Friday, December 5, 2014

Once Upon a Partnership

I would like to tell you a story.

Pixabay image
Once upon a time, our library had strong early literacy partnerships. Times changed. People retired. Major employers left the area. City and school budgets were slashed – and slashed again. Committees fell apart. Partnerships were lost and eventually forgotten.What was once a city with strong early childhood partnerships became a world of silos. Cue the sentimental music … grab the tissues.

I know, it’s a sad story, but I promise you a happy ending. I thought it was important to share this sad story with you because I wanted you to know that we didn’t always have great partner relationships. We let them die out. When we eventually wanted them back – we had to work to rebuild them. 
It took time to convince everyone (including library staff) that partnering (again) was a good idea. After all, why did we need to invest so much time, energy, and effort into building partnerships when we were doing just fine on our own, thank you very much? Because we weren’t able to do everything on our own. Because strong partnerships can and do pay off in big ways. 

Pixabay image
Think of it as library staff standing on the roof yelling information out to the passers-by. The message gets out to a few folks, but not many. Community partners are the folks who hear, believe, and share the message we’re shouting. They climb up onto their own roofs and shout it too. Eventually, you have people all over shouting the same message until all the passers-by hear it. Cool, right?

Currently we’ve reestablished a number of key relationships, and we’re working on building others. So here’s how the Hedberg Public Library and the Janesville School District came together and created our very popular Preschool Pizzeria (see link) and PlayZone. 

We learned how to talk to our partner. Email? Phone calls? Meetings? During the school day? At night? Flexibility, patience, and persistence are essential.
We set shared goals from which we both would benefit.
We made the partnership a priority. We did this by prioritizing meetings and planning in our day-to-day schedule. 
We built trust and dropped the territorial attitudes. We’ve both benefitted from using each other’s Tried and True Techniques.
We figured out the budget (time and money) as partners. Who would purchase the pizzas? Who would print the invitations? Which staff would take reservations? Who would work the event? (Everyone!) 
We keep evolving. The success we’ve shared with Pizzeria has encouraged us to get involved in many other events together. 

Early literacy partnership success!
As you can see from the photos – this is a great event. We’re serving our families, we’re supporting our school district – and they are supporting us. We’re all shouting from the rooftops about the importance of early literacy!

So, if you’re thinking about approaching a potential partner – go for it. You’ll end up with a happy story to share!

Jamie A. Swenson, Children’s Associate
Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI

Library photos provided by the author