Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox
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Engagement with Partners
Partnerships are critical to increase public libraries’ organizational capacity and, therefore, their ability to offer services or programs to their patrons. Partnerships are even more critical for a library to play a key role in the development of a smart city/community because smart cities and communities are collaborative endeavors.
The idea that building a smart city requires a strong collaboration between different actors is not new: in the process of becoming smarter, cities and communities are facing challenges that have surpassed the capacities and capabilities of their traditional institutions and traditional methods of governance, therefore calling for increased collaboration between the city government and other stakeholders in the design and implementation of smart city strategies.
Your public library may partner with different individuals and organizations, but probably the most important partner you may have is your local government, for it is the organization with the ultimate responsibility of designing and implementing a smart city strategy.
There are many other reasons why your public library may benefit from a partnership with your local government. For example, you may be better informed about the issues and needs of the community, which can guide your actions to stay relevant, better serve the community, improve resident’s satisfaction, and ultimately gain more support from them.
In addition, a partnership may increase the understating of your potential contribution to the development of a smart city/community by your local government. This may lead to more funding (if you are part of the organizational structure of your local government) or to the inclusion of your library as a formal partner in the design and implementation of the smart city strategy.
Finally, a good partnership between your library and your local government can raise awareness about you among other potential partners and smart city stakeholders, with whom you may also be able to collaborate.
Actually, besides local governments, there are many other types of organizations and individuals that you may want to consider partnering with, including the federal government, state governments, nonprofit organizations, private organizations, school districts, universities or research institutes, developers, writers, and artists, just to name a few.
For example, federal government agencies often seek community input through consultation but have difficulty reaching marginalized communities. Public libraries are trusted community institutions that often are well connected with the communities they serve and may help in this endeavor.
Also, collaboration with nonprofit and private organization may help your public library design new programs and services to attract more residents to participate. Many of these profit and nonprofit organizations often assist the public libraries for free or at a very low cost, since they also want to use public libraries as a well-recognized platform to reach to the community, promote their initiatives, ideas and products, and grow their audiences and customers.
Your public library may, for example, partner with nonprofit organizations in advocating community initiatives, such as healthy living, green energy, and sustainable development. You may also want to collaborate with IT companies to bring in new advanced technology to your makerspaces as well as training opportunities for your patrons.
In addition, you may want to consider partnering with schools, given the many areas of overlapping interest, such as addressing the learning and education needs of the community. Some of your programs and services may serve as extracurricular activities and complement school education.
Universities and academic institutions may also good partners given their knowledge and resources. You may, for example, partner with a close university and invite professors to host webinars and workshop for your patrons, which may help them learn about emerging topics and new advanced technologies.
Finally, you may also want to consider partnering with specific individuals, such as developers, writers, and artists to expand your offer of programs and services by organizing exhibits, hosting hackathons, and having discussions about new books, to just name a few possibilities...
Although specific partnerships may require different ways to proceed, in general, you want to start the process of building a partnership by identifying the goals and purposes through the assessment of your library needs, that is, by answering the following question: what do you need partners for? This will, of course, be closely related to your library’s mission and visions as well as to the goals you have set to strengthen your role in building a smart community.
But you can also think more broadly to link your need for partners with strategic goals in the development of a smart city/community and, therefore, with the smart city/community strategy itself. It is possible that, in considering the city’s smart city/community strategy you find additional partners, that you had not previously considered, that may share similar goals and interests, but also that may offer resources that you need in the implementation of programs and services.
For example, your libraries have been contributing to improve residents’ digital skills for a long time through the expertise in digital literacy and training. However, due to limited budget and staff, some of you may be limited to play this role, especially to expand your services for underserved areas of the communities. It is beneficial for your library to find other community organizations who share similar mission, in this case, improving digital inclusion within the community, and collaborate with them to improve your programs and services and better help your residents improve their digital skills, especially for residents who are in disadvantaged environments.
Once you have clarity on why you need partners, the next step is to identify partners and their potential roles, that is, to identify specific actors you want to collaborate with and to explore their potential roles in your activities aimed at making a contribution to the development of smart cities and communities.
Setting criteria for evaluating potential partners could be helpful for your library to identify suitable partners. For example, you may look at who the most interested individuals and organizations are in working with your library to provide programs and services that contribute to developing smart cities and communities. You may also take into account who has resources that may help build joint capacity to collaboratively provide these programs and services. Another criterion may consider experience in working with public libraries or even the history of collaboration that you already have with that potential partner. These and other criteria will help you determine which partners to engage with in the first place and the best way to involve and communicate with them.
Do not forget what your strategic plan says! For instance, if one of your strategic goals is to improve employability in your community, one of your activities may include offering specific career development services for your patrons. The department of youth and workforce services in your city may be an influential and interested actor to collaborate with. They know the needs of the community and they have the expertise and knowledge in the field, but, also, they may have the resources to work with you.
In this respect, the department, with more expertise in career training, may help your public library design training courses and offer trainers to teach them. In addition, your public library may provide classrooms for the courses, computers, job interview preparation, and assistance with online job applications. Jointly, public libraries and the department may offer services that fit residents’ needs and enhance patrons’ technology skills for employment opportunities, which contributes to building smarter citizens and improving employability in the community.
When deciding who you want to partner with, it is also important to consider what joint capacity needs to be built in the collaboration. That not only includes what you need from your partners, but also refers to what your library can offer to your partners.
Partnership management is important in order to build successful partnerships that contribute to the development of smart cities and communities. This process often involves various tasks, such as setting up a shared vision about the collaboration; agreeing on how to address potential conflicts among partners that may arise due to the differences in expertise, motivations, and organizational culture; deciding on how to avoid duplication among your library’s work and other partners’ work; and communicating regularly and fluently with your partners.
You may want to designate a specific person from your staff to be the contact point with your partners or you may want to set up a team with representatives from your staff to work with your partners. In either case, make sure there is clarity to your partners about who they need to contact and be in touch with.
General resources on building partnerships and encouraging collaboration:
3 Ways to Build Partnerships at Your Small Library: https://programminglibrarian.org/blog/3-ways-build-partnerships-your-small-library
5 Ways you Can Use Partnerships to Transform Your Library into a Community Hub: https://princh.com/use-partnerships-to-transform-your-library-into-a-community-hub/#.YJ6X1b5Kg2w
Libraries Building Strong Community Partnerships: https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/building-strong-community-partnerships.html
Better Together: Building Strategic Library Partnerships: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/47263488.pdf
Collaboration is Key: Libraries Offer Suggestions for Forming outside Partnerships: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/collaboration-is-key/
Partnering Toolkit: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/partnering-toolkit
Public Library & School Library collaboration toolkit: http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslissues/advocacy/180201-alsc-plslc-toolkit-screen-FINAL.pdf
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