If you haven't made friends yet with your local school district, now is your time to shine.
A partnership between a public library and a school district seems like a no-brainer, right? After all, we both have the same basic goals when it comes to students: to create and nurture in them a love of learning. However, many libraries – particularly small, rural libraries – don’t actually have much of a relationship with their school district.
There are countless reasons that libraries might neglect to make that connection, but the big ones are a) a lack of time, staff and resources; b) a fear of failure or of being rejected; and c) being unsure of how to start.
Establishing a connection
Small libraries and rural schools are often incredibly stretched for time and staff, and it can be nearly impossible to get someone to respond to your initial email. This can be discouraging, but don’t give up! Once you’ve made a connection with even one staff member at the school, you can begin a lovely partnership that will hopefully last for years to come.
The main points of contact in a school are typically the school secretary, principal or librarian/media specialist. Once you’ve talked with them, they may direct you elsewhere, perhaps to individual teachers or a reading specialist in the district.
Personally, I like to reach out via email if I don’t already have a relationship with the person. A quick message introducing yourself and inviting them to reach out to you if they are ever in need of assistance is easy and to-the-point.
Don’t hesitate – collaborate!
Once you have your “in” and have spoken with your contact a few times, it’s time to start thinking about ways to collaborate. If they seem open to hearing ideas, great! Your partnership can continue to grow and thrive from there. There are endless possibilities when it comes to working with your school district; here are just a few:
Visit individual classrooms
This may seem daunting, especially if yours is a very large school district, but don’t worry! You don’t have to visit every single classroom, and your time spent in the school can range anywhere from all day to five minutes in five different classrooms. I try to visit each preschool, kindergarten and first-grade classroom at least four times a school year, and I work in the other classrooms when I have time.
I typically do a story time — the younger crowd loves it when you can work in songs or puppets! — and give the teachers some promotional information to take home. These story times usually take place a week or two before a big children’s program at the library. Reading kids a quick story or doing a little booktalk for the older kids is fast and easy, and it gives the teachers a break in their day.
Arrange library visits
If classrooms don’t already visit your library every so often, consider mentioning it to the teachers. Of course, this depends on how geographically close your library is to the school; regular visits just would not be possible at my library, as we are nearly 30 minutes from the school.
However, you can explore other possibilities if they are not able to regularly visit to check out books from you. Perhaps the school band could give a performance at the end of the school year as a library program, or maybe the high school basketball star would be willing to put on a story time with you for some of his adoring young fans. How about offering a test prep program for high school students, offering study resources along with stress-relieving activities like yoga or coloring?
You could also do more passive things, like working with the school’s art teacher to create a little art gallery in the library, displaying pieces made by students. Brainstorm ways to include the school at your library.
Befriend the school librarian
If you haven’t already, make it a goal to bond with the school librarian/media specialist. Their job is similar to yours, but they have access to the students every single day, while you probably don’t.
Share ideas on collaborations and promote one another’s programs or events. The school librarian can probably supply you with the school’s summer reading list, as well as some of the subjects teachers will be including in their syllabus, so you can prepare your own library in case students come to you for help.
Offer to share your resources with the school librarian as well. Public libraries typically have a larger budget than school libraries, and we often have much easier access to new, popular titles.
Explore possibilities for extra credit
High school students are often eager to do something if it provides them with extra credit. Talk with the school principal to see if this might be a possibility for your library. I’m sure that the aforementioned high school basketball star would be much more likely to do a story time if they received extra credit for it.
You could also think about doing a tutoring program or a “reading buddies” program, pairing high school students with younger kids. Teens could also volunteer at your library, helping clean or shelve books, to earn credits.
Attend as many events as possible
Make sure you keep an eye on the school district’s calendar and Facebook page. If there’s an event like a family literacy night, a book fair or a school-wide reading competition, try to be involved!
Get permission to set up a table at events like these. Bring an eye-catching sign and information about your library to pass out to families. You'll earn bonus points with the kids if you include a small craft or prize to hand out; stickers and scratch-and-sniff bookmarks are always a surefire hit!
Give it time
As you can see, partnerships between schools and public libraries are a win-win for all involved. One thing to keep in mind when seeking to form this connection: the school staff is typically under an enormous amount of pressure. Schools, especially in rural areas, tend to be understaffed and overpopulated, and the teachers rarely even have a spare minute in their day to check their email. School librarians are sometimes volunteers, and unfortunately, some schools don’t even have a library anymore.
If you don’t hear back right away — or at all — don’t fret. Give it a week, and then start anew with a different point of contact. All good things take time, and once you have your “in” in your school district and you are working together, everyone in the community will reap the benefits.
Here are a few blogs posts about partnering with schools that you might find helpful.
- "How I Partner with Schools," Neighborhood Librarian
- "School and Public Library Collaborations," ALSC Blog
- "School/Library Partnerships" (part 1 of 5), Tiny Tips for Library Fun
How do you partner with your school district? Tell us in the comments.