BELOIT — Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, many businesses and public places were shut down, including the Beloit Public Library.

Although the doors were closed to the public for about 11 weeks, staff continued working. And the major construction project within the library—projected to come in around $550,000—pushed forward, coming to fruition.

Staff members kept busy with training and development while brainstorming ways to serve the public during the pandemic, said Amy Mitchell, Marketing and Communications Coordinator.

Library staff members were up for the challenge, she said.

Adapting to challenges

Preparation was key.

“We started ordering masks and sanitizers; some didn’t come in until May. We also have the plexiglass barriers at the counter,” Mitchell said. “We were ahead of the game in terms of preparation.”

One of the first services offered was curbside pickup of books.

“That took a lot of logistics since we share a 28-library card catalog system,” she said.

Patrons would call in or email or use Facebook to place book orders. Then the staff would get the orders ready, call people to set up a pickup time and set the books in bags outside with their names on them.

“We had staging areas and special bags.”

Since library cards weren’t scanned, people also were on the honor system to return items.

“Internally, we also had to change the due dates so that not all of the returns came back at once. We also had to quarantine the books, at first for four days, now 24 hours based on studies,” Mitchell said.

“After reopening the doors to the public in June, we did computer labs only; changed the rules and only allowed people to be there for 90 minutes. We worked with (The Department of) Workforce Development,” Mitchell said.

Also, some patrons needed to use the computer lab to look up court cases, and some were buying or selling homes.

“After that, we opened to the general public but we are still limited to 25% capacity,” Mitchell said. “We spaced things out and removed some of the furniture. We also added access points to the exterior of the building and provided Wi-Fi service 24 hours.”

Programs were again allowed in the Community Room, but only 25 people at a time and they were to register before attending.

As for the staff, “We had to figure out how to do virtual meetings,” she said. “Everybody got emails for professional development daily, whether it was about technology, customer service or understanding segments of the population. Some learned sign language; some learned Spanish. Every day was a training day.”

In all, that included 2,200 hours of staff training, Mitchell said.

A major task the staff tackled was tagging and scanning every book and CD in the library over a six-week period. Because of their efforts, patrons became able to pile an entire stack of items on the self-check machines instead of having to check them out one at a time. And four new self-check machines replaced the old ones.

Also, a roving library cart was created to help people in the computer lab. The carts have battery packs and laptops can be placed on them. Staff can then connect remotely to what the person is trying to do on the library computer he or she is using and still be able to social distance.

The goal of these innovative techniques is to be a library on the cutting edge, Mitchell said.

Staff also cleans at the library, whether computer screens and keyboards, furniture fabric or tables and chairs.

“We also reupholstered some furniture that was 10 years old and chose fabric that is easy to clean and wipe.”

The new drive-up window where library patrons can pick up books they have ordered opened in February. The exterior window is located next to the book drop-off slots.

While staff remained busy, the major buildout project for the library also continued as planned, Mitchell said.

Big projects undertaken

The transformation of 8,500 square feet of mostly unfinished warehouse space at the library began in May, despite the pandemic.

The $550,000 project will provide a new children’s program room and a caregiver’s space complete with comfortable chair, sink and diaper changing area.

The major portion of the buildout, however, included the partnership with Blackhawk Technical College (BTC), opening up two large classrooms, a GED testing center and an office space.

Two classrooms and an office space also were created for the Stateline Literacy Council. And office space was created for the FoodShare Employment and Training agency so it can continue to serve clients. When the classrooms are not in use, the library also can use the rooms.

Two of the classrooms were named for Tom and Peggy Lang and Henry and Sue Knueppel.

When asked how the construction was funded, Mitchell responded: “Absolutely no taxpayer/city money was used for this project.”

In all, BTC provided about $360,000.

“The remaining portion of the cost was funded by private fundraising, including some very large donations. Our BPL Foundation also pitched in a large chunk,” Mitchell said.

The fundraising, Foundation and donations, including donations from the Langs, Knueppels and the Rotary Club, came out to $240,000.

Future plans for the library include creating an interactive early literacy area, toddler play area and a teen/makerspace.

Current hours at the Beloit Public Library, 605 Eclipse Blvd., are 9:30 a.m .- 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m.—5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.