Risk, Failure, and Yield: A Private-Public Partnership Requires Creativity and Management, but Offers Significant Rewards

By Mathews, Brian | American Libraries, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Risk, Failure, and Yield: A Private-Public Partnership Requires Creativity and Management, but Offers Significant Rewards


Mathews, Brian, American Libraries


Elisabeth Doucett is an entrepreneur. She has to be. As director of the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine, one of her chief responsibilities is to raise funds for the collection. If she doesn't, nothing new will be added to the shelves.

"Our town essentially pays for the building; but everything that goes inside of it depends upon the amount of money we can fundraise," Doucett says. Imagine if each year your collection, technology, and furniture budget depended entirely on grants, donations, and endowments. This arrangement demands ingenuity and according to Doucett it is quite common in New England. "Many of the libraries in this region are private-public partnerships," she says. "It requires us to be very creative and diligent."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Give a little, get a little

Outside monies have enabled the Curtis Library to introduce new services including a job center for those seeking employment and classes on computer skills, small business development, and financial literacy. The library has also implemented a small IT "petting zoo," placing emerging technology into the hands of patrons. Staff has expanded the collection by obtaining a $15,000 grant to purchase large-prints books, a$2,500 grant for foreign films, and an ongoing partnership with local hospitals to provide access to up-to-date and accurate medical information.

What is most striking about this library is how it is helping a community in transition. Brunswick is home to just over 20,000 residents who are undergoing a dramatic evolution. A nearby naval base is closing down, resulting in the loss of an estimated 6,000 jobs in the region over a four-year period. The town is also steadily becoming a retirement community while seeing a rise in homelessness. Added to this mix is Bowdoin College, an elite liberal arts school.

These various segments are all placing increasing demands on library services, and Doucett is up for the challenge. She started her career as a marketer and embraces the "leading from behind" style of management. "When you are bringing forth change it is important not to force your ideas on a resisting organization," she explains. …

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