The Case for Collaboration

“No one should kid themselves . . . collaboration is not fluffy work. It is hard, frustrating, and unremittingly real, but it’s worthwhile and absolutely essential in this new age,” wrote Caroline Marshall more than a decade ago. Marshall, an experienced strategic planning consultant to cultural institutions, would receive no argument from those engaged in the sensitive work of bringing together multiple partners toward a common goal. The benefits of collaborative programming received great attention in the Chicago advisory workshop.

The following were listed as advantages of collaboration:

  • The ability to reach new audiences. Each partner brings a potentially different segment of the community to program experiences, allowing for establishing new connections;
  • Enlarged capacities and expanded skills. Not only may partners offer complementary skills, they may also have services, locations, technology, and other assets that broaden the library’s capacities, and they may teach by example in ways that have a lasting impact on the library;
  • Greater attention, attraction, and publicity. Each partner brings new marketing outlets and connections, as well as media relationships;
  • Expanded perspectives. Different audiences and their leadership provide a variety of fresh ways to view other people’s experience, values, and issues;
  • Ability to create and nurture more relationships. From introduction to building value, the project may expand into additional partnerships and more fruitful community contacts;
  • Greater ability to respond to demographic shifts. Partnering with different interest and ethnic groups and those that serve newcomers offers a way into reaching and responding to their needs;
  • Opportunity to build something totally new. Combined resources and skills, new audiences, and different creative ability all offer the potential to create something entirely new, from products to organizations;
  • A chance to energize staff. No matter how good an organization is, the staff can find the work repetitive. New ideas, new people, and fresh opportunities can energize and enliven staff participation;
  • A first point of contact for potential library users. A community collaboration can introduce people to the library and its services for the first time or in a different way, offering the possibility of expanded use;
  • A position in the community. New partners may help place libraries more at the center of their communities, bringing them to the table of decision-making and leadership; and
  • New eyes and ears to recognize community needs. Even though libraries have long been excellent barometers of community changes and needs, having more input from different sectors widens that ability.

The conversation concurred that the great advantage of a collaborative program is that the process and product become far more than the sum of its parts. Even with a largely positive assessment, however, some questions surfaced to raise a cautious note. These included:

  • Who owns the project or program?
  • How is control and decision-making shared?
  • How do all partners share in the risks of collaborations? The recognition?
  • Since collaboration requires extra effort, how do we determine that the results are of special value?

It was agreed that there are numerous resources to help create and manage collaborations, but that research into the impact of collaboration is needed. How can we test that the assumed benefits are achieved? And what conditions support this achievement?

The multiple impacts of collaboration should be identified and measured by the NILPPA research studies to validate and strengthen the benefits of collaboration. Partners themselves may be important providers of data.


What has been your most successful/unsuccessful
collaboration and why?


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Comments ( 3 )
  • Amber Conger says:

    I like the direction you’re going here with studying the impact of collaboration. That is a terrific summary of benefits. Of the risks, I’d add one I’ve found: that collaborators may not always have the same standards of quality that I do. Sometimes that leads to considering how we may partner together in a different way in the future., rather than through programming

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  • Lisa Kelly says:

    This past 18 months we have had a very successful collaboration with the Long Branch Historical Association, doing several joint programs at the library. The topics are chosen together,; for the most part they have been author talks and book signings on local historical topics. The Long Branch Historical Association brings their audience to us, (there is a great deal of overlap between their members and our patrons) and we provide refreshments for the program. We both do publicity for the program. The programs are usually free, because the Historical Association has a strict policy of not paying for presenters. The only library cost is for refreshments and flyers. The Historical Association holds a very brief meeting before the start of the program, and they are held in the Library’s community room. This collaboration has been working out very well, as costs are low and attendance is usually very satisfactory.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Long Branch Free Public Library
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  • Vince Juliano says:

    There has been very good collaboration here with a variety of organizations.
    Here are just some examples: Job & Career programs draw on local businesses and local organizations and are funded through a local foundation. International Film Festival is the result of collaboration among the Library, on the Arts Commission, and on two nearby colleges. A local congregation has supported several concerts.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Russell Library
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