Think Piece • December 01, 2020

Library Outsourcing is a Game Changer

Outsourcing—partnering with external companies to provide services—has existed in government for decades.  Yet many leaders don’t realize that public libraries are being outsourced successfully in communities across the United States.

The driver? Enhanced services while reducing cost.

Improving services and quality of life for residents has always been top of mind for local leaders and libraries have always played a vital role in strong communities.

One of the few things that has been clear throughout history, but particularly during the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that libraries have an undeniable impact on community health, with measurable return on investment. The challenge for most communities is that just as libraries are needed most, budgets are being cut due to steep revenue declines. Job loss, lower income, lack of Internet and computer access, and distance learning have created the perfect storm for library need. Even more alarming is that communities are just now starting to see the true economic effects and community impact of the pandemic.

This unprecedented challenge brings unprecedented opportunity. It is time to do things differently and provide communities with high-quality library services at lower cost.

Outsourcing has been the solution for many communities. The model is based on collaborative partnership with the goal of optimizing resources. Stable operational cost over a five- or ten-year partnership means budget predictability. All books, materials, furniture, technology, and facilities remain community-owned assets and the community maintains oversight of library management. Decisions are made collaboratively and always reflect the needs and desires of community members.

Day-to-day operation, including recruiting, hiring, and training staff, become the responsibility of the outsourcing partner. Libraries have the support of dedicated back-office professionals for collection management, HR, IT, marketing, and finance. Expert support means best practices, strategic planning, and grant development to ensure library health and vibrance well into the future. Further, becoming part of a nationwide consortium offers strength, resources, significant purchasing discounts, and excellent management. It also means that library staff can focus on patron service and community engagement.

Community leaders who make the change see immediate benefits:

  • Lower library operation cost (individually or as part of a community system).
  • Budget stability and predictability.
  • Excellent books and materials, programs, technology, and patron service.
  • Proprietary analytics platform for performance management.
  • Innovative services tailored to community need.
  • Dedicated back office support across all functions.

Core library values of access to information, lifelong learning, enrichment, and connection are only enhanced with the outsourced model. The way library services are being delivered is changing fast, so it is crucial that libraries continue to evolve to serve modern community need.  Innovative leaders are ensuring fiscal responsibility, excellent service, and evolution through library outsourcing.