Joint-Use Libraries: An Annotated Bibliography

by Cheryl Hoover


Libraries are noted for sharing resources and look for ways to serve the most users in the most economical fashion . Library administration and staff are experienced in creating cooperative agreements to meet goals and improve service. They partner to form consortia to increase purchasing power, share bibliographic catalogs,as well as lend and borrow materials reciprocally through interlibrary loan. Entering into a joint-use agreement with another organization takes partnership and cooperation to the next level.

Joint-use libraries serve two or more distinct user communities through shared governance and cooperation. This idea has been around for a long time but has become more familiar to the public and library professionals with the completion of some major joint-use projects. There are different models of joint-use libraries but, in general, they operate from the same building using a combination of staff from both organizations. There are many advantages to libraries combining resources into a dual-use facility.  Joint-use libraries capitalize on using each other’s assets and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  For example, one library may have a larger staff and collection; whereas, the other library may have land available to build a library. Combined libraries provide longer hours of service, provide access to more resources, and offer increased programming options to library users.  The staff of joint-use libraries grow through the cross-sharing of ideas and skills. There are an array of joint-use agreements formed today between libraries, including public and academic libraries and school and public libraries.

Strategic partnerships between joint-use libraries are complex by nature even on the smallest scale.  There are many important legal and operational considerations regarding the merger of separate institutions. Difficulties arise despite best efforts to anticipate and head-off potential problems with the shared governance model. Merging staff into one harmonious group is tricky and is one of the largest challenges for joint-use libraries. Different staffing and pay structures, varying organizational cultures, and dissimilar staff practices or role confusion factor into the joint-use facility’s ability to assimilate staff into a cohesive, positive workforce.

This annotated bibliography provides suggested reading material to library administration and staff considering a strategic alliance with another library. The readings are divided into four areas. The first article provides basic information on important considerations that must be addressed when forming a joint-use library partnership. The second section provides articles with research findings on joint-use libraries. The third section provides articles with examples of actual joint-use partnerships. The final article takes a look at the future of joint-use libraries. Will this model grow in popularity?

The Basics

Henderson, J. (2007). Exploring the combined public/school library. Knowledge Quest, 35(3). 34-37.

Henderson discusses the basics requirements and issues important to the merging of two libraries into a joint-use facility.  The early planning process requires each entity to define their respective roles and input should come from all constituents including the public. An open discussion that articulates needs and concerns and discusses strengths and weaknesses  helps create a win-win situation for both entities.

Careful consideration of location of the new facility is important.  School libraries should be close to classrooms; whereas, public libraries should be located in an active part of the community.  Architects and staff need to consider important aspects respective to both user communities such as entrance areas, parking, children and adult space, outdoor lighting, meeting rooms, hours of operation, and more.  Communication and commitment of staff is essential to the success of the venture. Staff and management need to work out the details of the daily operations of the joint-use library. Contracts detailing the specifics of funding are critical to the success of the operation.  Other important requirements include developing a collection development policy that addresses the needs of all patrons and includes details of the physical arrangement of the collection that provides the best access to library users. For example, are the collections of each institution combined or kept in separate areas?

The final component is to create a formal and informal process to continually evaluate the partnership. The ongoing feedback is necessary to improve the functionality of the library and best serve the needs of the users.

This article was selected because it addressed basic concerns for the formation of a joint-use library.  It seemed like a good introduction to set the stage for more complete research articles and specific examples of joint-use facilities.

Research Findings

Calvert, P. J. (2010). Why do staff of joint-use libraries sometimes fail to integrate? Investigating cultures and ethics in a public-tertiary joint-use library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(2), 133-140. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2010.01.003

Calvert discusses how the organizational culture, professional ethics and staff attitudes affect the success of a the Waitakere Central Library joint-use library in Auckland, New Zealand. This library exists as a shared facility between the Waitakere  Public Libraries and the Unitec Institute of Technology. The building is located on Unitec’s Henderson campus. A common weakness of joint-use libraries is the inability of staff for the different institutions to work together harmoniously. Calvert studied the cultures and values of the staff of both partners, using focus groups in order to obtain qualitative information that provided insight into how the separate groups think and feel.

There are many factors that contribute to a shared staff’s inability to function cohesively within the joint-use library.  Librarians learn their roles through organizational culture and through interactions with staff and customers. Focus group participants mostly agreed on their top three important values as librarians; however, academic librarians valued information literacy and the public librarians placed more value on intellectual freedom. Calvert’s findings showed a lack of formal and informal communication between the partners, which reduces the likelihood of cultures successfully uniting.  A lack of integration between the staff of these libraries decreased the success and benefits that comes from sharing ideas.

Disagreement occurred regarding customer service outcomes.  The public library staff felt library users should leave with something and the Unitec staff focused on educating users on how to find the information themselves.  The joint-use library lacked a shared collection development policy and each partner had different philosophies in regards to such policies.  For example, the public library believed in aggressive weeding practices and the Unitec staff preferred to keep older materials for future research value.

The Calvert article was selected because of the qualitative research on how cultures and ethics affect staff integration of joint-use libraries.

Matthews, K. (2008). The critical success factors for school and community joint use libraries in New Zealand. Australian Public Libraries and Information Services(Aplis), 21(1), 13-24.

There are more than 30 joint-use libraries in New Zealand who serve communities, ranging in population from a few hundred people to several thousand.  These joint-use libraries generally take the form of a combined school and public library. They fill a void, particularly in rural areas, following the loss of major financial support by the National Library . Matthews discusses research on the factors critical to the success and effectiveness of New Zealand joint-use libraries and presents a comparison of those success factors with success factors of joint-use libraries on the international level.

The study surveyed as many of the dual school/community libraries as possible with three goals in mind for the project: 1) determining critical success factors important for the success of joint libraries, 2) determine if these factors vary significantly from factors identified in the international literature review, and 3) determine how to plan and manage to maximize future success. Three of the surveyed libraries were chosen to provide additional research data by participating in observations and interviews of staff.

Matthew provides a general summary and analysis of the survey data. The author concludes there are similar success factors between New Zealand joint-use libraries and those identified in overseas literature with the exception of a stronger dependence on volunteers in New Zealand. The author’s overseas literature review found more disharmony and failure in joint-use libraries than what was found in the New Zealand survey results. Lastly, the outlook for joint-use libraries in New Zealand remains positive if the survey results are reliable and if all planning and management success factors are observed.

This article was included for its research on success factors and because it provided an international perspective.

Joint-Use Library Models

Fontenot, M. J. (2007). A case for an integrated model of community college and public use libraries. Public Libraries, 46(4), 46-49.

The College Hill Library in Colorado is used as a case study for Fontenot’s article on joint-use libraries. This partnership was formed between the Colorado State Board for Community Colleges and the City of Westminster to provide a dual use library to serve the communities of Westminster and the Front Range Community College. The library opened in 1998 and the costs were shared sixty/forty with the community college assuming the larger percentage.

Fontenot identifies challenges that must be addressed for a joint venture to be successful. Communication and planning are critical to success. Staff from both institutions should be involved in planning and encouraged to interact with each other to increase staff buy-in of the project. Good working relationships between staff and administrators is vital.  To facilitate communication, regular staff meetings are suggested.

Academic and public librarians can both learn valuable skills by working with each other’s patrons. A public librarian can learn to educate the user in becoming self sufficient when seeking information and an academic librarian can learn to adapt to the high volume requests and the need to find information quickly common to public libraries. Patrons benefit by having more access to different types of material and professional expertise. Children who use a library of this type are exposed earlier to post-secondary education than children than what is considered usual.

This article was selected because it provided an example of a successful partnership between a community college library and a public library and discussed important challenges that must be overcome.

Marie, K. L. (2007). One plus one equals three: Joint-use libraries in urban areas–the ultimate form of library cooperation. Library Administration and Management, 21(1). 23-28.

Joint-use libraries involve different types of partners and have unique structures based on their community needs.  The author provides two examples of successful large-scale joint-use academic and public library facilities and the issues they faced:  Nova Southeastern University/Broward County Public Library in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and San Jose State University/San Jose Public Library in San Jose, California. Both partnerships overcame both similar and unique challenges to make their partnerships a reality.

Nova Southeastern University serves a private enrollment of 29,000 students and Broward County has a population of over 1.7 million residents.  After two years of planning, they combined forces to build a 325,000 square foot library, which is one of the largest joint-use libraries in the world. Their 54 page agreement addresses issues such as ownership, funding, staffing,  job functions, and more to ensure effective and relevant service and programming to all library patrons.

San Jose State University enjoys a population of about 28,000 students and is located centrally in San Jose, which has a population of 900,000. The initial idea to form a joint-use library began in 1994 but serious efforts did not begin until three years later when funding problems became more serious for the city.  The nine story building enjoys 477,000 square feet and cost $177.5 million. This joint-use plan received much more public opposition than that of Nova Southeastern/Broward County but is a success with 12,000 patrons visiting the library on a daily basis.

This article was included because of its focus on two large-scale models of successful joint-use libraries.

Powers, J. (2007). A library for all. American School Board Journal, 194(8), 50-51.

Different types of entities combine forces to establish joint-use libraries. Powers discusses a joint-use agreement between a county library and a public school district. The North Valley Regional Library serves two small communities north of Phoenix, Arizona and is the first joint-use library in the district. The school district initially approached the community developer and library district to establish the joint-use library that would also provide service to school-age students.  The intergovernmental agreement provides details on financial terms for maintaining the facility and for collection development.

Planning research of other similar joint-use libraries discovered important items necessary to ensure success of this joint-use school/public facility. The library should be separate from the school and have separate entrances.  The library needs to be visible from the street and have available parking.  School monitors should be available following school hours to help manage the post-school rush hour traffic.

The joint-use facility has been acknowledged by the industry for its focus on students of all levels and to the community and won a citation from judges in the 2006 ASBJ’s Learning by Design contest.  Programs for all ages from children through adult are part of the success of this library.  They’ve forged strategic partnerships with the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Suns basketball team.  The efforts of North Valley to create a successful joint-use library partnership has led it to become a prototype for other joint-use facilities.

This article was selected for the bibliography because it was a forerunner and model in its community in the creation of joint-use libraries.

Smith, D. A. (2009). Joining together for a new era in Hull’s history. Library & Information Update, 8(1/2), 62-63.

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant and matching funding provided the money necessary to create a joint-use partnership called the Hull History Centre. The likelihood of a library to win a Heritage Lottery Fund grants is slim. Hull enjoyed the key support of community members and many important constituents, including elected officials, library/council managers, and university administrators who are committed to ensuring access to the rich history of Hull.

This new facility combines the Local Studies Library, the Hull City Archives, and the University of Hull Archives collections. The building is located in the center of the United Kingdom city of Hull. Combining the three collections under one roof provides better access and service to patrons and allows for more hours of operation.

Staff includes librarians and archivists and maintain their original job titles and are cross trained to work between the disciplines to provide efficient service to the public.  The building enjoys a green space, which is becoming more and more unusual for city facilities. The facility offers a variety of spaces. There’s a lecture hall that seats 120 people, a library area, teaching and activities spaces, archival or rare item areas, and microform/IT space.

This article was selected as it demonstrates the importance of advocacy groups and provides an example of different entities combining to provide a joint-use facility that is important to the local community and beyond.

The Future

McNicol, S. (2008). A whole in one. Public Library Journal, 23(4), 20-25.

McNicol provides the history of joint-use libraries and comments that while they have been around for more than a century, the awareness of this library model has recently increased due to the completion of some large scale joint-use library projects. There are different models of joint-use libraries. Examples include:  school/public, university/public, college/university, college/public, government/university, and tourist information/public.  Most agreements are formed between two entities; however, agreements between multiple entities are becoming more popular.

Joint-use libraries benefit the community by encouraging an inclusiveness and providing access to an increased amount of information and resources to users that would have been otherwise denied.   McNicol believes that the inclusive nature of a joint-use library model improves community cohesion and builds a fairer, more equitable society. For example, in a public/university model, the public library patrons would have improved access to scholarly research material than what would be accessible to them in their local public library.

Financial constraints will result in the formation of a larger variety of joint-use library models with a focus on cooperation between different professions and sectors. These will be collaborative and innovative models of service that bring  diverse user groups together in one environment that is flexible and responsive to their needs. Future models will be user-centered and share a vision and commitment to service. Their design will not resemble that of a particular type of library; they will have their own unique design that appeals to and best serves their broader and more diverse user base.

This article was included because of the author’s opinions regarding the future of the joint-use library model.


The success of joint-use libraries is reliant on many factors. Proper planning and the successful integration of all staff are two crucial components to creating a win-win environment for both partners. The process is complex; there are successful joint-use models and there is some research available for those institutions considering this alternative structure. Tough economic times may necessitate the need for more libraries to look at these partnerships as a viable option for providing library access and service to communities.

Cheryl Hoover has an MLS from the University of North Texas. She works at the Montana State University –Billings Library.


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