Beloit library, city receive state award for new services model

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Photo provided by Landre Photography The Beloit Public Library and City of Beloit recently received the Honorable Mention award in the "Innovative Approach to Problem Solving" category during the Wisconsin Policy Forum's 27th Annual Salute to Local Government event in Milwaukee. (From left): City manager Lori Curtis Luther shakes the hand of Wisconsin Policy Forum President Steve Radke as she and library director Nick Dimassis accept the award.

BELOIT - Changes to the Beloit Public Library's (BPL) organizational structure appear to be paying off.

The library and City of Beloit were recognized with a state award from the Wisconsin Policy Forum late last month. The Forum awarded the library and city the first-ever Honorable Mention award in the "Innovative Approach to Problem Solving" category for the cost-saving reorganization of its service model and its Blender Learning Cafe partnership.

"This is an incredible honor and an affirmation that the creativity and dedication of BPL staff in blazing this trail these last 12 months was justified," said Library Director Nick Dimassis. "The fact that public libraries across the state have taken notice and want to replicate our example, with their municipal partners, is irrefutable evidence that public libraries remain relevant and responsive to their communities. And I'm proud that Beloit is leading the way."

Dimassis said representatives from multiple libraries - including the Milwaukee Public Library and the Rockford Public Library - have toured the Beloit library to learn more about its new organizational structure.

"After a year of exciting - but not always comfortable - change, the BPL has become an example to other libraries across the state, who have heard of our success and have been visiting to find out more," Dimassis said. "Many have wanted to make similar changes and now have a blueprint for success."

Since last May, Amy Mitchell, marketing and communications coordinator, said the library has worked to strip its old department structure. Instead of having four different reference desks that need to be staffed by librarians who were experts only in one area, the staff has been cross-trained so they can answer a variety of patrons' requests.

Mitchell said staff members now aren't just sitting at a desk. She said they can be more proactive by roaming around the library to better answer questions and engage with patrons. Staff members also can more quickly help patrons check out books, get a library card or fulfill other services. Since they're no longer trapped at a desk, staff members can dedicate more time to projects and programming.

The reorganization also is saving taxpayer dollars in light of budget constraints.

"This is the way libraries are going or need to go. We would be going in this direction even without the budget constraints," Dimassis said. "Because of the constraints, it gave us some justification in the face of skepticism."

Dimassis thanks the library's partners at the City of Beloit - including the City Council and City Manager Lori Curtis Luther - without whom he said these accomplishments wouldn't be possible.

Luther said like Beloit, municipalities around the state have had to find unique ways to deliver services with few funding increases each year.

"The library staff excelled in finding a solution that delivers customer service to library patrons while also providing workforce development opportunities for Beloit high school students at the Blender Cafe," Luther said. "The City of Beloit is proud of all the library has accomplished to eliminate silos, implement streamlined customer service interactions, and provide workforce skills to our youth."

Dimassis and Luther accepted the award on behalf of the library and the city during the 2019 Salute to Local Government Awards, which was held at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee with Governor Tony Evers as the keynote speaker.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum was created in January 2018 to serve as a statewide, nonpartisan, independent policy research organization. It's mission is to provide informed analysis of critical policy issues affecting local governments, school districts, and the state of Wisconsin.

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