Case #2204.0

The Town Librarian and the Latchkey Children: Understanding Opportunities for Value Creation in the Public Sector

Publication Date: February 9, 2021
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A town librarian was faced with deciding what to do with a daily influx of noisy young people needing a safe indoor place to stay after school while their parents were working. Should she have sent them home with a note to their parents saying that the library is not a daycare facility? Used the burden on staff and space as justification for demanding more funds? Started an after-school program and charged a fee? Urged parents to pitch in as volunteers in the library?

The librarian considered the problem as well as the opportunity that the latchkey children presented: How might accommodating them fit into the mission of her organization, and how could she make room for these new "clients"?

The case explores tensions between prescribed organizational mission statements and changing social, political, and practical realities. It is designed to facilitate discussion about the challenges and opportunities associated with adapting missions and organizational capacities to changing circumstances.

Note: This case includes a slide deck that will download upon purchase of the case. A practitioner guide, HKS Case 2204.4, accompanies this case.

Learning Objective:

The aims of the case are to heal students and city leaders:

  • Identify and evaluate opportunities for making social contributions (creating public value) outside of traditional understandings of organizational missions.
  • Identify conditions unique to public-sector managers' environments, including complex lines of accountability, nuances of value, and the co-production of social outcomes.




Other Details

Case Author(s):
Mark Moore, Gaylen Moore, George Veth
Faculty Leads:
Jorrit de Jong
Pages (incl. exhibits):
North America
Funding Source:
Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative