done, taking time to explore what others are doing is invaluable. Many associations, libraries, and librarians now maintain blogs or social media accounts in which they share their ideas and processes for a wide range of programs. Discovering entirely new ideas can enhance community relationships while learning minor adjustments to current programs can drastically improve workflows. Remember there are always multiple approaches to similar projects, each uniquely suited to the community it serves.