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Libraries Leverage Community Relationships - Case Study

Public libraries are developing new relationships and partnerships with other stakeholders in the community, including with government agencies, public schools, local businesses, civic associations and other libraries. The following case examples show how libraries are successfully leveraging their community relationships to align services in support of community priorities and creating new public-private and public-public partnerships that address issues of sustainability.

A theater in a library and a library in an airport are two examples of today’s library as place.

The Ron Robinson Theater, part of the Central Arkansas Library System’s main library campus, is a 315-seat multi-use venue with state of the art technology. At the theater, the library provides a range of programs, including films, music performances, plays, readings, lectures, speakers and children’s activities. The library sought and won a bond issue to fund the construction of the building in a public-private partnership. In addition to the library’s theater, the building includes retail stores, offices and a restaurant. The theater is also used by other groups such as the Little Rock Film Festival and the Clinton School of Public Service. It enriches and strengthens the cultural, economic and educational life of the community.

The Free Library in Philadelphia partnered with the Airport Authority to open a virtual library at the Philadelphia International Airport. While relaxing in comfortable lounge chairs in a virtual reading room, customers can log on to the airport’s free Wi-Fi to access the Free Library’s e-books, nearly 1,200 author podcasts, and other digital content.

In Omaha, Nebraska, the Omaha Public Library has initiated new partnerships with the business community that build on the library’s community engagement and learning work. The library is working with regional software companies and technology businesses looking for workers with software and design skills to establish workforce development initiatives that train area residents in these much-needed skills. The participating businesses are helping the library rethink its technology offerings to support workforce needs.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the Memphis Public Library’s JobLINC mobile career center helps job hunters find employment opportunities and helps employers find new employees. The 38-foot bus delivers job and career resources to job seekers at convenient locations out in the community. It comes equipped with computers, email access, information resources and staff to assist with job listings, job applications, resume writing, interviewing and improving other skills.

In New York City, the Department of Small Business Services established one of its Workforce 1 career centers at the Brooklyn Central Library. The center prepares and connects city residents to job opportunities in the city, with emphasis on both job skills needed by local employers and soft skills such as interviewing that are equally important to getting a job.

More than 80,000 Nashville public school students and 7,000 educators have access to a wealth of resources thanks to this cooperative program between the Nashville Public Library and Metro Nashville Public Schools designed to foster resource sharing and improve student access to learning materials.

Created in 2009, at the behest of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Limitless Libraries began as a pilot project in three high schools and a ninth grade academy. Today, it serves all 128 schools with two full-time collection development librarians and a materials budget of more than $1 million. Library resources are delivered to students and educators at their schools boosting access to books, movies and music while integrating the library into students’ daily lives. In addition, Limitless Libraries supports digital literacy by furnishing schools with e-readers, netbooks and iPads.

Since its launch, circulation of school library resources has increased 79 percent; 28,000 middle and high school students are registered Limitless Libraries users; and bulk purchasing and negotiated discounts have achieved an estimated $271,000 in savings while vastly expanding resources.*

Libraries have long been known as curators of the community’s culture and knowledge. This role involves organizing information, providing context, and connecting content in ways that add value for users and the community. As available content grows exponentially, the library’s curator capacity becomes more important and more challenging.

Some libraries are leading public curation projects using crowdsourcing techniques to engage online communities. The library can curate or, in the case of these examples, provide the platform for curation to happen.

The New York Public Library’s Building Inspector project is creating digitized images of maps that show building footprints in the city at particular points in time and making the maps widely available online. NYPL Labs is training computers to recognize building shapes and other data so that it can be compared over time and engaging city residents—operating as “citizen cartographers”—to check the accuracy of the computers’ work. The process helps city residents see and tell the city’s own story over time.

Based at the DC Public Library in Washington, DC, the MapStory project is helping citizens to tell the stories of their neighborhoods and to see how they are evolving over time. With a grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the MapStory Foundation team is designing a nonprofit global data commons built on open source code for anyone to use. There are map stories on the spread of bike lanes in U.S. cities and the spread of Walmart stores across the country. With funding from IMLS, the project is helping DC Public Library to digitize and geo-reference its extensive map collection.

To meet the challenges of a combined $57 million decrease in city funding between 2008 and 2013, and a 19 percent decrease in staffing, The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library are consolidating their book buying and collection management activities into a shared central location.

When fully implemented, BookOps will combine acquisitions, cataloguing, processing, sorting and delivery of books and resources to the libraries in each system and will save the two library systems up to $3.5 million annually.

The collaborative effort provides a strong foundation for future citywide strategies to create new efficiencies including universal returns, universal requests, universal library cards and expansion of the MyLibraryNYC joint venture that includes the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries and the New York City Department of Education.*

* ©Urban Libraries Council, Top Innovators. Edited and reprinted with permission.