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Pursuing a Vision of a Library for the Future: The Jacksonville Public Library Capacity Plan

Jacksonville Public Library
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Innovation Summary

When institutional barriers and budget cuts imperiled JPL, its board of trustees commissioned a study of the capacity of the library to provide quality service into the future. From the study’s final report, the board submitted to the mayor five critical recommendations – strategic goals that continue to guide their actions.

Innovation Leader: Richard Mott, Manager for Strategic Initiatives, rmott@coj.net

Problem Statement

In November 2005, the Jacksonville Public Library opened its new Main Library, climaxing a period of construction that also included six new branch libraries and more than doubled the library’s footprint. Since that time, the library’s general fund expendable accounts have been cut every year and uncertainty continues. Library staffing has been cut by one fourth, and investment in the materials collection has been cut by a third. In addition, as a department of a city with centralized public works and IT, the library administration has no ability to manage these operations. As a result, the splendid new and renovated facilities have had little maintenance, and by 2011 the system as a whole had accumulated $8.3 million in needed repairs. Furthermore, being subject to the decisions and timelines of the city’s IT department has hampered the library’s ability to make changes necessary to remain responsive to customer needs. Examples include an inability (so far) to institute online bill payment, to revamp the library website, or to offer a mobile website app. And it has meant slow bandwidth and outdated computers and software for customers and staff – handicapping JPL’s ability to serve a community whose information needs are increasingly technological in nature. In addition, this arrangement has meant failure to qualify for e-rate discounts since 2007. If JPL were to continue down this path, library leaders knew that we would be destined to become increasingly irrelevant to the community, with weaker and weaker collections, outdated technology, and dilapidated facilities.

Innovation

On July 19, 2010, the Board of Library Trustees commissioned Godfrey’s Associates, Inc. to analyze the capacity of the Jacksonville Public Library to provide quality library service to the citizens of Jacksonville into the future. The study included interviews with key community stakeholders, community meetings and a community survey, as well as physical assessments and functional ratings of all 21 library facilities, market segmentation analysis, information technology analysis and comparisons with peer libraries. Based on the final capacity plan report completed on May 16, 2011, the board submitted to the mayor and City Council recommendations in five areas they deemed critical to the library’s future: 1. Information Delivery (to include information technology and collections) 2. Facilities Maintenance 3. Locations (with recommendations to remedy inequities that have left the urban core of the city with inferior service and one high growth region with no library at all) 4. Revenues and Funding 5. Staffing (with a recommendation to expand the number of appointed professional positions in order to increase staffing flexibility). Soon after delivering their recommendations, board members and the library director began meeting with every council member and the mayor’s staff to present the proposals in person. Far from setting the capacity plan on a shelf, the board’s aim is to pursue their goals relentlessly with concrete action plans. A board committee reviews progress toward meeting the goals every month. Board decisions are influenced by whether they support the recommendations. With their leadership, from this thousand-plus page capacity plan report, a 10-page statement of five bold recommendations became a different kind of strategic plan – one aimed at changing the political status quo to enable the Jacksonville Public Library to be vibrant, responsive, relevant, and significant to the citizens of this city far into the future.

Progress

Following are updates on three of the five goals established by the board: DELIVERY OF INFORMATION. The primary recommendation was to move library IT in-house in order to untether innovative ideas and to increase efficiency (JPL’s IT costs are significantly higher than any of its peer libraries and its bandwidth lower). The first step is under way. The library is currently in the process of hiring a vendor to conduct a Request for Information (RFI) to determine the optimum management arrangement for the library’s IT. LOCATIONS. The board recommended establishing two new libraries: one in the urban core – replacing four small, dilapidated branches with one much larger modern facility – and a new one in the rapidly growing northeast, where no library currently exists. A foundation of community support is crucial to achieving these goals. In February 2011, the board attended a work day focused on strengthening advocacy efforts, and a board committee has compiled a list of key community stakeholders and developed a plan for building strong community support. REVENUES AND FUNDING. The board recommended establishing an independent taxing district or dedicated millage for the library. This recommendation was the catalyst for a 12-week community study in the spring of 2012 to ask whether the library should be funded separately from the city’s general fund. The study team includes a number of influential stakeholders and has already generated five favorable editorials in Jacksonville’s newspaper, the Florida Times-Union. The trustees recognize that some of their recommendations are politically daunting, especially in the current economy. Some could take years to achieve, but these examples illustrate that progress is being made, and, with the foundational research of the extensive capacity plan study and the focus of their five critical recommendations, the board has a strategic pathway to follow to success.