This study explores perceptions of interorganizational collaboration through an investigation of the opinions and actions of a public library and three community-based organizations. Interorganizational collaboration is often viewed as an effective strategy for accomplishing objectives that would not otherwise be possible with a single organization. Particularly for complex societal issues such as adult literacy, researchers and practitioners believe collaboration between organizations is necessary in order to achieve desired outcomes. Public libraries are engaging in collaborations also to extend their reach, establish the library's relevance, increase community involvement, and advocate for their position as a community asset.
This thesis is a case study of one such library and its community partners. In 2005, Oregon's Multnomah County Library (MCL) developed a strategic plan that included helping adults reach their personal literacy goals. Recommendations for the implementation of adult literacy services included advice against the library becoming a direct service provider and advocated instead for the use of community relationships in order to pool resources, generate new ideas, and improve access to services. This thesis explores how MCL and three employment agencies envision and enact collaboration, and how they perceive and engage with each other as partners or collaborators.
Semi-structured, open-ended interviews with central players at MCL and staff from three employment agencies formed the basis of this research. These thirteen participants represented multiple perspectives on adult literacy and collaboration in the library and its community. Participants' responses were coded and organized according to themes found in the literature, and additional themes emerged from significant topics in the interviews. Analysis consisted of comparing and contrasting the themes with existing theory and across participants, determining patterns and relationships, and developing a framework for understanding the perceptions of collaboration held by the library and its community.
Although the collaboration literature distinguishes between partnership and collaboration, the participants in this study used both terms interchangeably. However, they typically referenced and had experience with relationships between individuals (partnership) as opposed to relationships between organizations (collaboration). Participants indicated that the role of the individual, characterized by the importance of a personal connection and the effort required to engage in partnership or collaboration, was the most important factor in building working relationships. Considering that participants typically described relationships between individuals as representative of collaborations or partnership, a logical consequence is that an individual contributes significantly to the process.
Other findings of this study focused on the differences between how MCL perceived its role as a partner and how the employment agency staff perceived the library as a partner. Although the community participants believed in the benefits of collaboration, they did not often pursue collaboration, and they did not see the library as a partner. Conversely, engaging with the community was part of the library's mission, and each library participant confirmed that the goal of the library was to reach out to those who did not already know about the library. Three factors that shaped the process of partnering with the library were used as a framework for exploring the different perspectives held by the library and the community participants. Through an exploration of the library's goals for community engagement, the library as a resource, and the library meeting community needs, this study found that the community participants perceived barriers to using the library as a resource and didn't realize that the library wanted to help them meet their needs.
Implications of these findings for libraries and communities include the need for clarification of goals for collaboration and type of collaboration. Through a concrete awareness of the objectives for each collaborative endeavor, the library and community agencies can better understand the initial effort and resources required. Because the employment agencies did not see the library as a partner, the library may have to lead the process of engaging with the community, helping the community identify its needs, and explicitly linking library resources to specific community needs.
Suggestions for future research include investigation into individuals who seek partnership or collaboration, specific information about initial interactions between individuals that eventually leads to collaboration, and the importance of linking the collaboration research to the public library setting.
|Commitee:||Harris, Kathryn A., Rissi, Jill, Strawn, Clare|
|School:||Portland State University|
|Department:||Applied Linguistics (TESOL)|
|School Location:||United States -- Oregon|
|Source:||MAI 48/06M, Masters Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Adult literacy, Case study, Collaboration, Community, Partnership, Public libraries|
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