3.4 Schools

“This is such an obvious avenue for partnership that it is sometimes overlooked.”

— Tasha Squires1

Almost all of a community’s youth can be found in local schools at some point. Reaching teens through their schools can get them more involved with the library before the steep drop-off in participation that many librarians have reported with older teens. Partnerships with schools also build bridges between a teen’s formal and informal learning spaces—an important element of connected learning.

Partnering with schools is particularly challenging for most of the librarians and library workers we spoke to. Very few reported having any collaborative relationship at all with their local schools, let alone a thriving partnership.

YALSA Snack Break: Audrey Hopkins on School and Public Library Partnerships for Teen Success

5:21

YALSA

“We have to go looking for the information, and most the time when we do go looking for the information, there are district employees, or teachers, or librarians that will work with us. But we have to do a lot of digging to make that happen, and that once again comes down to the resources at our disposal and also the staff time it takes to make those in-roads.”

— Youth Services Specialist at a rural western library

Opportunities
AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAMSLibraries can offer their space to afterschool programs, or conduct their own. Conducting afterschool programs on the school campus itself can help libraries reach underserved youth who might not be able to travel to the library building.
“We really appreciate those partnerships because it allows us to go into the schools, but it also allows us to reach those students that are underserved. Most likely, if they are at an afterschool program, their parents might not have as much opportunity to get to the library. So their students won't have as much opportunity to take advantage of those summer reading programs or those story times, or the programs we offer at the libraries. So being able to take those technologies and take those fun things and expose those kids to them, I think really helps and it also let the schools know what we are able to offer them a legitimate and valuable service as well.”

— Youth Services Specialist at a rural western library
Topical resourcesLibraries can provide resources and information literacy programs for students, particularly when the school’s library is under-equipped. Themed presentations or online resources on evergreen subjects like health or history may be valuable to teachers, and library staff can help students learn to use library resources and equipment for science fairs or special projects. Schools with special focuses—technology, or the arts—may also be receptive to specialized, relevant programming.
Community service opportunitiesMany schools require students to perform community service. Libraries can offer service opportunities, but can also facilitate connections between students and other community organizations in need of volunteers.
Bolster services by combining forcesPartnering with a school or school library can help you provide better services and resources to teens who are underserved, marginalized, at-risk, or otherwise disadvantaged. For instance, one library in Virginia allowed rotating portions of their audiobook collection to be housed at a school for the benefit of blind students.
Challenges
No time for extrasTeachers and school librarians are notoriously busy. Along with their full daily schedules, their curricula are also “busy”—full of requirements and necessary lessons, activities, and tests. They may not have classroom time to spare for library-related activities. To justify the time and effort required for a library and school to work together, you should be able present a very clear benefit.
The library shouldn't feel like schoolOne of the strengths of the public library as an informal learning space is that it’s not school. As an urban western library worker put it, “School comes with a lot of negative feelings oftentimes, and this is a much more open-ended space of imagination and freedom.” A library-school partnership shouldn’t make teens feel like they are spending even more time in school.
Yearly schedules conflict“It’s all about the timing,” says Tasha Squires. Teachers and school librarians are particularly busy around the end of the school year, just as public librarians approach a flurry of summer learning activities. Squires recommends discussing potential partnerships around the beginning of the school year, which may be stressful but is a time when “people tend to be fresh and optimistic.”1
Daily schedules conflictEven in the day-to-day, youth librarians tend to have “opposite” schedules from teachers and school librarians—they are most busy when youth are not in school. This can make communication challenging, so be patient yet persistent, and be flexible with your schedule to make occasional meetings possible if you can.

Getting started: Partnering with Schools

  • Brainstorm. Think of five ideas that you and your library can use in establishing, sustaining, or improving your relationship with local schools. Use the related readings, including this list of school and public library cooperative activities from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), for inspiration. Write a few sentences for each idea, describing the concept and how your library might implement it.
  • Reach out to someone at a parent-teacher association. They may be planning events the library can participate in, or have other ideas about how the library and the school can work together. And crucially, they may have more spare time than school employees.
  • Develop a way to stay in touch with teachers. Keeping teachers abreast of the latest library resources and programs for youth through a newsletter or email can help remind them to stay in touch with you about upcoming lessons and assignments.
  • Start small. Working together on a one-time event can benefit both school and public library, and requires less time commitment than an ongoing partnership.2
  • Be in it for the long haul. If a partnership with the school just doesn’t materialize, consider building that relationship anyway by simply helping out—you could assist with an event, volunteer to help in the library, or support advocacy efforts for the school and the school library.1 This will help you learn more about the school and its needs, and may end up blossoming into a real partnership down the line.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library partnered with the Northwest School of the Arts’s library, incorporating tutoring, homework help, and video games in an afterschool program. The public library provided the board games and video game equipment, which the school library lacked. The partnership allowed the library to reach new audiences, and provided a beneficial service to the school’s students.

  • Pelman, A. (2009). It takes two: School and public libraries, partnerships that can work! Young Adult Library Services, 2009(Fall), 26.
  • Romanek, L. (2014, May). Game on!

1: Library Partnerships: Making Connections between School and Public Libraries, by Tasha Squires. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2009.

2: Partnerships beyond Four Walls by Ashley J. Cooksey. American Libraries Magazine, January 3, 2017.