As community hubs, libraries often collaborate with local, state, and national organizations to connect patrons with resources and exciting, meaningful programming, but it’s less common to see library-to-library collaboration. For some libraries, the pandemic has provided an unexpected opportunity to experiment with new ways to connect, yielding fruitful results. PW spoke with several librarians who have found success in working with fellow libraries in their communities, states, and even across the country to bring their patrons unique opportunities while combining knowledge, resources, and funding.

Keeping It Local

In Shoreline, Wash., Einstein Middle School teacher/librarian Anne Dame and King County Library System teen librarian Aarene Storms have been partnering on events for Dame’s middle school students for the last 10 years, with their cooperative relationship starting on Dame’s first day at Einstein. Together, they host two long-running afterschool clubs, “Pizza and Books” and a writing club called “The WRITE Stuff,” plus a newer third addition, “Cut and Paste,” which focuses on arts and crafts. For Storms, working directly with Dame allows her to reach an audience that Richmond Beach Library, the nearest King County Library branch whose location falls at the end of the bus line, struggles to bring in. “We’re the second to last stop before the [Puget] Sound,” explained Storms, which means there are fewer opportunities for organic discovery or stopping off for visits between home and school. Dame, meanwhile, receives the benefit of the public library’s ample funding and contacts.

For their monthly “Pizza and Books” program, the two keep things simple: Storms and Dame provide pizza and the students talk about what they’ve been independently reading, making peer recommendations, and composing book reviews. Accompanying the reviews are student-created content alerts, which serve as indicators of content such as “dragons and affirming representation of diverse identities,” Dame said, along with potential trigger warnings. After their discussion, a tagged list of recommended titles is compiled and shared through the web-based library catalog, along with direct links to the public King County catalog, which is accessible to all students through their student library cards, which are valid through age 22.

For the writing club, students receive a new prompt each month, while also having opportunities to meet and learn from professional creators through critique and workshops, like a zine-making class. “Cut and Paste,” their newest addition launched during the pandemic, was created to provide a sense of community while avoiding adding to Zoom fatigue. Each month students meet virtually to work on a craft project of their choice while the group listens to an audiobook. As interest grew, Dame and Storms requested that funds no longer being used for pizza at the now virtual “Pizza and Books” meetings be rerouted to be used to hire an Albuquerque-based crafter to lead bi-monthly virtual craft parties, with kits mailed from New Mexico to Washington to be distributed to students by Dame.

Storms said that a decade of partnering with Dame has allowed her to build greater trust with the teachers and students at Einstein Middle School, which in turn made possible less structured, creative programs like a recurring scary story storytelling event every October, during which students and teachers get to try their hand at the form, and opportunities like bringing in Japanese American storyteller Alton Chung.

Outside of Philadelphia, the Swarthmore Public Library in Swarthmore and the Helen Kate Furness Free Library in Wallingford have partnered for the past five years to host a point-to-point 5k race. [The family-friendly event, which has awards for things like silliest hat, begins at the Furness Free Library and ends at Swarthmore Public Library, where after-race events are held. The race began as a fundraiser, but the real benefit, said Swarthmore library director Amber Osborne, has been the community-building impact.] Over the years, volunteer involvement and sponsorships have flourished as well as race participation. The collaboration continued through the pandemic with a virtual 5k, which provided flexibility and access to a greater audience. “We were surprised to find that even patrons who had moved away were excited to discover that they could still participate through the virtual version,” Osborne said.

This month, Swarthmore Public Library has teamed up with two other libraries, Middleton Free Library and Rachel Kohl Community Library, for Pride Month programming. “With the abundance of virtual programming we’ve been doing, it made sense to collaborate to reach a wider audience and share the costs,” says Osborne. Together the libraries will host a series of virtual events, including an author chat with Alex Gino, a discussion with a local playwright, a virtual panel that brings together individuals of all ages in the LGBTQ community, a trivia event, and story time.

Statewide Strength

For the past year, libraries in Iowa have teamed up for a teen trivia challenge called “Battle of the Brains.” Attempting to solve the problem of achieving balance between the work put into a program vs. attendance, Jacqueline Stolz, youth librarian at Urbandale Public Library in Urbandale, Iowa, pitched a collaborative trivia challenge that allows the hosting libraries to combine their teen audiences while dividing the labor and cost of the program. When the planning committee, which included six to eight librarians, announced the first event, 20 Iowa libraries signed up to take part. The response to the now recurring event has been positive, with teens making new friends from across the state and one even reporting that “she started a trivia competition at her school because she was so inspired,” according to Stolz.

In May 2020, a weekly, virtual idea share hosted by Cathy Lancaster of the Library of Michigan led to a group of 15 public librarians—and an eventual six-person steering committee—creating a statewide virtual scavenger hunt for teens called MiLibraryQuest. Programming and youth services librarian Kristen Getzin, a steering committee member from Fraser Public Library in Fraser, Mich., said the initial goals and objectives of the project were to encourage Michigan teens to explore the websites of various libraries to learn more about the many resources public libraries have to offer.

While the goals haven’t changed significantly in the subsequent year, Getzin said the quest itself has evolved. “With the first quest we tried to keep the mechanics simple due to the very short turn around,” Getzin explained. Participants were asked to go to the websites of participating libraries, find the needed information, and enter it in the submission form. But, after the initial quest, the group decided to host two quests in 2021, one in the winter and another in the summer. “The first winter quest in January was fundamentally different, with a new critical thinking component,” Getzin said. With more than 90 libraries participating in the first quest and more joining with each subsequent event, Getzin reported that the coordinating team has received positive feedback from both patrons and “some truly heartwarming thank-yous from fellow librarians.” While the steering committee doesn’t expect all libraries in Michigan to participate, Getzin said they’d love to see participation from 60 to 80% of the 400 total libraries in the state.

Coast to Coast

A common mix-up connected Burlington, Conn., children’s programmer April Fiske Jones and Burlington, Wash., children’s librarian Jennifer Bell for a program that brought together their two communities. In the lead-up to this year’s National Read Across America Day on March 2, Jones, who works at Burlington Public Library outside Hartford, Conn., received a call she’s taken many times: a patron asking about an upcoming program they’ve seen on the website of a library located in a Burlington in a different state, which they’ve mistaken for their Burlington. Having received many calls about programs being hosted in Burlington, Vt. and Burlington, Mass., Jones wondered if there might be a Burlington further afield. After some searching, she discovered Burlington Library in Burlington, Wash., and sent an email pitching a Read Across America event that would bring together Burlingtonians from across the country.

Her email landed in the inbox of Bell, who found the idea “ingenious.” Together, along with Burlington Library’s Hispanic outreach coordinator, Juan Farias, they planned a virtual story time that celebrated diverse, bilingual stories and songs. In Burlington, Conn., a predominantly white area, a class of bilingual kindergarteners and second-grade distance learners joined in for the program, while, in Washington, Bell invited families with the help of Youthnet, an organization that works with Spanish-speaking populations in the area, where migrant work is common. Jones said she received positive feedback immediately following the program and would love to do something similar in the future. Bell agreed, mentioning that, post-pandemic, she’d transition towards a hybrid version of the event, with more class participation and a live stream of the event in the library, which was difficult to do with asynchronous learning and Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking generally, Bell made note of how glad she’s been to see the sharing of virtual events, make-and-take resources, and more being shared among libraries through Reddit and other online library communities in the last few years. “Recently I was able to connect with a library in Salt Lake City that was looking for make-and-take craft ideas,” she said. “Because I’ve been working between home and the library, all of my lesson plans and instructions are on Google Drive. It was so easy for me to send a link with 50 or more ideas, which included all necessary supplies and shareable instructions in both English and Spanish. Being able to share resources like this saves fellow librarians hours of work that is often more time-consuming than hosting an in-person program.” She hopes to see this kind of library-to-library collaboration continue well into the future.