News • February 15, 2023

How Outsourcing Can Catalyze a Library’s Community Impact

Like many communities, the city of Escondido, California, struggles with a structural budget gap. In 2017, as city officials looked for ways to reconcile costs and revenues, they found a creative strategy to continue providing the community with high-quality library services while lessening the impact on their general fund budget. That strategy involved outsourcing day-to-day operations to a professional library managed services organization. “Every year since this relationship started, we have achieved a cost savings of $400,000,” says Joanna Axelrod, Escondido’s deputy city manager and director of communications and community services. Many other communities across the U.S. also outsource library operations to realize significant savings while expanding services and fostering greater innovation. 

How library outsourcing works 

The professionals who work for a library managed services organization have a deep understanding of and experience with library operations, information technology, recruiting, and collections and staff management. When a government engages such an organization, those experts put their knowledge to work at the local level. The service partner takes over the back-office operations. Local government leaders remain in control of the library, overseeing policy setting and decision-making while collaborating with the partner to ensure the library is aligned with broader community goals. With outsourcing, the community still maintains ownership of the buildings, materials, technology and all assets. “If tomorrow we were to decide to bring our operations in house, we would have a fully functional library,” says Laszlo Palko, city manager with Manassas Park, Virginia, which forged a managed services partnership in 2020 with Library Systems & Services (LS&S). Under the new model, the managed services partner employs the library staff, but local staff continue to serve patrons without missing a beat. In Escondido, the outsourcing partner — also LS&S — offered every library employee the chance to stay on through the transition. “That allowed us to retain local knowledge and community relationships,” Axelrod says. “People walk into the library and see the same friendly faces they’ve been seeing for years.” Along with extensive experience in library operations, the outsourcing partner brings several other advantages, including: 

Expertise: Library staff, library leadership and back office professionals focus on implementation of proven methodologies, identification of opportunities to increase efficiency, and recommendations for service enhancement and expansion. 

Analytics: Technology and a data-driven approach help libraries better understand how to allocate resources and ensure strong return on investment. In Escondido, LS&S introduced LibraryIQ, a library analytics platform that helps staff better meet community needs and increase patron engagement. “It’s a powerful suite of analytical tools that allows our collection development staff to allocate funds based on borrowing behavior to align with community need and interest,” says Axelrod. 

Economies of scale: By operating a large number of libraries, the managed services partner can negotiate pricing and offer better discounts than most standalone libraries, enabling managed libraries to save and repurpose budget. “LS&S has a national network of procurement they can tap into for acquiring our books, all our equipment and our technology,” Palko says. “We haven’t been able to beat LS&S’s prices.” 

Innovation and best practices: As members of a nationwide consortium, libraries gain the opportunity to share programming ideas and learn from one another about what does and doesn’t work. “Our library director collaborates with operations leaders and peers about best practices, based on the experience of all their libraries,” Palko says. “There’s a big benefit to networking with people who understand the challenges you face daily and have proven solutions that prevent you from reinventing the wheel.” 

Why outsource library services? 

Modern libraries play a key role in economic development and community revitalization. No longer just book repositories, local libraries provide a rich array of services for patrons of all ages and interests. But as crucial as libraries are to communities, they tend to run on extremely constrained budgets. To pay staff, maintain and update collections, and offer programs and services for patrons, libraries compete for scarce taxpayer dollars with public safety agencies, education institutions, municipal utilities and more. Tight resources make it difficult for libraries to innovate and deliver excellent service. Outsourcing takes advantage of industry expertise, best practices and decades of practical experience to better meet residents’ needs while reducing the government’s overhead costs. Libraries are also being outsourced to enhance operations, boost efficiency and expand offerings, enabling them to do more with limited resources while significantly impacting communities. 

Scenarios for success 

Some libraries that manage operations internally are thriving, but for many, outsourcing offers significant benefits. For example, if a library struggles with a tight budget, outsourcing can help it operate more efficiently. By streamlining processes and spending less time and resources on inefficiencies, the library can expand its collection, implement technology and develop new programs and services. Because the relationship with LS&S saves Escondido so much money, the library has been able to increase service hours from 54 to 60 hours per week while expanding upon its already excellent programming. Axelrod says “the programming is increasingly more innovative, and we continue to push the envelope to understand what the community wants and fill the gaps as best we can.” Outsourcing is also a viable alternative for a municipal library that is part of a county system but wants greater autonomy. That was the case in Manassas Park, where in 2020, the library ended its relationship with the Prince William County Public Library System and used a partnership with LS&S to establish a library of its own. LS&S helped Manassas Park bring the concept of a local library to life by planning the new facility, hiring staff, procuring books and technology and much more. “In the first year of running the new library, we reduced costs by 50% compared to what the county was charging us,” Palko says. LS&S also helped the city secure some state funding, bringing the savings closer to 70%. In a third scenario, outsourcing can help communities transform traditional libraries into modern, multipurpose institutions with a wealth of innovative offerings. In a 2021 partnership with LS&S, the city of Homestead, Florida, opened the Cybrarium, a 23,000-square foot facility that includes a children’s theater, virtual reality (VR) cube, makerspace with 3D printer, Steampunk Lounge, Book Mountain and other attractions. The Cybrarium also includes a large collection of physical and digital materials and rooms for programs and study. The partnership with LS&S has also helped Manassas Park reinvent its library, moving from its original space to a larger, more modern facility that is part of a downtown revitalization initiative. Like the Cybrarium, the library offers VR, 3D printing and other cutting-edge technologies. In collaboration with other city departments and local merchants, the area offers patrons a cafe, shared space for programs and meetings, and special events such as movies and concerts. “I don’t know if we would have had the vision or experience to manage this project successfully on our own,” Palko says. “LS&S demanded the best in terms of facility buildout, quality of products and timing.” 


A vibrant library is pivotal to community vitality, providing business, workforce and economic development and community revitalization in addition to being a hub for educational, cultural and social enrichment and community connection. Even with a tight budget, a well-run library can offer its patrons a broad and varied collection of resources and services. For libraries trying to reach that level of excellence, the key may be to outsource day-to-day operations to a library managed services partner. With professional management based on deep library knowledge and experience, solid data analytics and powerful economies of scale, the library can streamline its operations and transform itself into a must-visit community destination.