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Re-Thinking Springfield City Library

Springfield City Library, MA

Innovation Summary

For years, the library has been caught between the economic realities of Springfield that resulted in branch closings and the community support that restores funding to reopen them. The consequence is an unsustainable library system. This year, the library engaged the community to plan a sustainable funding and services model.

Problem Statement

This project is a reflection of the challenges facing all libraries. Demand and use are increasing and library roles are expanding while library funding is decreasing. Like many libraries, Springfield City Library has faced significant budget cuts that challenge its ability to sustain crucial services and the essential partnerships with other groups that magnify the impact of those services for the city. In June 2012, citywide budget cuts prompted the closure of three of the ten library locations. It was a difficult decision for all involved, but the library moved ahead, reducing staff and consolidating equipment and resources. Shortly thereafter, City Councilor Tim Allen worked with city council and Mayor Domenic Sarno to raise trash fees to provide funding to restore the closed libraries. The library then had to reverse its actions, rehire staff and restore operations at the three closed libraries. For his efforts, Mr. Allen was named the Library Advocate of the Year by the Massachusetts Library Association. The library felt this whole sequence of events and the citywide attention on the library provided an opportunity to change the conversation and explore a sustainable model of service that best applies library resources to meet the needs and interests of Springfield’s residents.


Major Innovations 1. Recasting the library organization to transparently reflect community needs and priorities using meaningful language for city leaders and funders. 2. Involving city leaders from the start to appreciate the issues and to offer different approaches that will result in outcomes that will improve library services and recognize budget constraints. 3. Engaging library program managers and staff to connect the ‘what we learned from city leaders’ to the front lines of library services in the city and its neighborhoods. Process 1. Meet with sponsors to refine the project and secure funding. 2. Review and analyze comparative data on communities and libraries. 3. Study library service patterns. 4. Discuss citywide needs, goals and initiatives with community leaders and library staff. 5. Discuss preliminary findings and recommended scenarios with project sponsors and city leaders. 6. Submit a FY14 budget to the City incorporating new directions. 7. Convene community meetings to present the project and the selected scenario.


Project Goals 1. Develop a sustainable model of service that best applies library resources to meet the needs and interests of Springfield’s residents. 2. Engage local residents, community leaders, board members, potential partners, and other allies. 3. Challenge existing processes and beliefs. Investigate alternative approaches and promising new services. 4. Nurture a more agile organizational culture that empowers employees and provides flexibility to capitalize on new opportunities. Outcomes 1. The library has new focus areas to make important impacts on city needs and goals. They are (1) adult literacy and lifelong learning, (2) after-school programs, (3) community and civic engagement, (4) early childhood literacy and (5) workforce development. Staff are formed into teams to concentrate their talents and efforts on these areas. A customer experience team will ensure that library visitors will receive consistent and responsive experiences. 2. The library has comparative data on 166 cities and libraries across the nation that showcases the acute challenges in Springfield. The data has helped the library validate its findings and to build support for its plans. 3. The library developed financial and staffing models that make clearer the costs and staffing needs for each library location. This data has been useful for modeling new scenarios and in establishing more reasonable staffing recommendations that set aside time for critical efforts in the new focus areas. 4. City and community leaders and funders are engaged and inspired.