A Brighter Future for Springfield Today
Springfield (MA) City Library
Since its founding in 1857, the Library had been a private nonprofit corporation. In 2003, a series of events led to its becoming a City department. It has been an uphill struggle to achieve full acceptance by the City and its people that the Library is a PUBLIC library, for the PUBLIC. Many people, and much of City government, still viewed the library as part of a private Library and Museums Association and not as an integral part of the City and its services. With the City in dire economic straits and operating under a State-appointed Financial Control Board, the Library sustained massive budget cuts and layoffs in mid 2009, forcing severe reductions in hours at all locations.
Key Elements of Innovation
With its long range plan due for updating, the Library make a conscious and strategic decision in Spring 2010 to focus not so much on the Library itself but on the role it can play in reversing the City’s downward spiral and celebrating the many positives of the City. Focus groups were conducted everywhere possible, drawing valuable input from City officials, residents of all neighborhoods and groups of Library users and non-users. As the plan evolved, a much more optimistic vision for the Library (and therefore the City) emerged - “A Brighter Future for Springfield Today.” New goals used words like “Success,” Community Leadership,” and “Celebrate Springfield.”
City residents have greater awareness that they are now part of the Library and that the Library is part of them. The City’s Chief Administrative Financial Officer praised the library’s new plan as a model for other City departments. The City itself, for the first time, undertook its own formal planning process. Library staff were on every committee. This made key decision-makers aware that the Library is a valuable contributor in achieving the Mayor’s priorities of public safety, economic development, healthy neighborhoods, education and continuous improvement. When the media asked the Mayor about his priorities in the face of State budget cuts, he stated he would protect “core services such as public safety and libraries.” He further said that, especially in tough economic times, people “want their libraries open.” The Library is now perceived as a major player in Springfield’s “Brighter Future.”