Collective Picture of Progress.jpg
"Collective Picture of Progress" Todd Berman,

| Introduction | Cooperative Relationships | Collaboration and Library Associations | Ideas for Collaboration Between School and Public Libraries | Collaboration for Professional Development | Challenges to Collaboration | Resources | Bibliography


In a swiftly changing world, communities need schools and libraries to partner together to improve the information opportunities available to their youth so that they can be empowered to live to their fullest potential in challenging times. Both schools and libraries have a shared interest in developing the necessary skills of students to succeed, skills that also benefit their communities. Strategic and smart, collaboration between school libraries and public libraries benefits both institutions and results in enhanced services and extended outreach to communities. And in some cases may be the only solution to providing adequately for the library needs of children and young adults. It is important that both institutions keep a service-oriented perspective, and that the best library services be provided for children and young adults—library services which will meet their total needs, including education, personal information, recreation, personal interests, and career needs (Fitzgibbons 1989, 69).

Learning and innovation skills have emerged as the skills that separate students who are prepared for the complex life and work environments of the 21st century and those who are not. School libraries and public libraries can work together to support children and young adults in gaining these skills. Public libraries can play a central role in promoting leisure reading and literacy through access to collections beyond what may be available at school and programs designed for children and young adults that expand the interests of the users. Children and their families are being supported by public libraries and librarians who are now being seen as key players in offering reading and literacy activities (DeGroot 2009). Public libraries and school libraries can partner to design and implement programs and services to serve young people's needs and accomplish their own goals by forming a mutually beneficial relationship.

But it is not only the students who benefit—the libraries do too. Collaboration can help both types of libraries expand the kinds of programs and assistance they are able to offer, improve the quality of such services, and enhance access to the services and their collections. It also results in increased visibility and awareness of their respective services as both libraries’ patrons become more familiar with the other institution. This, in turn, can increase the use of the services and expand and diversify the audience for both the school library and the public library. Additionally, the developing partnerships encourage the opportunity for librarians to acquire and develop new areas of expertise, as well as provide the space and time for them to be able to preserve proficiencies that have already been established (McMenemy 2012).

Collaboration can also help ease financial pressures that school libraries and public libraries face. Librarians are familiar with the proverbial wolf at the door, threatening their libraries’ budgets. These threats and reductions leave librarians struggling to work within the constraints of shrinking budgets without sacrificing service to patrons. By working together, school libraries and public libraries not only benefit from a more holistic approach to serving their young patrons - reaching them with many types of resources in both school settings and outside - but they also benefit from shared resources, such as time, knowledge, books, and games. Collaboration can also help both libraries as they seek outside sources for funding. In the competition for funding, being able to demonstrate a more efficient use of resources is attractive to funding bodies. It also has the added benefit of decreasing the competition for funding within the community. In addition, funding bodies often look more favorably at collaborative applications as they have the potential of reaching more people (McMenemy 2012).

Cooperative Relationships

Conditions for Success and Models of Cooperation
There are a number of conditions that promote successful, cooperative activities between school and public libraries, which include:

  • a shared vision and common goals;
  • process of formal planning and adoption of policies and procedures;
  • ongoing evaluation processes as part of planning process;
  • commitment on the part of administrators, decisionmakers, staff, and the general public;
  • channels of communication to facilitate ongoing interaction;
  • adequate funding, including special funds for innovation; and
  • adequate staffing, including staff who serve as coordinating and liaison personnel with responsibilities for cooperative activities.

Librarians who have had success offer additional important conditions and considerations. In "It Takes Two: School and Public Libraries, Partnerships That Can Work" Amy Pelman reports on a session held by the YALSA Partnerships Advocating for Teens Committee (PAT) during the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in which several librarians discussed their successes with collaboration. Teen librarian Brijin Boddy remarks that, "the most successful partnership programs stem from a need" that can be fulfilled by the other partner. In her successful collaboration, "the public librarian brings the knowledge and time to the program, and the school media specialist brings the marketing and access to the students" (27). Pelman distills the success stories from the PAT session into simple tips for librarians wanting to begin or strengthen a partnership:
  • Try a pilot program: Practice makes perfect.
  • Determine needs: What does the school need? What does the public library need? How can you help each other meet those needs?
  • Keep programs simple: This makes programs easier to maintain and reproduce.
  • Know your patrons: Teens are especially busy, so lunch time might be the only option for recreational programs.
  • Both partners must be committed: A partnership cannot be successful without this.

(Pelman, 2009)

Types of Cooperative Relationships

Networks and Resource Sharing - allowing school libraries to access networks and resources at the public library to expand services offered to patrons

Cooperation in Building Collections - collaborating on matters of collection development to offer a large and diverse collection that does not overlap with other area libraries

Cooperation in Building Information Services and Instruction - teaming up school and public librarians to instruct students both at school and at the public library on areas of information literacy.

Cooperation to Encourage Reading and Literacy - promoting the use of public libraries and their programs in the schools and using public librarians in the school library to collaborate through book talks, book clubs, readers advisory, etc.

Other Cooperative Projects (Fitzgibbons 2000)

Collaboration and Library Associations

Collaboration between school and public libraries has been supported by the American Library Association and other library organizations for years, evidenced by its inclusion in various core competencies and the establishment of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation. A few examples of these competencies are outlined below:

ALA/AASL Standards for Initial Preparation of School Librarians
4.1. Networking with the library community
Candidates demonstrate the ability to establish connections with other libraries and to strengthen cooperation among library colleagues for resource sharing, networking, and facilitating access to information. Candidates participate and collaborate as members of a social and intellectual network of learners.

YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth: Young Adults Deserve the Best
Area III. Communication, Marketing & Outreach
2. Develop relationships and partnerships with young adults, administrators and other youth-serving professionals in the community by establishing regular communication and by taking advantage of opportunities to meet in person.
8. Promote young adult library services directly to young adults through school visits, library tours, etc., and through engaging their parents, educators and other youth-serving community partners.

Association for Library Service to Children
I. Knowledge of the Client Group
8. Maintains regular communication with other agencies, institutions, and organizations serving children in the community.
VII. Advocacy, Public Relations, and Networking Skills
4. Collaborates with other agencies serving children, including other libraries, schools, and other community agencies.

Librarians should also be familiar with the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation, which "aims to identify, develop, promote, and disseminate information on effective cooperative or collaborative projects that link schools and public libraries. Our focus is cooperative, collaborative or partnership programs between elementary, middle or high schools and local public libraries." Librarians can share their cooperative projects with the Committee, who posts it to their website and wiki. Librarians can then use these projects as models for their own collaborations. This information can also facilitate communication between libraries. The ideas below are based on the actual programs and services that libraries posted to the Committee.

Ideas for Collaboration Between School and Public Libraries

The following are ideas for partnerships between public and school libraries. When thinking of programming ideas, remember to take time to think about the needs of your youth patrons and what would benefit your partner library—you are in it together. And finally, have fun and be creative! There are lots of things to try.

Joint Book Club: Public and school librarians can collaborate to offer a joint book club - sometimes taking place at the school, other times at the pubic library. Librarians could alternate who leads the discussion each month.

Library Field Trip: Students would take a field trip from their school to the library to experience all (or much) of what the public library has to offer. At this time, children could also be signed up for library cards.

Public Library Cards for Teachers: Allowing local teachers to have library cards at the community public library, even when they are not residents, can assist with the collaboration and cooperation between school and public librarians. Being able to use the local public libraries resources would be of great benefit and convenience to local school librarians. Librarians can visit the public library on a weekly or monthly basis and gather requested resources for teachers.

Professional Development/Technology Training: Public libraries can provide or coordinate professional development workshops for school library staff, teachers, and administrators using their connections within the education field. The public library can provide training for teachers and school librarians to become trained to use specific technologies of their choice or interest. The public library can also provide insight into the tools that children and young adults are using and in response, train teachers to use these technologies. In the same way, the school librarian can invite the public library staff to the school in order to make them more familiar with the school's curriculum and population they serve.

Public Library Programming Over the School Lunch Hour: With public libraries fighting for numbers at many of their programs, especially with school-aged children, one idea would be for the public library to take their programs on the road, to the schools, and present them over lunch hours.

Delivery to Schools: Materials from the public libraries, including books, texts, and electronic resources, could be collected and delivered on a schedule to area school libraries for check out and use by students.

Author Visits: Author visits can be consuming of both funds and time. By combining resources, public and school libraries could offer more author visits for the students they serve.

Assignment Alerts: Public libraries can create an "assignment alert form" to be used online where teachers and school librarians can alert the public library to assignments that have been recently handed out in an effort to prepare for and support students who may be wanting to use the public library as a resource in completing these assignments.

Mutual Promotion: Promoting each others services and programs through such devices as newsletters and bulletin boards increases the awareness and use of partner library’s services. Other ideas include inviting public library staff to come to school events to promote the library and placing a link to the public library’s website on the school’s website (and vice versa). Schools can provide library card applications to their students, making sure that they and their caregivers are aware of the services available to them.

Community Forums: While not strictly a direct collaboration between public and school libraries, hosting programs such as community forums within one’s library not only benefits the community but demonstrates the value of libraries and encourages the awareness and use of available services.

Work with the School Schedule: Public libraries should be mindful of the school calendar and plan activities in coordination with it. One library in Illinois receives an influx of students twice a year when the local high school reduces school hours during finals weeks. In response, the library has set aside meeting rooms for the students to study, provided staff for extra assistance and supervision, and offered food and school supplies. The result has been an increased use of the library and its computers by high school students, increased interdepartmental cooperation, and the development of an online tutoring program (Smallwood 2010).

Technology Promotion: It is imperative that today’s youth are familiar with current technologies and are able to use them effectively and well. It is also true that these technologies are expensive. By making student patrons aware of the technologies and training resources available at partner libraries as well as their own increases the access for the students to the technological tools that they need to learn and the skills they need to develop.

Collaboration for Professional Development

Our patrons come first, of course, but we cannot neglect our own need for professional development and networking. As a school librarian, you may find that you are the only MLS in the building and, while you can consult and collaborate with the teachers you work with, they aren't librarians and can't provide you with all the professional support you may sometimes need. As a youth services librarian in a public library, you may have other librarians to consult with about library issues, but possibly no one else to consult with about your unique patrons, kids. Both school and public librarians can truly grow and flourish through collaborating and working together to serve the kids of their community, and to help each other with ideas, tips, know-how, and general professional support. In "A Public Librarian and Teacher Librarian Work Together for Teens" (VOYA, December 2010), Miranda Doyle and Abby Harwood discuss the various benefits they see coming from their collaboration. Among them is the professional development and support the two librarians receive from each other. Doyle, the school librarian in the relationship, notes that the professional development angle of the collaboration is important to her: "Since I don't work with other librarians on a day-to-day basis now, or have access to many professional magazines, I find that public librarians are more in touch with current titles and trends." She thus uses her time with Harwood to get ideas and tips for books and programs, and how the two can both best serve their patrons. Doyle also notes, "[School librarians] need other librarians to talk and socialize with -- like classroom teachers, we sometimes feel isolated in our jobs." It is important for public librarians to be aware of the professional isolation school librarians like Doyle might be facing, and be encouraged to reach out as a colleague united in purpose.

Challenges to Collaboration

While we can know that there are many benefits to different kinds of libraries working together, it is helpful to acknowledge that there are real road blocks to achieving successful partnerships and take steps to avoid them. While both school libraries and public libraries serve the same constituents and have similar goals, the reality is that they are two separate institutions who have different ways of working and different constraints on their time and resources. Thus it is imperative that the partnership be a true partnership from the beginning, where both parties participate in joint planning, establishing the foundation of the collaboration and its goals. Ground rules should be established, and each partner should have clearly defined roles, accountability and commitment. Additionally, evaluation should be a key component of the collaboration to ensure that the goals are being met. Each library must see that the resources that they invest in the collaboration will be beneficial for their library and patrons because otherwise the partnership runs the risk of losing needed motivation and initiative to be successful.

Other challenges to collaboration are tendencies toward territorialism and resistance to change. In general, librarians are responsible people and take pride in their work as well as ownership of it. However, this can lead to a defensive attitude where one librarian is unwilling to cede any responsibility to another. Whether this defensiveness is because one person feels that another could not do the job as well, or maybe could even do it better (thereby threatening their position) it is an unhelpful attitude that can block the quality of service that could be achieved if librarians are willing to work together. While humbling, librarians should remember that no one thing is “theirs”, but instead collaboration is an opportunity to work for the good of their community and patrons. Another common issue is resistance to change. As with all professions, librarians become experts at what they do and how they do it, and so requested change can be met with suspicion and viewed as unnecessary. Thus it is important for management and others responsible for the collaboration to communicate clearly about the upcoming changes, expectations, and timelines when the change will occur and provide time for adjusting to the change (Todaro 2010).

Finally, librarians often are already asked to do a lot with the limited time and resources they have at hand. Thus adding another thing to an already long list of responsibilities might not only breed resentment but be impossible. It is important that when planning a project that sufficient time and resources are made available for staff to ensure the collaboration’s success. The duties should not be viewed as being added on to regular responsibilities, but actually be part of those responsibilities. Thus management should take sufficient steps to shift responsibilities as needed, as well as make sure that adequate training is provided.


Jones, L.A, and M Diaz. "It's All About the Kids: Public and School Libraries Collaborate for Kids." Texas Library Journal. 85.4 (2009): 122-125. Print.
The Texas Library Association sponsored a webinar with the authors of the above paper to provide practical ideas for collaboration, as well as allow for questions and concerns.

YALSA’s Partnerships Advocating for Teens (PAT) Committee hosted a session at the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago called “It Takes Two: School and Public Libraries, Partnerships That Can Work.” Tash Squires shared a PowerPoint presentation with useful strategies for starting and maintaining partnerships. Anna Koval, a teacher and librarian, presented about her collaboration with two young adult and teen services librarians. The rest of the presentations can be accessed here.

The Programming Librarianblog provides information for all types of libraries, and includes an ever-growing selection of posts about partnerships and collaboration. The Programming Librarian can also be found on Facebook and Twitter for additional links and resources, as well as for the opportunity to ask questions.


David McMenemy, et al. "Digital Library Collaboration: A Service-Oriented Perspective." Library Quarterly 82.3 (2012):337-359. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

DeGroot, Joanne, and Jennifer Branch. "Solid Foundations: A Primer On the Crucial, Critical, And Key Role Of School And Public Libraries In Children's Development." Library Trends 58.1 (2009): 51-62. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Doll, Carol A. Collaboration and the School Library Media Specialist. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2005. Print.

Doyle, M, and A Harwood. "A Public Librarian and a Teacher Librarian Work Together for Teens." Voice of Youth Advocates : Voya. 33.5 (2010): 420-421. Web.

Fitzgibbons, Shirley A., and Verna Pungitore. 1989. The Educational Role and Services of Public Libraries in Indiana. Indiana Libraries 8, 1–2.

Fitzgibbons, Shirley A. "School and Public Library Relationships: Essential Ingredients in Implementing Educational Reforms and Improving Student Learning."School Library Media Research. 3 (2000). Web.

Pelman, Amy. "It Takes Two: School and Public Libraries, Partnerships That Can Work!" Young Adult Library Services, 8, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 26-28. Web.

Smallwood, Carol, eds. Librarians As Community Partners: An Outreach Handbook. Chicago : American Library Association, 2010. Print.

Squires, Tasha. Library Partnerships: Making Connections between School and Public Libraries. Medford, N.J: Information Today, Inc, 2009. Print.

Todaro, Julie. "What's New? What's Next? Or ... What's Not?." Library Leadership & Management 24.2 (2010):116-119. Library, Inofrmation Science & Technology Abstracts. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

Ziarnik, Natalie R. School & Public Libraries: Developing the Natural Alliance. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003. Print.