Building Relationships: Turning the Page – Week Four

Week four (4) of PLA’s library advocacy plan development seminar dealt with relationships—how to establish, cultivate and maintain them. The module employed the analogy of a plant to help viewers fully understand what this process entails. This post will highlight and summarize the key takeaways.

Why Relationships are Important

In many ways relationships are the catalysts for success. Some relationships are established serendipitously, while many more are pursued intentionally. However, because there is a lot that goes in to them (especially maintaining them), it is much easier to disturb a relationship than it is to sustain one.  A key point to remember about relationships is that they MUST be mutually beneficial. If a relationship is lopsided it will likely dissolve.

The type of services libraries provide to the communities, perfectly positions them to establish mutually beneficial relationships with individuals, non-profit organizations, government agencies, & corporations. Establishing such relationships will increase the likelihood that there will be people to support goals of the library when the need arises.

Step 01: Who?

Like a garden, establishing relationships requires careful thought. When determining WHO you might want to approach:

  • Define what you are interested in doing
  • Seek out entities that would be interested in such activities (e.g. resume building maybe of interest to the department of commerce)
    • Existing relationships: Start with people you know, use the current relationship as a foundation for building new ones.Introduce them to your vision and discuss the possibilities.
    • New relationships: Anyone can be a partner, do not employ self-imposed boundaries and look only in library land. Instead focus on who shares a goal similar to yours (Think outside the box).
  • Since there is not much time BE STRATEGIC!

The idea that everyone is a potential partner is an alluring one. However, the reality is that there are some people/groups that will never be interested in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. In the online module, there was an exercise where there were approximately nine (9) different people displayed on the screen and the participant need to figure out who was a potential partner and who wasn’t. Long story short, EVERYONE was considered a “potential partner”.  It would have been more useful to have a few people who would NOT have been a potential partner. Especially since when I realized everyone listed was deemed a potential partner I began to tune out.

Step 02: Time to Plant that Seed

Once a list of people you want to reach out to has been formed, it is time to initiate contact. Among the things you should do are:

  • Figure out WHAT the library can offer. Remember relationships should be mutually beneficial. If it appears that the library is the only party that will benefit, the relationship may never be established
  • Identify who on your team will reach out to this person/company/etc. Ideally it would be someone who understands their “world”
    • Make sure it is someone who has the power to make decisions
    • Arrange to meet them in person. Though it requires time, it is the most effective way to make the initial contact
      • Be sure to have concise information: Status of library, goals, where the library fits in with the companies goals, etc.
      • Suggest a project and ask for ideas on projects

Step 03: Cultivate Relationship

Step 03, maintaining a healthy relationship/partnership is perhaps the most important part of this whole journey. Below are a few guaranteed ways to keep your relationships afloat.

  • Public Acknowledgment: EVERYONE appreciates recognition. It can be as simple as a new bulletin thanking a company for support or even including their logo on resources related to a particular initiative
  • Scratch My Back & I’ll Scratch Yours: As mentioned earlier, being mutually beneficial is the key to a sustainable relationship an it may be as simple as providing space for your partner to hold an offsite meeting

Your Next Relationship

Establishing a new relationship can be tough. At times this is because people feel they have exhausted their current ones or because they can’t figure out who to reach out to next. If you are in any of those situations, try one of the groups listed below:

  • Religious organizations
  • Non-profit Organizations
  • Elementary Schools, High Schools, Colleges, etc. 
  • Government Organization
  • Girls/Boys Scouts
  • Professional & non-Professional Sports Teams
  • Public Transportation Departments (e.g. MTA)
  • Fire Dept., Police Dept., EMS, etc

Relationships with any of the mentioned groups can be used to help move your library advocacy goals ahead. For example,

the library can have a local sports team (e.g. New York Giants) participate in a library-related event or donate an autographed football that would be raffled off on behalf of the library. 


the library can partner up with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to promote different libraries (along the bus/train line) as “destinations”.

There are numerous ways in which these relationship can be used.  It is only constrained by the limits of your imagination. So, go ahead and think outside the box.

If you think of any unique ways relationships can be used to support libraries share it below.

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