3.2 Individuals, Businesses, and Community Groups

“We think we can train ourselves to be anything and oftentimes miss the point: brilliant people are coming into our buildings every day.”

Chrystie Hill et al. in IMLS Focus: Learning in Libraries

Private individuals, local businesses, and community groups that are not oriented towards youth or social services may not be obvious potential partners, but they are rich and often untapped assets for a library’s teen services. These types of partnerships are some of the most valuable for providing professional expertise in a variety of areas that teens might be interested in, thus extending the capacity of the library’s youth services without requiring extensive staff training or new hires.

“The library is considered not only a foundation to the community, but a good community supporter. We say, “How can the library partner with you?” And it brings them in and they want to work here, and they want to work with teens, and they want to give back… We’re getting a lot of community people who want to come in. They want to help, and they want to see our teens succeed.”

— Head of Youth Services at a southern urban library

Community Partners: Making Student Learning Relevant



Materials and equipmentBusinesses can easily contribute by providing access to equipment that the library doesn’t own, demoing or loaning products like gaming consoles or 3D printers.1, 2 They can donate craft materials, prizes, or even snacks — for instance, a game store could donate prizes for video game tournaments, and a cinema or grocery store could donate popcorn for movie night.
Community groupsReach out to community groups like Rotary as well as topical organizations or businesses (astronomy clubs, humanities councils, art studios, etc.) to find individuals who would be willing to volunteer their time to work with youth.
Parents and family membersParents and family members of teens who are already regular library users already know something about what the library does and what you have to offer teens. They can be valuable resources, either as volunteers themselves or as connections to businesses or community groups.
Exchanging expertiseLibrary staff can provide expertise that the partnering group doesn’t have, and vice versa. For instance, a community MakerSpace can help repair a library’s broken 3D printer, while the library staff can help Makers with grant writing.
Corporate PolicyBe flexible; a business may have policies that prevent them from participating in your plan, but they may be able to help out another way.1 Don’t be afraid to think big — a business may be more willing to sponsor a bigger project that makes an impression, even if it costs more.3 If you’re interested in a partnership with a chain or corporation, start by talking to a manager or assistant manager at the local store, not the company headquarters.1
Inexperience with teensThe individual you’re working with may not have experience working with youth. Your skills in that area can be one of the contributions you make to the partnership. A rural western library worker says of working with a retired electrical engineer on a regular robotics program: “He kind of shies away from managing the kids and trying to keep their focus, but he does have the technical know-how. So, between both of us, we're able to keep the kids somewhat engaged.”

Simple partnerships can lead to more extensive collaborations as the relationship develops. In a midwestern town surrounded by rural farmland, one librarian developed a great relationship with a local game store. The owner donated merchandise to be used as trivia prizes and themed snacks for movie nights (“For our Naruto movie, everybody went home with either wasabi candy or ginger candy.”) He shared his expertise by running video game tournaments at the library and judging a game-making contest. In return, the store earned exposure and goodwill with the teens, and the library bought gift cards from the store as additional prizes.

1: “Partnerships for Teen Tech Week,” by Stephanie Iser, 2008.

2: “Reaching beyond Library Walls: Strengthening Services and Opportunities through Partnerships and Collaborations,” by Adrienne L. Strock, 2014.

3: “Sponsorship 101: How Partnerships Can Expand Summer Reading,” by Steven Engelfried and Angela Reynolds. American Libraries, 2002.