The essence of collaboration is suggested by the word itself. Collaboration is about co-labor; it occurs when people from different organizations work together through shared efforts, resources and ownership of a common goal. Strong partnerships occur between organizations with similar backgrounds; clear loyalties and interests; clear communication channels; responsibility and accountability for success and sharing of resources, risks, and rewards.  The following tools are designed to help you form strong, collaborative partnerships inside and outside of your organization.

Building a Better Relationship with Your Techies

Be as specific as possible. Have you ever called tech support and started a conversation with “My computer won’t turn on” or “The Internet’s broken”? These sorts of calls will make your IT department prematurely grey. Help-desk technicians prefer to spend time diagnosing and solving problems as opposed to figuring out exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred. For example, instead of saying that the Internet’s broken, tell them exactly what program you were in, what web page you were trying to visit and what type of error message you received. Also, if you know something about network troubleshooting and you’ve done some work to narrow down the problem, let your IT folks know what steps you’ve already taken.

Be empathetic. We ask our IT departments to implement technology that’s reliable, secure, user-friendly and cheap. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, so keep in mind the pressure your techies are under and the competing interests they have to balance.

Don’t pretend to know more than you really do. If you fake it by smiling and nodding your head, they’ll bury you in jargon and you’ll walk away with a headache. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for an explanation of some basic terms and concepts. You’ll learn more that way, and they’ll respect you for your honesty and willingness to learn.

Challenge your techies. A lot of tech folks love to solve thorny problems and grapple with new ideas. Take advantage of their curiosity and their thirst for knowledge (they want you to). If you don’t have any big projects for them to research or difficult problems for them to solve, make sure they have some time each week to pursue their own interests.

Talk to the techies in your organization in a relaxed, informal setting. Ask them about their workflow, their projects, the things that motivate them and the technologies they’re excited about. Like anyone else, techies want to be heard. If you listen carefully to their enthusiasms and their concerns, they’ll be more likely to do the same for you. Moreover, as you listen to IT staff talk about their projects, you’ll start to absorb a lot of IT lingo and knowledge.

Become an amateur techie. The more you learn about technology, the more likely it is that your techies will see you as a peer and the more willing they’ll be to trust your instincts when it’s time to make a decision. Some good ways to become an unofficial member of the “tech collective” are as follows:

  • Talk to techies and ask them questions.
  • Do a little research on your own. Subscribe to PC Magazine, PC World or Wired (these magazines cost between $10 and $30 a year), and skim each issue when it arrives. Then read the three or four articles that look most interesting. When you encounter terms you’re not familiar with, look up the definitions on Webopedia or Whatis. Of course, you can read the Web versions of these magazines, too, but you may find the print version more congenial.
  • Learn a little about “geek culture.” A good starting point is Wired’s Geekipedia.
  • Play and experiment with computers. If possible, have an old PC around (at home or at work) and use it to download interesting software. If you want to do this at work, make sure you clear it with your IT department, because a “sandbox” computer can be a security risk. Even if you’re doing it at home, be careful about the software you download. Programs that are downloaded from disreputable sites are often filled with viruses, malware and spyware.
  • If these suggestions seem too basic, see our article on Keeping Up with Technology.

Possible Resources and Tools for Establishing Library Collaboration

Clubs, Nonprofits, Charities and Other Organizations

Research state and local foundations at Michigan State University lists service clubs and civic organizations that provide funding at Your library friends groups, board, staff and local directories may also help identify clubs and other organizations that are potential collaborators. 

TechSoup for Libraries and TechSoup TechSoup for Libraries and TechSoup are both sources for collaboration information and resources.
Building Digital Communities IMLS initiative focused on communities working together across sectors to make progress on digital inclusion initiatives (
WebJunction WebJunction offers many articles and discussions around the topic of collaboration and partnerships at
ICMA, the International City/County Management Association ICMA's library page ( offers news and resources, including Maximize the Potential of Your Public Library, a research report on public library partnerships with local governments.
State Libraries (
State Library Associations (
Urban Libraries Council

Publications on collaboration, leadership, and other topics, as well as annual library "Innovations" awards for civic and community engagement (

National Network of Libraries of Medicine Public Libraries and Community Partners: Working Together to Provide Health Information, including tips from a successful partnership.


Compatible Library Partners Chart

Businesses/Chambers of Commerce/Economic Development Organizations
Local employers, small business owners, visitors’ centers, chambers of commerce, economic development councils, industry councils, real estate agents, restaurants
Community Services Organizations/Associations/Clubs
Literacy organizations, YMCA, AARP, AAUW, American Red Cross, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, United Way, neighborhood associations, organizations serving the homeless, Salvation Army
Cultural Groups
Theater groups, art leagues, dance supporters, arts commissions, historic preservation groups, state humanities councils
Educational Organizations
Public schools, private schools, colleges/universities, PTA or PTO groups, school boards, home school organizations, multilingual programs, higher education institutions/organizations, tutoring organizations
Ethnic Organizations
Ethnic chambers of commerce, NAACP, tribal councils, Latino/Hispanic groups, Asian groups, Urban League, refugee rights associations, refugee/immigrant centers/services, refugee rights association
Family Services Organizations
Family service agencies, social services departments
Financial Representatives
Bankers, credit unions, financial planners, stockbrokers
Government/Political Representatives
Mayor, city/county manager, city council, county supervisors, city/county fiscal office, city/county planning office, law enforcement officers, job training programs
Health Organizations
American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, hospitals, public health nurses, public health clinics, National Network of Libraries of Medicine
Legal Organizations
Legal aid, ACLU, bar associations
Library Representatives
School media center staff, college or university librarians, special librarians
Media Representatives
Newspaper, radio, TV, ethnic media, local magazines, community newsletters
Organizations of/for People with Disabilities
Center on Deafness, Council of the Blind, state/county/city health and human services, Easter Seal, Goodwill, independent living centers, United Cerebral Palsy
Professional Groups
Medical associations, board of realtors, bar association, business and professional women’s groups
Religious Groups and Organizations
Churches, ministerial alliance, youth groups, Jewish community centers, Young Life, Catholic Services
Senior Centers/Service Organizations
Area Agency on Aging, senior centers, RSVP
Technology Experts
Computer clubs, consultants, community colleges, Internet providers, universities
Youth Services Organizations
Big Brother/Sister, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, FFA, FHA, child abuse agencies, city/county recreation programs, Junior Achievement, Head Start, Even Start, child care associations, local Association for the Education of Young Children, school-age care and enrichment programs
Women’s Centers/Service Organizations
Women’s shelters, YWCA, National Organization for Women, Junior League, Soroptimist, sororities

What to Consider When Entering into a Collaborative Process

  • Assess needs. It is important for you to really examine your community and see how the library can most meet the needs of its members. Evaluate your library and community goals, and incorporate existing strategic plans based on community needs. Envision what your library could be in the future to consciously make the choices to get you there.
  • Use appreciative inquiry to examine opportunities. What is working well? What services are most used and valued in your community. For example, are there long lines for computers or people wanting to share computers, such as teens or families? What could be done to support this service?
  • Build sustainability to support your programs and projects into the future.
  • Look locally for partners that will help make an impact. Collaborative efforts should center on finding an answer, making a difference or taking charge of a community issue.
  • Determine if there is strategic alignment. Will the collaboration help fulfill the library’s mission and goals? Find common ground between the library and community organizations that can help with implementation of library services and goals.
  • Focus on the cause and the people — whether it concerns literacy, children, unemployment, etc. Be careful to not get caught up in focusing on how the individual organizations could benefit, but on what you can accomplish together to serve your community members.
  • Specify shared goals and rewards that your partnerships will foster.
  • Use open communication; share timetables and have periodic meetings to share information with your partners.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities in any collaboration.
  • Ensure the ability to make necessary decisions for situations that arise.
  • Consider what your library has to offer and how you can better reach out to your community.
  • Complete a SWOT analysis. Determine the library’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the threats and opportunities in the community.
  • Examine the implications of sharing resources.
  • Consider the chances of success for each partnership.
  • Create a memorandum of understanding for collaboration. Clearly communicate what is expected of the collaboration and what the responsibilities are. Use a detailed, signed agreement that confirms expectations in writing. Terms not to use, as they could denote a legal arrangement, include partnership agreement (this can imply equal liability and shared profits and losses) and also joint venture. Some things to include:
    • Summary of assets and needs identified
    • Description of target audiences and constituencies
    • Description of goals, objectives, purpose and shared agreements
    • Resources and equipment needs and how needs will be fulfilled
    • Defined roles and responsibilities
    • Milestones, timeline, what happens when
    • Key contacts and decision-making process and approval
    • Expected deliverables
    • Termination procedures: what to do if the collaboration doesn’t work out
    • Plan for program documentation and evaluation. What will success look like? What information needs to be gathered for evaluation, and who will be responsible?
    • Budget and funding sources and responsibilities
    • Plan for public awareness and marketing

Tips and Techniques for Creating Strong Partnerships

  • Build from existing relationships.
  • Make sure the library is in the right place at the right time.
  • Join existing coalitions and networks.
  • Target groups and initiate specific strategies.
  • Conduct focus groups to stay aware of community needs and opportunities.
  • Organize a committee or meetings with community leaders.
  • Contact members individually or meet one-on-one with leaders informally.
  • Identify local groups and potential community partners.
  • Include individuals and organizations that are well connected to the community.
  • Make sure there are benefits for all parties.
  • Utilize effective communication strategies.
  • Have designated and responsible representatives.
  • Focus on a specific project, program or issue.
  • Put the right people in the right positions. Because collaborations are built on trust and convergent goals, the major determinate of success lies in the human factor.

Ten Examples of Successful Library Collaborative Projects

Tempe Public Library is located in Maricopa County, Arizona, the fastest growing county in the nation. With a constant flow of newcomers, the library is one of the only non-commercial places for residents to gather, learn about their new communities and exchange social and educational information. The library offers special opportunities to bring families with young children together and to build social connections between older adults, young parents and relevant community services.

One of their strategies emphasizes collaboration and co-location. Tempe Library has located its branches near other public services, such as the Escalante Community Center, which operates under the city's Community Services Department and houses the Tempe Community Action Program, the Escalante Senior Center, the Youth Assistance Program, summer camp programs, health services, adult employment services and recreational activities as well as a library branch. The library offers opportunities such as the Family Place Libraries program to bring families with young children together and to build social connections between older adults, young parents and relevant community services. The library’s outreach staff collaborates with colleagues at the Escalante Community Center to maximize possibilities for community engagement.

Tempe Public Library also obtained funding for the construction and operation of the Tempe Connections Café and program space through a $547,644 grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. Civic Ventures is a community-focused think tank that partnered with Tempe Connections and is part of Civic Ventures’ national initiative, The Next Chapter, which encourages communities to create new approaches that help retiring adults transition to new life phases by providing a supportive community for ongoing learning, development and societal contributions.

The Friends of the Tempe Public Library operate the café and program space, with all profits used for the support of Connections programs and services. Community collaboration and citizen involvement is a key part of the Tempe Connections program. During the planning for the grant, Tempe Task Force on Aging members provided input, and now a Connections Advisory Council sets project goals, hires staff and plans for operations. More than two dozen community organizations and educational institutions partnered with the city of Tempe to participate in the planning and delivery of program offerings. A few highlights include:

  • Lifelong learning and new career opportunities in partnership with Arizona State University, Maricopa County Workforce Development and other partners
  • Life planning workshops
  • Wellness classes, screenings and exercise programs provided by St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center
  • Civic engagement through peer mentoring
  • Volunteer information through Civic Ventures’ Experience Corps and Tempe’s Volunteer Office

Salt Lake City Public Library has established itself as the community gathering place. The city block it occupies, called Library Square, includes retail outlets such as The Community Writing Center of Salt Lake Community College, a nonprofit artist’s cooperative, public radio station KCPW, a delicatessen, a coffee shop and Night Flight Comics, a graphic novel and comics shop. The library’s contract with the retailers stipulates that they must be community-focused. They share programming, training, broadcasting and implementation of large events. More than 1,000 other groups and organizations meet at SLCPL, including the League of Women Voters, Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice, Utah Quilters, Utah Storytelling Guild, the Authors Club, Women in Recovery and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Most of these groups partner in programming with SLCPL, making the library not only the place to meet in Salt Lake City, but the place to develop events as well.

Laramie County Library System, Wyoming, was Library Journal’s Library of the Year 2008. Some of the many agencies and organizations with which LCLS has formed alliances include The Wyoming State Museum, Old West Museum, Laramie County Head Start, Stride Learning Center, Cheyenne Animal Shelter, YMCA, Cheyenne Boys and Girls Club, Cheyenne Lions Club, Cheyenne Rotary Club, Cheyenne Eye Clinic, Starbucks, Cheyenne Women’s Civic League and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Library Journal selects a library of the year annually. Online profiles of these libraries demonstrate the commonality of great collaborations as evidence of a strong and valued community library.

Nashville Public Library and their community partners provide a constant stream of programs in literacy, culture, public affairs, education, design and local history. Partners include the Vanderbilt Symphony, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Nashville Kurdish Association, the Women's Bar Association and the Intermuseum Council. To educate the community about the significant role that Nashville citizens played in the civil rights movement, the library built a Civil Rights Room and presents programs with the National League of Cities, Fisk University, the First Baptist Church, the First Amendment Center and the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. According to the Tennessee state librarian, the Nashville Public Library is “a diverse and welcoming activity hub and a center for public discourse...The library is committed to building strategic community partnerships and responsive public programs that enhance the lives of all residents of the Nashville community. It demonstrates the power of libraries to inform and bring communities together.”

Boston Public Library’s Kirstein Business Branch provides business development services to new immigrants. A microlending program in New England sends aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs to the Kirstein Business Branch. The library developed a Spanish version of a popular workshop, Getting Started in Business, in partnership with the Small Business Center at the University of Massachusetts.

The September Project is a grassroots effort that encourages libraries and communities to come together in meaningful ways throughout the month of September. September Project events explore issues that matter — like peace or freedom — and can include book displays, panel discussions, civic deliberations, film screenings, theatrical performances, community book readings, murals, kids’ art projects and so much more. The September Project began in 2004 and continues to grow. In 2007, there were more than 500 free September Project events organized locally in libraries in 30 countrie including public forums, discussions and round tables.

Brooks Memorial Library in Vermont partnered with their local college IT department to get computer donations to use as backups when the library computers are in service so that they can still provide the public with basic Internet and word processing services. (source: MIT interview, Jerry Carbone)

Southwest Harbor Public Library in Mt Desert Island, Maine, created a computer committee. Libraries are creating technology advisory committees to help with planning, tech support and community needs assessments. “The computer committee is a group comprised of patrons and several staff members. It’s all volunteer. There are about five or so core folks with experience in computers because of their professional background or out of interest. It’s an opportunity for me and for other staff members to bring up things that have come up in our daily computer interactions, and it’s also an arena through which we can plan. This has been a focus that we’re trying to move towards, and it’s been really great to have outside information and ideas. It’s like a think tank, and when I get frustrated I can say, ‘Hey, I really don’t know what’s going on. Does anyone? Have you heard of this?’ These are folks that I can email or call. They’ve just been really quite invaluable.” Kate McMullin, MIT interview

Pryor Public Library collaborates with the local high school to support their technology needs. Shreffler, who teaches the high school computer classes and acts as Pryor Public Library’s technology consultant, explained that when the current librarian wanted to spend money to hire a full-time IT staff member, he stepped in and offered his students’ services instead. “I have students that are available about every hour, and we train them to help,” Shreffler said. “And it’s a good thing for us and it’s not a lot of trouble.” Shreffler and his students visit the library several times a week to perform a variety of maintenance chores on the computers, including replacing malfunctioning computer components, installing software and troubleshooting occasional connectivity problems. Because most of the computers are more than four years old, having a regular maintenance team has been especially useful in keeping Pryor Public Library’s machines functional. MIT interview

Richland County Library in Sidney, Montana, collaborates with local businesses. For example, Renee Goss said she received a lot of free help from the local computer store in exchange for letting the store train its employees on library computers. Goss has also been working with local electronic stores to offer discounts on mp3 players for library card holders. “I think it’s in collaboration that you learn about your community, they learn about you and you figure out how you can pair up with somebody,” she said. “Collaborative efforts are the key to whatever it is you’re doing. Work with as many groups as you can.” MIT interview Renee Goss, Director

Princeton Public Library Discussion on WebJunction: Unconventional Partnerships by Janie Herman

I just thought I would share a few of the unconventional partnerships that Princeton Public Library has established over the years to increase our level of programming without incurring too much additional cost.

One of partnerships is with local theaters to provide previews and pre-performance lectures or ‘meet the cast’ sessions prior to the show opening. One series is called ‘McCarter Live @ the Library,’ and we normally have anywhere from 75 to 100 people show up for these programs. We also do ‘Passage Theater Previews.’ The theater benefits with a bit of extra promotion, and our patrons love having a chance to mingle with the cast and crew and to hear about the behind-the-scenes making of the productions.

We have also teamed with the local arts council to create an art gallery in our reference section. They change the installation every three months and feature the works of two artists per show. When the installation is complete, we host an ‘Art Talk’ with the artists — the library provides food, the arts council brings wine and it is a classy night. Attendance ranges from 50 to 100.

Another unique partnership is with a local Italian restaurant that pays the public performance rights for our Italian films series and then hosts a reception at the restaurant after the films. We have a large Italian community that just loves this event.

We also collaborate with a local poetry group to do a ‘Poet Invite’ every month. They select the poets and host the evening; we just provide space and PR.

There are several other partnerships, but the one thing that all of our partnerships have in common is that we get quality programming for minimal expense.

Create a culture of collaboration. Library leaders should not just understand the value of collaboration; you also need to convince and inspire others to initiate collaborations and work to help them succeed. One of the first steps in this process is to articulate and promote a vision of collaborating without boundaries — not just as a short-term response to an immediate need, but as a critical element of the library’s long-term strategy. Management has to make it clear in both word and deed that everyone needs to find potential collaborators to help them solve problems and create opportunities. Speak about it and model it. Celebrate successes and make the benefits clear to everyone at the library. Encourage library staff to attend meetings and networking opportunities outside of the library.