Early Career Librarian Series: The Benefits of Public and Academic Library Collaborations

May 2, 2019 Jennifer Wilhelm

You might wonder why you should bother reaching out to collaborate with your academic or public librarian counterpart. You might think this sounds like too much work, or that the benefits wouldn’t make it worth the effort.  

Think again!  

Are you a tenure-track librarian? Leverage these partnerships into opportunities for research and service. Public libraries with small marketing budgets can piggyback on larger academic libraries’ social media reach and efforts.  

Does Your University Want to Improve Relations with the Local Community?  

Presence at public library events is a great way to connect with individuals and groups outside the campus sphere. In addition, local high schoolers can have stress-free contact with an academic library before they even get to their freshman orientation. And you’ll see below, the ideas and opportunities for low-risk, high-reward collaboration are plentiful! 

After working as a public librarian for over two years, I made the move to the academic library to become a business librarian. I have been lucky enough to develop relationships and connections that allowed me to create and facilitate many collaborative projects.  

Some Examples of Collaborative Projects: 

  • “Maps of Imaginary Places”: The special collections library displayed their collection of fantastic maps as part of a summer reading program treasure hunt in the community. 
  • Small Business Resources: An academic Business Librarian discussed entrepreneurial and small business resources available to the public. 
  • WWI Lecture Series: Archivists from the special collections library and local history experts presented at the public library to coincide with the centennial of WWI. 
  • STEM grant: A grant to produce adult informal learning programs led to collaboration with professors in atmospheric sciences. In addition, when I moved into a tenure-track position, I began presenting about this program with the public library branch manager. We have since submitted a case study to a peer-reviewed journal. 
  • Edible Books Festival: The academic library asked the public library to host their annual festival, typically held on campus, which allowed the community to be involved for the first time.  

Clearly, collaborations between academic and public librarians can be wide-ranging in topic, audience, and, as previously mentioned, can have many benefits.  

Despite this, they don’t frequently occur. Academic libraries and public libraries are both more likely to collaborate with school libraries than with one another. Why might this be? From personal experience, I know many public librarians would like to pull speakers and events from their academic colleagues but have no idea who to talk to or where to start. On the academic side, the many pressures of tenure-track life can lead to a singular focus on collaborations across campus or within academia. 

Despite this, the goals of academic and public libraries have many parallels, and both sides can benefit from well planned and executed collaborations.  

Here Are Some Tips to Begin Your Own Collaborations: 

  • If at first you fail, try again! It may take trial and error to find the right person to work with, or the ideal program to match your goals. 
  • Be clear about expectations. Who is in charge? Which institution is providing physical space or monetary support? Having these potentially difficult discussions early on can prevent problems and aid in planning. 
  • Take a risk. You will lose nothing by emailing or calling a colleague with an idea and you may gain a useful partner! 
  • Think outside the box. Special collections, subject liaisons, and outreach departments all have aspects of collaboration that translate to public libraries. 

When in doubt, pick up the phone or compose an email to your counterparts. Comment below to share your current or planned partnerships! 

About the Author

Jennifer Wilhelm

Business Librarian, Texas A&M University // Jennifer Wilhelm has been a Business Librarian at Texas A&M University since 2018. She previously worked as an Adult Reference Librarian at the Bryan + College Station Public library system and continues to work collaboratively with the public library on programs and projects. Her research topics center on informal STEM in libraries and collaborating with university career centers to improve students’ job search capabilities.

More Content by Jennifer Wilhelm
Previous Article
Reporting Clinical Trial Results – The Why and the How
Reporting Clinical Trial Results – The Why and the How

Sense about Science explains why and how researchers should share the results of their clinical trials.

Next Article
How ORCID Benefits Journals Without Negatively Impacting Submissions
How ORCID Benefits Journals Without Negatively Impacting Submissions

ORCID, the researcher persistent digital identifier, reliably connects researchers to their contributions a...