Consider this number: nine percent. That’s how many public librarians say they “work directly with school librarians and teachers” on homework assignments. SLJ’s survey of public library spending on children’s and young adult services (see “It Takes Two” ) is eye-opening reading.
Another number: 30 percent. That’s how many respondents say they collaborate with local schools to coordinate book purchases that support curriculum. Which is to say most don’t. We have a problem.
Collaboration is a two-way street, of course. Clearly, the librarians who answered yes to those questions collaborate with someone on the school side. Do we just need to find more collaborators? Maybe. But surely we need instigators as well. Too many of us are taking a more passive approach. Twenty-one percent say they have access to homework via student activity in the public library. Finding out the scoop from the kids is great, but it’s not nearly as proactive as directly connecting with those who create the assignments. This isn’t the time for hand-wringing. It’s a chance to get public and school libraries working together to better support kids—and better support the initiatives of colleagues in each setting.
This got me thinking about Bill Crowley’s concept of “Lifecycle Librarianship”. Crowley, a library professor at Dominican University, argues that all libraries should embrace the role each type of library plays in the lifetime of patrons, “from lapsit to the nursing home.” Apply that comprehensive service philosophy to what kids need as they try to finish their homework or find fun ways to explore their worlds. Hopefully, they’re using a school library and a public library in those pursuits. If libraries would work, or even play, in tandem to make that a seamless and supported process, both would meet more of their goals.
In a bigger sense, working together could also excite an expectation for what libraries can provide, which would then lead to more support for libraries throughout kids’ lives. Won’t adults who grew up with great librarians helping them achieve in school and do fun and enriching things with their free time be more likely to expect, even ask for, good libraries for their own kids?
Forget about protecting your turf. Even in the most robust times, libraries weren’t able to meet all of their communities’ needs. In this era of budget cuts and reduced services in school and public settings, the last thing we need is to put public and school libraries in separate silos. Librarians need to know about the realities and aspirations of their peers—across town. As librarian Andy Woodworth noted when he called for “Big Tent Librarianship”, we all have to embrace interconnected approaches.
Our survey results show we have a long way to go. But at SLJ, we want to help you make the most of this missed opportunity. We plan to follow up on this subject in future surveys. We plan to identify how the libraries with the strongest partnerships pull it off, and pinpoint the barriers to success.
Strategic collaboration among school and public librarians helps fill the gaps created by budget cuts. It’ll get you tag-teaming, designing programs that take advantage of what each library does best.
Rebecca T. Miller