A city librarian grappled with the question of what to do about opioid use and overdoses in her library. Changes over the past two decades had dramatically expanded the mission of the public library. What began as a repository of human knowledge, offering lending services and study space, had become a community and cultural center with programming and services for people of all ages, from all walks of life. As the library’s mission expanded, its partnerships with other municipal organizations, local businesses, and nonprofits multiplied. The librarian, who once advocated for expanding the mission to accommodate young people in need a safe indoor place after school, faced a new set of library users with needs that seemed far outside her mandate. Should she have further expanded her mission to include providing lifesaving or other services for opioid users? If not, how should she have handled these new “customers”?
This case explores tensions between working to achieve a prescribed mission and adapting missions and organizational capacities to changing social, political, and practical realities.
Identify and evaluate opportunities for making social contributions (creating public value) outside of traditional understandings of organizational missions, and
Identify conditions unique to public-sector managers’ environments, including complex lines of accountability, nuances of value, and the co-production of social outcomes.