Tips for Becoming a Sister Library

In 1999 MLA's International Cooperation Section (ICS) began a three-year Sister Library Initiative, which provided a platform for health sciences libraries to form close working partnerships with two health sciences libraries outside the United States and Canada. The American Library Association (ALA) also supports the establishment of sister library relationships.

Information about the Sister Library Initiative is available at this address: . Information about ALA 's efforts is available at: .

The ICS's Health Sciences Library Partnership Committee (HSLP) was formed in May 2004. The goal of the HSLP is to provide a forum for information sharing and cultural exchange between librarians, as a means of enhancing knowledge that will improve global health. This committee is an outgrowth of the Sister Library Initiative and is comprised of individuals interested in assisting libraries in developing countries to bride the health information gap between the North and the South.

Types of Partnerships:
There are at least two types of sister library relationships. In one model, libraries of roughly equivalent resources and a common focus area form partnerships based upon mutual interests. A second model for sister library relationships—which was the focus of the Sister Library Initiative—is a partnership in which one library has significantly more resources than the other.

Tips for health sciences libraries that are considering whether to become a sister library are listed below. These are based upon the experiences and suggestions of ICS and ALA. This document focuses upon sister library relationships between libraries of differing levels of resources. Tips may also be found at the Partnerships in Health Information website at

Guidelines for Health Sciences Sister Library Relationships

  • Both libraries must support a medical or health related organization.
  • Both libraries must have an Internet infrastructure, including e-mail.
  • Both libraries should disclose any existing or planned relationships with other libraries or associations that might affect the sister library agreement.
  • Contact people for both libraries must speak the same language.

Potential Benefits to Sister Library

  • Donations of library materials, both print and electronic.
  • Free interlibrary loans, and/or freely maintained automated document delivery service
  • Elevation of the importance of the library within its own country
  • Linkage to established international library associations.
  • Increased skills for use of electronic resources such as the Internet or CD-ROMs.

Potential Benefits to US or Canadian Libraries

  • Elevation of the library's profile within its institution as well as the health sciences library community.
  • Potential for increased national and international profile.
  • Opportunity to help other libraries improve service to their users and have a positive impact on the delivery of health care.
  • New friends and colleagues throughout the world.
  • Opportunity to expand participants' professional perspective.

Tips for a Successful Sister Library Experience

  • Analyze how your library could benefit, as well as what your library has to offer.
  • Determine the level of commitment your institution could make. Both institutions' directors must have a deep commitment to the success of the project.
  • Ensure support for this initiative among your institution's stakeholders, including financial support.
  • Consider the stability of the country, as well as cultural traditions that could assist or detract from the success of the project.
  • Be flexible and realistic while establishing the parameters of the project.

Ways to Find a Sister Library

  • Informal routes:
    • Establish relationships with immigrant groups in your community, or other organizations that have relationships with other countries.
    • Drop in on libraries during overseas travel, and establish relationships that might lead to a sister library partnership.
    • Talk with librarians from developing countries that attend professional meetings in the US or Canada.
    • Attend professional meetings in other countries .
    • Seek out international library students in your region, who could assist in the development of a partnership.
    • Participate in university-based initiatives, such as the Ptolemy project at the University of Toronto ( )

Some Possible Activities with Your Sister Library

  • Exchange books and cultural materials for displays.
  • Organize a visit to the sister library by library staff.
  • Exchange local newspapers, cultural materials and other items of interest.
  • Arrange for short-term staff exchanges between libraries.
  • Assist with training in utilization of Internet or CD-ROM information that is relevant to the sister library's environment.