We are thrilled to bring you the 12th post in our Canadian Libraries Spotlight series from the small but mighty Cumberland Public Libraries in Nova Scotia. Feeling behind? Check out past posts. Feeling inspired? Submit one from your corner of Canada! Now, we’re going to sit back and listen to Jenn Atkinson share about an incredible community partnership she’s been working on.
Cumberland Public Libraries is the smallest library system in Nova Scotia. We serve a large geographic, but sparsely populated, area. Our 26 employees, 7 branches and Borrow by Mail program serve a population of about 31,000. As a rural librarian with a small staff and budget, community partnerships are a boon. Partnerships can give you access to more ideas, staff and resources; they can take your programs to levels you couldn’t achieve on your own.
CPL has a long-standing partnership with Maggie’s Place, our amazing local family resource centre. Every Wednesday for the last 10+ years, the Amherst branch has hosted Once Upon a Time, a 1.5 hour-long program for ages 0-5. An employee from Maggie’s Place and the Youth Services Librarian sing songs and do action rhymes, read a story, and deliver a snack. It’s a fabulous little arrangement: the library provides the venue and story, while Maggie’s Places brings the songs and snack. It’s easy to execute and we consistently draw anywhere from 30-60 people (children and adults) per week.
This spring I proposed an expanded partnership with Maggie’s Place. The main impetus was to improve our summer program attendance, specifically in Amherst. There are several organizations in our community that offer summer programs to children, but with a population of 9000, there are only so many children to go around. Since we target the same youth population as Maggie’s Place, I wanted to work together this summer to maximize our programming.
In April, the Deputy Chief Librarian and I set up a meeting with the Executive Director and one of their early childhood educators. We went in with three program ideas, and to our happy surprise they readily agreed to all of them. They loved the idea of increasing our partnership and were as keen to work with us as we were with them.
We ran 3 summer programs in partnership with Maggie’s Place:
- Summer Storytime – Last year I held a weekly storytime in a local park without knowing that Maggie’s Place was also doing an outdoor storytime. This year we combined our storytime forces and held weekly 1.5 hour programs in 4 Amherst parks on a rotating schedule. In the event of rain, the Amherst Library was the storytime venue. I planned the half-hour story segment while Maggie’s Place staff planned our outdoor games and brought snacks. My storytime attendance increased by 11% from last year, and together we were able to offer a longer program with more engaging activities.
- Family Fort Night –I’d wanted to do this program since reading about it on Tiny Tips for Library Fun, but never tried it because I was too worried that no one would show up. I find family-oriented programming to be challenging in Amherst, especially in the evenings. I hoped that our partnership with Maggie’s Place would draw in families who use the centre, but might not normally visit the library (as is often the case with Once Upon a Time). We had 22 people show up, which I consider a huge success for a beautiful July evening. We invited families into the library with pillows and blankets to make reading forts in the library. We provided books, games, puzzles, and colouring sheets to occupy the kids when in their forts. After reading and playing in the forts, everyone gathered around a fake campfire, ate a s’more treat, listened to stories, and finished up with hide-and-go-seek in the dark. Every kid who attended had a blast.
- StoryMob – This Paper Bag Princess-inspired flash mob was the crown jewel of my summer programming. It was by far my most ambitious undertaking and I couldn’t have done it without the help I received as a result of this partnership. I was responsible for promotion, volunteer recruitment, and script direction, while Maggie’s Place took on the vast majority of craft and prop making. We were fortunate that Maggie’s Place lent us 2 staff members for the crafting session the day before, and 3 for the StoryMob itself. In all, we had 30 volunteers, 80 spectators, and a ton of fun!
What I’ve learned about community partnerships:
- Start early – Don’t ask an organization to work with you a week before your planned program. They will probably say no, even if it’s something in which the organization would have been interested. Like us, Maggie’s Place plans months in advance, so we were sure to meet with them in early spring to propose our summer partnership. This allowed ample time to advertise our programs in their flyer and make the appropriate staffing arrangements.
- Communicate – Be clear about what you expect from your partner organization; they don’t want to be caught off-guard by unanticipated costs or staffing needs. I recommend a meeting (either in person or on the phone) to establish your partnership, and another the week leading up to your joint program/event to make sure everyone’s on the same page and ready to go.
- Appreciate – Like in any good relationship, be sure to let your partner know how valuable they are, and thank them for helping you accomplish more than you could on your own.
Our expanded partnership with Maggie’s Place has been highly rewarding for both organizations, and we already have plans to continue working together throughout the fall and winter. They readily agreed to another Family Fort Night in late October, and we are talking about organizing another StoryMob in January. In addition to repeating two of our successful summer programs, I will perform a puppet show at the centre in December, and I will represent CPL at their popular Family Days that happen throughout the year to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, Family Literacy Day, and Easter. At these events I will do library card registration, check out books, promote the library, and be on hand to help Maggie’s Place staff.
I strongly recommend developing a partnership with your local family resource centre, or other youth-oriented organizations in your community. In my experience, it has been positive and productive endeavour that has raised public awareness of the library and taken my programs to an exciting new level.