Sumter County, FL
Remarkable Library Service Above All
LS&S Library Director: Lisa Taylor
SUMTER COUNTY LIBRARY SYSTEM
Using the Private Sector to Blaze a Public Pathway
For most of its existence, Sumter County, located in the heart of Florida, was a traditional rural community with deep roots and a strong sense of history. Today, the unprecedented growth of age-restricted communities has attracted an exploding population of retirees from other parts of the country, making Sumter County one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation with the highest number of senior citizens. Sumter residents have high standards and expect county services to exceed the standards they experienced in other communities.
For the commissioners of Sumter County, delivering on the promise of world-class service means finding outside partners to help local government fulfill its mission of providing outstanding service at the best value. There is no better example than Sumter County’s library system.
As County Administrator Bradley Arnold noted when Sumter partnered with Library Services & Systems (LS&S) in 2013 to operate the County’s five library locations, “If the costs are equal or below our costs, and the service level is equal to or higher than what we are delivering, then we should move forward with using the private firm.”
Many factors led to Sumter’s choice. Library service is highly specialized and LS&S provides experts skilled in library science as well as critical back office functions, including human resources, accounting, marketing and technology. The company’s reputation for high quality assessment and long-term planning assured the County of excellent service to residents now as well as innovation to meet future needs. LS&S’ centralized processes offer efficiencies that meet the Libraries’ administrative needs. In total, LS&S could help Sumter County achieve its ultimate objective: enhanced service delivery.
“The hidden factor is liability. Workers comp, post-employment benefits liability, general liability from employees doing negligent things—you can’t quantify true liability costs. Even if our services and costs are equal to LS&S, we will benefit from being fiscally responsible with long-term savings.”- Bradley Arnold / County Administrator
Fast Changes, Better Services
With a mandate to move quickly yet prevent disruption to library services, existing library staff were immediately interviewed and on-boarded, and LS&S hired additional staff for remaining positions.
Operating hours were expanded to include Saturdays and library stakeholders provided input into the expansion of programming to more than 750 events per year. LS&S library professionals focused on serving new customers, including underserved county residents.
At the Villages Public Library at Pinellas Plaza, LS&S converted 1,200 square feet of back office administrative space to public space, making room for additional public computers, comfortable seating and personal laptop use, ensuring effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Multiple branch renovations and expansions since the LS&S partnership mean more inviting spaces where customers want to spend time.
LS&S also focused on technology improvements, including a patron database, self-checkout equipment, point-of-sale processing at the circulation desk and a 24/7, PCI-compliant payment system for customers to reconcile accounts from any mobile device. In addition, a new web interface was developed to provide remote search and access to the Library’s entire catalog – locally or worldwide – through a library cooperative. A patron app for mobile devices called Library2Go! was rolled out for materials check out, program registration and other services.
Because so many residents associate a comprehensive collection with a well-run library, LS&S made a particular effort to ensure smooth materials checkout and tracking by deploying the industry-standard Polaris Integrated Library System. LS&S recommended augmenting digital content, including eBooks, music, magazines, games and even self-publishing.
“Thanks to the optimization of our digital content, our circulation has gone way up, even though the number of patron visits is about the same,” says Arnold, who noted a significant ancillary benefit for customers, particularly some seniors with mobility issues, of having greater electronic access.
LS&S also implemented ‘Floating Collections’ to circulate materials among all five branches, increasing availability to customers across Sumter County.
Evolving Services to Meet Community Demand
Local governments across the country face intense challenges in providing public services. Increased life expectancy and growing senior populations place a strain on government-funded health care and pension systems. In addition, aging infrastructure and more first responder obligations put added pressure on budgets. The imperative for government leaders is finding an innovative approach to balancing service excellence and cost.
For Bradley Arnold, discussions with LS&S started with his vision and commitment to Sumter residents. He emphasized, “we want to save money, but ultimately our focus is on improving services for our residents.”
Residents stand to benefit from partnerships between private companies and government. For libraries, LS&S brings best practices in collection management, programs, technology, staffing, grant management, community relations and facility operations. LS&S expertise — gained from operating more than 80 public libraries — enables Sumter County Library staff to provide a customized mix of books, digital materials, modern technology and programs that engage all types of customers and adapt to community demand.
For Sumter County Library staff who traditionally struggled to balance patron service with back office demands, the collaborative work environment and extra resources of LS&S meant a renewed energy and excitement.
Metrics That Matter
With service delivery as a pillar of the partnership agreement, LS&S and Sumter County made sure that performance could be measured. A sample of core performance metrics between 2011 and 2018 speak for themselves:
- E-book circulation over 18% — three times the national average
- Adult program attendees up 75% — almost four times the national average Stakeholder satisfaction is another critical metric.
In 2016, the Friends of the Villages Library — initial skeptics about a partnership with LS&S — contributed $22,100 to the Sumter County Library System from activities executed with the support of LS&S. Customers also noted the positive impact of LS&S service enhancements.
The Government-Business Partnership
Both LS&S and Sumter County share the same goals of excellent service, productivity and efficiency, which is why outsourcing has proven to be a successful solution for governments.
Due to the specialized services that LS&S provides, many associated cost centers move off the government’s books. LS&S assumes the costs within the contract and increases the government’s ability to deliver high quality services. Under the right circumstances, this creates a compelling financial incentive for cities and counties.
The result is a very streamlined public-sector responsibility fulfilled by a highly competent and innovative private-sector capability. In August 2018, Sumter County extended its contact with LS&S for an additional five years, through 2023.
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