2015 Young Adult Services Symposium – Supporting Youth Learning Through Building Sustainable Partnerships

A number of The Hub bloggers attended YALSA’s awesome YA Services Symposium in Portland over the weekend. There were so many great sessions and authors there. In case you couldn’t attend the Symposium or missed this pre-conference session, here are some of the highlights compiled by Hub bloggers Carly Pansulla and Sharon Rawlins from Friday morning’s program called “Supporting Youth Learning Through Building Sustainable Partnerships.” All of the presenters were generous and detailed in sharing their experiences of partnering with outside organizations to better serve the young adults in their communities.



For those of us who enjoy a good checklist, Amy Twito, Informal Learning Program Manager from Seattle Public Library, offered us a list comparing establishing good community partners to finding romantic partners. She advised us all that the same guidelines can lead to success in both arenas:

*Know what you want out of a partner – What are the library’s goals for this relationship? What are the partner organization’s goals? Is the library looking for specific resources or expertise? Is the partner organization? Are these goals and expectations compatible?

*Learn from past mistakes 

*partnerships can be uncomfortable, messy and awkward…(ditch the comfort zone)

*communication, communication, communication ALL THE TIME (don’t assume anything)

*1st rule of partnering: be a good partner

*it’s all about the balance (don’t need to continue with partner forever if things go off the rails)

*everything is harder & takes longer than you think it will (trust your intuition)

Especially if it’s an important project & if it’s new

*don’t be a pushover – maintain your own identity

*have fun, learn & grow! (relax  & be ready for everything)

We also heard from librarians from Seattle Public Library and Multnomah County Library in Portland about their experiences with developing and maintaining community partnerships for the benefit of teens.

Highlights from Rekha Kuver and Hayden Bass, from Seattle Public Library:

  • Identifying whether you are seeking micro partnerships (smaller teams or individuals/branches working with specific community partners) or macro partnerships, (large, system-wide organizational partnerships run by administrators or director, such as free zoo admission for summer program participants or other large-scale, system-wide undertakings).
  • Acknowledging the difference between equality & equity, (they used this great, simple graphic), and understanding that this can be especially tricky for librarians, because in trying to serve our communities equitably, we may very well need to stop doing certain things to free up resources for other/new things (ex. in order to direct human and financial resources to new outreach endeavors, SPL had to cut back on the numbers of hours the desk is staffed in their downtown Teen Center, to better align with the hours that teens most used that space).
  • Do community analysis and collect data such as: census information, school stats, languages spoken, transportation barriers, population and economic projections, etc. Know your community. Understanding who is using the library and who is not currently served by the library. Be prepared to be surprised by some of the data; you may learn new things, or even things that directly counter your previous assumptions about your community.
  • Try to strike a balance between seeking and analyzing good data-driven snapshots of your community and actually using that data to, y’know, plan programs and services.
  • Seek and leverage people you know with preexisting connections to teens the library is not currently reaching effectively.
  • Allow TIME for information gathering. Kuver and Bass spent a year (!) meeting with and getting to know youth-serving organizations in the Seattle area. They called it the Year of Listening.
  • Resist the urge to jump in immediately with suggestions for services – take the time to get a fuller picture before committing your library to any ideas.
  • Resist the urge to say “yes” to suggestions from potential partners until you have a fuller picture (with the caveat that easy-to-meet needs, like bring library card application forms, can be an easy “yes,” and that it can also be useful to give a limited “yes” such as delivering a storytime for 3 months and then agreeing to revisit the idea to see if it’s still the best way the library can contribute).
  • Resist the idea that bodies in the physical library are the ultimate metric of “success.” Patrons served via outreach initiatives may never set foot in the library, but the library can still make a positive impact in serving them (it is, however, important to figure out how to measure success and impact in off-site services, both to report back with and to assess for areas of growth or improvement).
  • Some overlap between the library’s mission and goals and the partner organization’s mission and goals is essential.
  • Ideally, there is little-to-no overlap between the library’s resources and the partner organization’s resources (1st example: a local public TV channel with a fully-equipped media lab but no teens to fill it with + library’s teen patrons = ideal fit. 2nd example: Homeless shelter with established relationships with teens but no physical space to run activities + library space = programs serving previously un-or-under-served teens).
  • Keep in mind “resources” can mean people in other organizations with skills different from librarians (case workers, specific technical skills, etc.)
  • The right person to work with the library to develop a partnership may not be the person you first approach.
  • Set an endpoint; this gives you space to assess, revisit goals and priorities, and determine continued needs.
  • Measure outcomes! Determine what “success” looks like and figure out how you will measure it.
  • Keep in mind that really fruitful partnerships take a lot of time and resources to develop and nurture. And they are worth it!

Highlights from Sara Ryan of the Multnomah County Library, Jeffrey Sens, from Pixel Arts, and Kristin Bayans, the Interpretive Media Specialist at Portland Art Museum, who presented about the Mythos Challenge, an initiative that brought together many youth-serving organizations around Portland for a teen-designed and run competition to design an app, story, or game around a specific theme.

  • Many community partners = wide range of expertise and potential contributions
  • Many community partners also = extra-important to clarify everyone’s understanding of the shared goals, priorities, and action plans.
  • The library does not need to be a leader in every community partnership (Multnomah County Library hosted workshops for teens learning skills to help them create their entries for the competition, but was not the driving force behind this initiative). Partnerships are valuable at many different levels of involvement, and partnerships that do not require a large investment of library staff time are sometimes the only realistic option.
  • Letting teens have ownership of projects can lead to enormous rewards and growth for participating teens.
  • Letting teens have ownership of projects requires plenty of structure and clarity around expectations to allow both teens and adults to feel comfortable and successful.
  • Regular, respectful communication is key to healthy partnerships.
  • Some adults within community partner organizations may not have extensive experience working with teens – staff training is imperative.
  • Allow room for failure; frame “success” to include potential disappointments so that the focus can be on the experience and engagement of those involved, rather than on hitting difficult or unpredictable benchmarks (ex. how many teens are you hoping to have participate? Designating a smaller number as a successful turnout and focusing on the richness of the experience instead can help alleviate some stress around participation).
  • Be sure to get buy-in from higher-ups about your framework for success if necessary.
  • Practice kindness to yourself, your community partners, and your participants. Seriously!

We also heard from K-Fai Steele, from the YOUmedia Network, who spoke in more broad strokes about the national-level relationships and support offered through YOUmedia Network, and specifically about the potential power of larger partnerships to establish and communicate best practices, as well as create (online) spaces and facilitate dialogues for a broad community of practitioners. Large-scale organizations can also sometimes have access to large-scale funding not otherwise available to a given community.

It was a detailed, informative, and energizing kick-off to a great Symposium weekend here in PDX.

We hope these notes help those of you who couldn’t attend get a sense of what the session was like, and help all of us to embark on meaningful community partnerships in our own communities!

— Carly Pansulla and Sharon Rawlins