Building Common Ground • Community

Consider the community beyond the school doors when you think about building partnerships for the school library. You can help people and organizations get to know the value of the school library and offer new learning opportunities for your students. Some of these people and organizations include the PTO or other parent organizations in the school, the public library and academic libraries, local media and businesses and organizations, and libraries in your district, region, or state.

Here's something to think about. Draw a T table on a piece of paper and make a list on one side of something that the school library can offer to the parent-teacher organization, and on the other side, write something that or a few things that the school library might need from this group. Do you see any ways that these might align or ways that you might offer some resources for something that the parent-teacher organization might be looking for? This is a great partnership.

You can start this partnership by the obvious piece—attending the meetings. Join the group, if that's something that's permissible in your school, and allow the parents to get to know you and to learn about the library program. In particular, reach out to the leaders of the group. Offer to do a library report from time to time. Pay attention to fundraising efforts. And if appropriate, you might suggest library resources as a way to channel the results of fundraising maybe to buy e-readers or to support a particular student interest, maybe with some magazines or something that's perhaps not the main source of funding.

We want to make sure that we still establish a need for a budgetary allotment for the school library but a way to enhance the offerings for students. Connect perhaps with service learning opportunities or volunteer projects of the PTO. Offer to provide a workshop for PTO meetings, maybe something on digital citizenship, supporting your child's reading, or navigating college resources. Collaborations across school and public libraries are growing, so here's another way to reach out into the community a little bit farther than the PTO. Applegate, Shuster, and Thomson offer a few ideas about working with public libraries.

These include summer reading programs, which may be the most familiar way to connect with the public library. But how about teen advisors and volunteers? Teen book groups, public library cards, and student public library use. This is a good one and I'll share with you that when I was a school librarian I connected with our county-wide library system to have open house as a night where parents could sign up for students' library cards. This was really important because it was through the public library system in our county that students could access county-wide reference databases at home.

They needed a library card and a library card number. Well you know the September library card sign-up month promotion connects really well with open house. So I put signs all over the school that said "Get the smartest card at your library" and sure enough I had parents coming in, requesting that exact phrase. They were there for the ‘smartest card'. We had some really nice results with school library partnerships there connecting with the public library for library cards. Some other suggestions from Applegate, Shuster, and Thomson—sharing visiting authors, adult book club, so maybe for teachers or parents, and public librarians. Something like a data and dessert night where you introduce high-schoolers and parents to library resources, kind of fostering that transition from school libraries to other kinds of libraries, or reading and essay contests.

When we think about academic libraries, we are supporting that bridge from high school to college. One idea from a colleague in Pennsylvania that I have, she introduces her high school seniors to the library website of their college or university, or post-secondary program, and they do some different scavenger hunts and activities to help familiarize the students with the website. I really like that idea a lot. Another way to connect with the community is through local media and businesses and organizations. You might make some connections for career day or mentorships.

Make sure that you're sharing positive information with the community, perhaps through your public relations or marketing department. But get out those stories and human interest topics whether it's an author visit, just a great student project, or an event that connects the families and community with the school. Share that information broadly. Maybe seek in kind donations for school events and have students send thank-yous. Share student work with authentic audiences in the community. Utilize expertise for inquiry projects. Think about service projects that might benefit from a library connection, maybe using inquiry questions and library research processes to identify local service organizations.

You might use these pathways to connect with senior citizen centers, perhaps starting a book discussion club, environmental agency collaboration, maybe working with animal rescues or shelters, or other service organizations. Think about the connections between inquiry, information seeking, and outreach in the community. In any interaction, use the moment for your community elevator speech. Explain the importance of school library programs to student learning, college and career readiness, and community participation.

Finally, don't forget about other libraries in your district, in your region, and in your state. Especially if you're a solo librarian, ask to visit other libraries in the region. I always like to go to professional development sessions that are at libraries just to see how people do things. How do they arrange the shows? What does the signage look like? What is the space arrangement? When you connect with other librarians, whether they're school librarians or working in other specialties, share ideas, share resources, share your professional development needs and opportunities. Perhaps there's a way to connect with another library on a professional development experience.

What can you learn? What can you offer? Consider the space, the website, programs, communications to parents or students, record keeping, policies. There are lots of ways to continue learning and to continue leading in your library through connecting to libraries across your region by connecting to these libraries, businesses and organizations, public and academic libraries, and your PTO. You're reaching out into the community to support student learning and build school library advocates.

MLA Citation Morris, Rebecca J. "Building Common Ground: Community ." School Library Connection, September 2015,

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Entry ID: 1980854

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