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Collaboration: Developing Partnerships

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As relationships between agencies and organizations develop, opportunities for partnering will evolve. In addition to networking with agencies and organizations that serve baby boomers, library administrators must make time to get acquainted with potential partners by joining community organizations and participating in their activities. This establishes an important foundation for future collaborations. Involvement in community organizations and businesses allows potential partners to become familiar with the library’s mission and understand how a partnership can be mutually beneficial.

Partnering results when a more formal arrangement develops between the library and one or more agencies or businesses. As Feldman and Jordan note, “…partnering is a one-to-one proposition, starting with a person-to-person relationship. Although the goal may be to establish an official agency-to-agency collaboration, the partnership begins with individuals.” Community coalitions give library staff the opportunity to learn more about other agencies that serve baby boomers and other segments of the populations.  Opportunities for partnerships exist with these agencies and with community organizations and businesses.

Library partnerships do not evolve overnight. Patience and an ability to see the larger picture are key attributes for library staff involved in developing partnerships. Samuel Morrison, director of the Broward County (Florida) Library says, “The likelihood of success increases when participants are able to check their egos at the door and focus on the service benefits to be achieved.” Allow time for issues to be resolved, relationships and trust to be developed, and learn to wait for the right time.

Commitment on the part of the leader of the potential partner organization or business is crucial. With a vision for what the partnership can achieve, this person can gain the commitment and enthusiasm of the organization’s staff to implement the project or program.

Following are steps to develop partnerships.

  1. Research potential partners.
    • Use items such as annual reports, agency publications, and newspaper files to conduct preliminary research. Determine if the organization is respected within its own network. Partnerships are mutually beneficial relationships. What can the library and partnering organizations contribute?
    • What staff expertise is available?
    • What funding opportunities are available? In some instances, one organization may provide funding while the other provides expertise and staff. In other instances, joint grant opportunities may exist.
    • Does one organization attract an audience the other wants to reach?
    • Does the program have the potential for being “ground-breaking?”
    • Examine the value of spaces, buildings, and physical equipment, including technology and hardware.
    • What print and information resources can partners contribute?
    • Is there a publicity opportunity?
    • Will professionals in other areas of the state want to read about the partnership?
    • What intangible benefits will agencies and organizations contribute? Libraries are respected cultural institutions in their communities, which adds value to any partnership.
    • Focus your efforts. Determine which agency, organization, or business will best fulfill the needs of the project and pursue them.
  2. Initiate an informal conversation between the library and the potential partner.
    • Contact the potential partner directly, preferably by phone. If you are hesitant about contacting a particular individual or organization, determine if you have a staff person, trustee, friend, or family member who is acquainted with the potential partner. Ask that person to help you initiate a dialogue with the potential partner.
    • Keep the dialogue with the potential partner going. Understand the concerns of the potential partner and strive to make the potential partner a long-term ally rather than a one-time friend. Determine what each partner may bring to the partnership that will be critical to a successful project serving baby boomers.
    • What resources are needed to reach the goal? Confirm the partner can provide the required contribution to the effort. Guarantee the library can fulfill its responsibilities to the project. It is wise to keep the library board and administration informed about the partnership and the project and obtain their support.
    • Cultivate the right contacts within the organization of your potential partner. In many cases, having the right person to ask at the right time can take care of all other considerations.
  3. Begin a courtship with your potential partner.
    • Be sure to work with the person who can make the partnership happen. It shows good faith to arrange a visit to the potential partner’s place of business. After the meeting, send a letter or e-mail thanking the person for his or her time and summarizing the content of the meeting. Understand what appeals to the potential partner. What other partnerships has the potential partner formed? What publicity will the partnership generate?
  4. Invite a potential partner to an informal meeting.
    • Invite the key staff of your potential partner to your library for a brown bag lunch with your staff and for a tour of your library.  This informal meeting will allow you to get to know each other.
    • Be flexible and open during discussions. Listen for commonalities and opportunities that will be beneficial to both agencies as well as your baby boomer audience.
    • During the informal meetings, discuss your individual missions. Determine if there is consensus and synergy. Be honest in the assessment.
  5. Establish formal contact and arrange a formal meeting.
    • It is important to record minutes of meetings and share them with all who are involved. Letters of agreements, memos of understanding, and contracts are all legal and may be binding.
    • View your partner with respect; avoid a competitive attitude.
    • The partnership should be a win-win-win relationship with the older adult population as the ultimate winner.
    • Questions and concerns to be addressed during the meeting might include questions such as, “What is the ultimate goal of the partnership in relationship to improved services for baby boomers?”
    • Work to develop a mutually agreed upon vision and a mission statement.
    • Determine if anyone has personal issues concerning any of the potential partners.
    • Determine if the project needs a steering committee.
    • Determine who will serve on the committee and who will lead it.
    • Determine what level of authority the committee leader holds.
    • Determine how often and where the meetings will be held.
    • Determine if the partnership will exist indefinitely or have a termination date.
    • Be ready to compromise (within a defined limit). An “all or nothing” attitude is seldom beneficial.
    • Do not commit to anything that you may not be able to accomplish.
  6. Formalize roles and responsibilities on certain projects and for the overall partnership.
    • Describe the agreed-upon project in writing, noting goals, and recording each partner’s contributions and responsibilities. Consider funding, contacts, facility usage, time, personnel, and marketing responsibilities.
    • Define how publicity regarding the partnership will be worded. Who will speak with the media concerning the partnership and who is ultimately responsible for developing press releases concerning the collaboration?
    • Take actions that will establish trust over time. Trust is achieved through time and experience of the partners working with each other. Always take and distribute notes to all partners. At the beginning of the meeting, call for corrections or additions. This facilitates all partners having the opportunity to know exactly what is happening. Always be open, honest, and committed, and follow through with your stated commitments.
    • Use a letter such as the sample provided at the end of the chapter to confirm the initial agreement.
  7. Generate ongoing, informal progress reports on how the partnership is benefiting the baby boomer audience.
    • Distribute the reports to library trustees and administration. Partners can distribute them to their agency’s stakeholders.
  8. Showcase library services and programs that are a result of the partnership.
    • Consider highlighting the partnership project on the library’s Web site, adding a link to the partner’s Web site.
    • Use events such as open-houses and festivals to talk about the services and programs.
      Promote the cooperative project to the local media, focusing on the role the cooperative element played toward enhancing services to baby boomers.
    • Consider writing an article about the partnership for your local newspaper or even for a  professional journal.
  9. Keep the lines of communication open and on-going. Always remember to say “Thank You.”
    • Find different ways to do this throughout the partnership period.
    • Forward thank-you notes from patrons to partners for programs that they sponsored, have a certificate of appreciation designed for the partner or hold a meet-and-greet for the partner’s staff, library personnel, and senior participants.
  10. Be prepared to end partnerships that are not working. There are times when key personnel leave an organization and the organization’s philosophy and responsiveness change. If the organization no longer seems to be a good partner, do not continue the relationship - let it end. However, leave doors open to approach the agency for future cooperative projects.

  11. Avoid potentially harmful partnerships. Political organizations, religious groups, and controversial groups that believe the end justifies the means may project the library in a poor light. Establish in your initial research that potential partner organizations do not have a history of offending any minority, ethnic, or religious groups. It is best to avoid partnering with formalized political or religious groups. The library may alienate people and get drawn into their platforms and agendas through association.

Adapted from:
MacLeod, Leo. “Corporate Partnerships: The Art of the Deal.”
Hundley, Kimberly and Renee Targos. “Collaborative Pieces of Art: Museum-Library Partnerships.”
Leuci, Mary Simon. “Building Strategic Alliances and Partnering for Success.” Missouri Express Resource Guide 11. [Online].

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