April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

That Collaborative Spirit: Changing times demand more complex partnerships | Editorial

Who wouldn’t want to work with the two librarians on our cover? To me, their joyous, open faces welcome engagement. I want in on the action—in this case, the series of projects they pull off to bring more to the kids they each serve. Marcus Lowry, a teen librarian at Ramsey County Public Library, in St. Paul, MN, and Leslie Yoder, a digital literacy and learning specialist at St. Paul’s public schools seem to see opportunity where others might see barriers.

For our part, we saw a disconnect when SLJ’s public library spending survey revealed that a mere nine percent of public librarians actively collaborate with their peers in K–12. After we published the results in “It Takes Two” (May 2012, pp. 26–29), we learned about many partnerships, and we also heard from many from both school and public librarians who seemed burned out by failed outreach attempts.

Yoder and Lowry may be a rare breed, but, as is abundantly clear in our cover story, “Partners in Success” (pp. 22–28), they’re not alone. Many like-minded librarians are reaching across institutional walls and redefining their turf—and their institutions are changing, too. Considering the yawning gap between what kids need from libraries and the resources currently available to them, innovation in this area is urgent.

At first, I was inspired by the spark between two professionals that ignites a new partnership. I still am. This kind of grassroots initiative is grounded in knowing the kids, and, when it works, helps build the case for more. Now, however, I’m even more convinced that our institutions need to act with the same responsiveness and creativity.

We need more of what’s happening in Nashville. Talking with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ Kathryn Bennett brought this home. I met Bennett, a library lead teacher, at Library Journal’s December 14 Design Institute at the wonderful Warrensville Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library. It was great to see her at this public library event—after all, there’s plenty of insight into learning spaces in any good library.

Naturally, we fell into talking about Nashville’s Limitless Libraries initiative. Bennett is a big fan of the project, which, she says, wouldn’t be nearly what it is without the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the school and Nashville Public Library (NPL).

As NPL’s Tricia Racke Bengel details in her overview of how Limitless Libraries came to be, the memorandum enables the library to use information about students, with parental permission, so their student IDs serve as library cards, streamlining access to the collections. Racke Bengel, who was named a 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker for this work, describes a process that was certainly disruptive. The project keeps expanding as it enriches the lives of Nashville’s kids.

After reading cover story writer Marta Murvosh’s exploration of the state of public and/school library collaborations, I’m even more convinced of the need for us be actively reimagine how we serve our kids. And we must break down the silos that stymie that work.

Toward that end, SLJ will be giving more attention to collaboration in 2013 in an effort to forge a model to help us join together to approach challenges as a greater community. We’ll focus on these partnerships as part of the first SLJ Public Library Leadership Think Tank, currently in planning for April 5 in New York City. The daylong event aims to provide a public library companion to SLJ’s dynamic Leadership Summit, aimed at tackling school library issues. My hope is that the two events will, in a sense, ping pong off of one another to foster deeper dialog on the commonalities shared by all librarians serving kids. Collaboration will also be a theme in the upcoming Be the Change webcast series, which we bet will be the start of a robust leadership initiative.

Let’s change the world together. Happy New Year!

Rebecca T. Miller's Signature

Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.