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Discovering the Key to Collaboration

by Paula Miller, Julie Brophy, Lori Hench, Heidi Daniel, Wesley Wilson and Ryan O’Grady

Libraries today are increasingly becoming the hub for their surrounding communities, and it is in that spirit that Baltimore County Public Library and Baltimore City’s Enoch Pratt Free Library systems are working together to support our regional entrepreneurs. Our systems combined serve a population of close to 1.5 million people, many of whom do not distinguish between the county and city libraries and seek similar experiences and services. Taking our cue from our customers, we constantly ask ourselves – where are there opportunities for crossover services and collaboration?

Taking our cue from our customers, we constantly ask ourselves – where are there opportunities for crossover services and collaboration?

The prevailing wisdom cited by Forbes, NPR/Marist polls and many other experts in the field is that by 2020 an estimated 50 percent of our country’s workforce will be part of the gig economy and hold primary employment as freelancers or 1099 employees. With an eye toward this type of future economy and job creation, we want to benefit those who seek support – both individuals and businesses – by seamlessly providing high-level customer experiences in both of our library systems.

Our two systems are closer thanks to taking part in ULC’s collaboration with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Our partnership and working relationship is now the strongest it has been in years, in no small part due to our unified approach of looking at customer needs regionally and striving to provide consistent service across county-city lines, shifting our mindset to that of one metropolitan ecosystem.

Our partnership and working relationship is now the strongest it has been in years, in no small part due to our unified approach of looking at customer needs regionally and striving to provide consistent service across county-city lines, shifting our mindset to that of one metropolitan ecosystem.

Our collaborative efforts have added value to both our organizations though we’ve kept the ultimate beneficiary in mind all along: our shared entrepreneurial customer base. We’ve learned much about each other’s library systems and some of the differences pose challenges – Baltimore City uses a specialist staffing model while Baltimore County uses a generalist model, collection development and focus differ between the two systems and some organizational policies and guidelines do not match. However, we feel that the opportunities are greater as we begin to cross-train staff between our systems, work to inspire front-line staff in breaking down barriers between our systems and unify our efforts to help entrepreneurs dream big.

Following the entrepreneurs’ lead, we strive to keep evolving to meet the 21st-century needs of customers. We hope that continued collaboration becomes the norm as we already begin to dream about future collaborations between our two systems: performing outreach together, planning programs, developing strategic and regional initiatives … the possibilities are limitless.

Paula Miller is the director of the Baltimore County Public Library. Julie Brophy is BCPL’s adult services and community engagement manager and Lori Hench is BCPL’s adult services and community engagement librarian.

Heidi Daniel is president and CEO of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City. Wesley Wilson is EPFL’s chief librarian and Ryan O’Grady is assistant to the chief librarian.

For more information, contact Wesley Wilson at wwesley@prattlibrary.org or Julie Brophy at jbrophy@bcpl.net.