BELOIT—The Beloit Public Library welcomed Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction superintendent candidate Jill Underly for an online forum Wednesday night.

Underly answered a list of questions presented by the host, Beloit Public Library Director Nick Dimassis, regarding her vision for public libraries across the state.

“The library serves the entire community,” Underly said. “You go to any library website and you see how creative and innovative they are with outreach. Public libraries are the focal point of our communities.”

Underly said libraries provide valuable resources for job seekers, how-to guides for home projects, educational programming for kids and recreational activities for all ages. She added the facilities also can serve as community gathering centers.

Dimassis asked Underly how she would balance efforts to expand broadband internet access, develop a workforce and boost early childhood literacy.

Underly said a top issue is getting through the pandemic and safely reopening schools and libraries.

The Department of Public Instruction also can provide more guidance for early childhood programming and work cooperatively with community leaders to generate additional literacy initiatives, Underly said.

In rural areas, where reliable internet access is lacking, Underly said she is enthusiastic about Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal for more funding and added that the DPI should assist with offering online resources for everyone to use.

Underly responded to a question about sustained funding and stated that she is interested in exploring whether small tax levies could help local libraries—similar to how technical colleges are funded.

Underly also said she aims to encourage community partnerships and sharing of key resources amongst public libraries, school libraries and university libraries.

Underly is running against Deborah Kerr for superintendent of the DPI in the April 6 election.

She has more than 20 years of experience in public education and for the past six years she has been superintendent of the Pecatonica School District.

Earlier this week, Kerr had visited the Beloit Public Library on Monday for a hybrid in-person and online event in which she answered similar questions regarding her own vision for Wisconsin’s libraries.

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