Guest post: Building Successful "Sister Library" Programs

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Having the chance to speak at The Power of Groups session during the ALA conference in Anaheim this summer was an excellent opportunity to spread the word about the Kentucky Sister Library Project beyond the boundaries of our state. If you haven't heard of this relatively new endeavor, the idea is for a better-funded library to partner, or become "sisters," with one that has less funding in order to help it reach its fullest potential.

Since the conference, I've been contacted by a representative from a state library on the East Coast requesting some information about the project. I think the idea is to create an initial test pairing and see what happens. Hopefully we'll see this concept being given a trial run in another state very soon!

I've also been contacted by a large non-profit organization about the possibility of incorporating the concept into a new initiative that they are involved in. We are still in the brainstorming stage, so it's hard to say how things may shape up, but it's very exciting that the sister library project is getting noticed on a larger scale.

Back at the ranch here in Kentucky, we've also seen some more local successes since the ALA conference. Most notably, we've had two additional pairings take place. That gives us a total of four more libraries, which brings the grand total of participating libraries to 23. That's not a bad number considering the project has only been around for two and a half years.

My library's "sister," the Carter County Public Library, visited my branch earlier in October for two days. The goal was to shadow with staff members at our service desks in order to learn best practices and to gain fresh ideas. The travel funds for their visit came from a competitive grant established earlier this year by the Friends of Kentucky Libraries. This group has been the first outside group to lend financial support to the sister library project, so the grant is symbolic as well as practical in terms of what it means to the endeavor.

And last, the Carter County Public Library is applying for one of the most prestigious awards in the library field. When I first had contact with our "sister" library in 2010, the mere thought of applying for such an award would have been unthinkable. The library was new and just trying to stay afloat. The fact that they have accomplished so much in such a short time span bodes well for them and also speaks to the need for the sister library program. I'm so proud to have such a dynamo library as our "sister!"

Nearly every library can benefit from this program. It's easy to replicate, as the groundwork has already been laid. And best of all, it's an inexpensive solution to a number of issues that most libraries face. For a more in-depth look at the project, take a look at my article in the January/February issue of American Libraries. If you would like to learn more about the project, please visit www.kpla.org. If you are interested in taking the next step and starting a partnership, please contact me for ideas and guidance: april.ritchie@kentonlibrary.org

April Ritchie
Adult Services Coordinator
Erlanger Branch of Kenton County Public Library

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