An exercise in effective innovation
The Sabre Virtual Library Branch was the first of its kind in the country and is the result of a partnership between the Southlake Public Library and Sabre Holdings (Sabre Airline reservation systems and Travelocity) which is the largest employer in the community. It illustrates a rare example of corporate and local government cooperation in providing service to employees who many happen to be residents, but also non-resident employees who are able to develop ties to Southlake and hopefully support businesses in the community.
What is the virtual library?
The virtual branch has no actual physical holdings of books or other library materials; however, within Sabre Headquarters is a 200 sq ft reading area. The Library catalog is placed on their corporate intranet and is accessed by employees searching for new materials to check out. As items are requested by Sabre employees, holds are placed on items at the physical library daily. The library then delivers three days a week directly to the Sabre Mail room, who then distributes the item(s) directly to the customer’s desk. No muss no fuss – library staff pulls items with other holds each morning and staff places a removable label on the item and drops in tote for delivery.
Why the virtual library?
Southlake’s public library is continually dedicated to and driven by innovation. The city recognizes the value of promoting and providing library service throughout the community. The concept of the virtual library was developed as the library looked to keep costs down by not building physical facilities, and enhance the value provided by the library. The library was able to do this by creating delivery locations throughout the community; virtual branches also exist at several city facilities and the City continues to explore the possibility of other corporate customers. As a note, Sabre is the largest taxpayer in the city, and the ability to serve them at minimal cost and maximum payoff (they deliver to my desk!!!) resulted in a win-win situation. Additionally, Sabre is a socially responsible organization and recognized the value of providing this service to their employees.
The Southlake Public Library has 5 primary objectives:
- Create the proper mix of product that is based on satisfying user demand
- First class customer service
- Control internal processes focused on providing a friendly and hassle free experience for the customer
- Utilize volunteers – we take everyone we can get and they perform mission critical tasks
- Develop strong relationships with city staff, community organizations, and the business community
Through the creation of the virtual library, four of the five library objectives were addressed. Effective innovation is focused on and satisfies organizational priorities that are broad enough to allow staff to exploit the possibilities. The City of Southlake also has a Strategic Management System with a number of objectives there were also addressed. Objectives include Partnerships and Volunteerism; Performance Management; and Service Delivery to name a couple. The city’s core values include innovation; commitment to excellence; integrity; accountability; and teamwork – all of which were achieved in this project as well. The Southlake library’s tag line or motto is “uncommonly friendly service” and everything the library does is focused on creating that reality in both a physical and virtual worlds.
The City of Southlake, through the exceptional direction of the City Council and City Manager Shana Yelverton, has created an environment that celebrates innovation and allows risk taking to occur in order to explore more effective service delivery options. Library management team members have years of private sector retail and customer service related experience which has proven valuable during this process. Library service can, at times, be bound to traditional service delivery methods but the combination of library team members and their entrepreneurial sense, and the supportive environment that the City of Southlake has created for staff allowed the virtual library idea to move forward and has been very effective in providing first rate service at negligible cost – which was our intent from the very beginning.
Kerry McGeath, City Librarian
Deputy Director Community Services
The above article was adapted from the City of Southlake's 2010 TLG case study application; click here to read the entire case study.