From the Director - March/April 2014
Partnerships are hard. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, a marriage or have a close friend, you know what I’m talking about. Put two people together and ask them to work towards a common goal and there’s bound to be tension. But what if it’s not just two people but whole organizations with complex systems and processes trying to work together towards solving community problems?
Librarians are some of the smartest people around, and we know we don’t have all the tools or skills we need to help our customers with all of their needs. That’s why we actively seek out good partners. If you’re struggling in your partnerships or still aren’t convinced that collaborations are beneficial, maybe some things I’ve learned through years of partnerships will help. Here goes:
- Know why you’re partnering. Clearly articulate what’s in it for your customers or end users before you even start dreaming up the next big program or dividing up tasks. If you aren’t on the same page about what you are trying to accomplish and for whom, you may need to look elsewhere for a better fit. A sure recipe for disaster is if the only reason for you to have to partner is money (saving it or getting more of it) or recognition for your organization. It has to be about outcomes for people.
- Partnerships do not mean sharing the work equally. In fact, they are rarely a 50/50 endeavor. In any collaboration, there will be times when you feel like you’re pulling more than your share of the weight or that your talents are not being utilized to the fullest. It’s important to take a long view of what your partnership goals are, understanding that the return on your investment in the partnership might come later and in bigger ways down the road. So don’t get discouraged if you feel like the grunt work is all your responsibility today. If you’ve chosen a good partner, they’ll have your back when you need it.
- Be clear about your expectations. Write them down, share them and agree on them before you start the real work. The biggest pitfall in well-meaning partnerships is not being explicit about who will do what and when. While no one wants to start a partnership assuming things will go wrong, it’s helpful to discuss upfront how you will handle disagreements and how you will determine whether the relationship warrants continuing. If what I’m suggesting sounds a little like couples counseling, then you understand correctly.
I believe that we are better when we work together or the library wouldn’t have so many strong partners. No question that partnerships take more work and more time than going it alone. But the benefits to our community are more meaningful, have broader impact and are more likely to be sustained if we work as a team.
Melanie Huggins, Executive Director
I just finished: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
I’m just starting: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
I can’t stop listening to: O’ Be Joyful, by Shovels and Rope
You don’t want to miss: Hands on Art with Columbia Museum of Art, for ages 2-5. Dress for a mess!
Read the full issue of Access.