General, Marketing 101, Tips & Tools

Six Partnerships for Public Libraries

Fred and Ginger. Batman and Robin. Starsky and Hutch. Your public library and ____________________ (insert community organization, local business, or local nonprofit here). Your library has the potential to join the list of great partnerships – all it takes is a little time, attention, and maybe a cup of coffee.

At every local, regional, and national conference I’ve attended in the past year or so, one of the frequent buzzwords has been partnerships. In an era of decreased budgets, over-stretched staff, and limited resources, partnerships make more sense than ever. Here are a half dozen partnerships that public libraries can readily develop – for programs, PR, and more.

If you’re wondering how to get starting developing these relationships, I suggest a cup of coffee. Contact the marketing officer or program director or even the agency head, and offer to buy them a cup of coffee.  Let them know that you’d like to partner more and be ready to brainstorm possibilities.  A good strategy is to start small – consider what the lowest-hanging fruit is and use that as a first effort. And don’t forget that partnerships are a two-way street: be prepared to discuss both what they can do for you and what value you can offer them in return. 

1. Local bookstore – Whether your community is home to an independent bookseller or a national chain, you should think of them as collaborators, not competitors. Advertise their events and ask them to advertise yours. If you have an author coming, bring them in to sell books. If they have an author interested in coming, but not the space to accommodate them, offer up the library auditorium at no charge. This partnership can pay dividends: A library that has a strong relationship with its local bookseller is appealing to publishers and marketing reps when they consider where to send an author on tour.  

2. Parks & Recreation – Libraries engage the mind.  Parks & Rec departments engage the body. What a great match!  This is a gold mine for programs  – Lawrence Public Library has a very popular annual “Bookworms and Waterbugs” event during summer reading. Kids start out at the library for story time and then cross the street for a free swim.  Most Parks & Rec Departments go well beyond sports programs – ask for a table at a community festival they sponsor or offer to bring a mobile display of cookbooks to a holiday cooking class.

3. Chamber of Commerce – We know that libraries play an important role in the economic development mix, but does your local Chamber know? Reaching out to your Chamber of Commerce is essential.  Ask for a meeting and hand sell them all of the library  resources that touch on jobs, small business, and economic development. This list might include conference rooms for client meetings, computer classes, business e-resources, and books about writing business plans.

Other ideas: Ask if you can development a presentation for the Chamber about ways the library can help with economic development. Offer to host a Chamber function at the library. Create an attractive brochure, specifically aimed at the business community, that contains a consolidated list of library business resources and ask of the Chamber will display them at their office.

4. Moms/Dads Clubs Talk about a target audience! These groups are always looking for fun outings and activities and places to hold meetings and social events.  Find out the leaders of these groups and reach out to them.  The great thing about these organizations is they often maintain a website and/or calendar of local family friendly events – great (and free) advertising for your children’s and family programs.

5. Visitor’s Bureau Along with Visitor Centers, public libraries are one of main gateways to a community – both for visitors and new residents.  Make sure the staff at the Visitor’s Center is familiar with what the library offers.  If possible, put library brochures and event flyers there – and offer to distribute their marketing materials at the library. One key message for visitors to your town is that the library is a place where they can check their email or hop on free WiFi during their visit.

6. Local university Or college. Or community college. I love working for a public library in a college town, in part because of the wealth of great partnership possibilities. Most institutions of higher education are always looking for ways to strengthen town-gown relationships. Check out this previous post for ten ways to reach out to your local college or university.

This list is by no means inclusive – it’s just a start! At Lawrence Public Library, we have strong partnerships with the local Arts Center, the Historical Society, the School District, and more key community organizations.  Sustaining these partnerships takes time and attention, but it is well worth it.

Who are you partnering with? How is it paying off for you?


7 thoughts on “Six Partnerships for Public Libraries”

  1. At my library we have established partnerships with many of these organizations and more. We are not a tourist destination but I do love that idea though! It has given me ideas about the resources there are to bring greater awareness – by both the public and government officials – to the library.
    We have gone beyond the recreation and parks and have established a ‘partnership’ with fellow governmental departments and agencies. For example we work with the cultural arts council to bring outdoor summer concerts, the police and fire departments to educate the community, the health department offers blood pressure checks and lectures, and answer questions at the local farmers market (we also bring a child’s craft). The goal for 2013 is get a permanent pamphlet display (or maybe even 2) at our borough hall.
    Another great partnership is with the school system and not just the school librarians. Through our partnership with the Board of Education we are able to get fliers into book bags, we are able to host free (to the library) concerts that showcase the high school’s music program and visit classes for Read Across America day, Read for the Record and present what resources the public library has to English and History classes.

  2. I forgot one – the partnership with our local newspaper. We write a column for them once a month about the library, library services or something seasonal. We help the newspaper out by providing a column and we get additional exposure. The community loves it – they are always telling us that they saw the article!

  3. We’ve developed partnerships with our Parks and Recreation as well as some corporate sponsors. Now I know some of you are probably cringing right now, but we’ve been pretty targeted and purposeful in these relationships. For example, we’ve partnered with a local nursing home to place their logo on our web page and in return they make a monthly donation that we use to buy Large Print books. Any monies received go directly back to benefit the public. While I know this is pseudo-controversial in the library community, we look at our web site as an extension of our physical space so, we hearken it to naming a meeting room after Mr. Smith for his generous donation. I know this isn’t something everyone will embrace, but with budget cuts, I think it something to at least entertain as a way to harness the desire of local businesses to advertise, yet also give back directly to their community. We’ve developed a partnerships page that you can also visit at which gives prospective partners an idea of what the benefits can be to advertising with us.

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