The Best Beloit Model

In 2018, Beloit Public Library implemented The Best Beloit Model – an organization-wide restructuring of staff and public spaces. The plan continues to result in cost savings and improved customer service, thus providing, in the words of City Manager Lori Curtis Luther, “a blueprint for other libraries to follow.”

Key components of The Best Beloit Model include:
• Transition from a department-based organization to one based on customer service;
• Change from a department-based perspective and scope to one of looking across the landscape of the entire library;
• Substantial revision of nearly all job descriptions and development of new positions;
• Creation of competencies for all public-service staff to eliminate the pin-balling of patrons;
• Removal of traditional physical barriers (circulation desk, reference desk, and children’s desk) to increase staff-to-patron engagement;
• Installation of interactive learning modules to increase adult-to-child interaction;
• Use of attrition effectively and efficiently; and
• Resilience in the face of inevitable resistance.

Clearly this model of restructuring struck a chord with other public library leaders who, one after another, reached out to schedule visits to Beloit Public Library. Colleagues from both large and small libraries throughout the region have visited BPL to explore first-hand how The Best Beloit Model works and brainstormed with BPL leaders about the ways that they might implement sweeping changes at their own libraries. Many left with the tools necessary to strategize and implement their own changes. When asked for feedback, they had this to say:

• “I attended a WAPL session in May 2019 titled: Storming the Forts: Library Service on the Move! in which Nick Dimassis discussed his plans and implementation of a change in staffing structure at his library. In June 2019, our library management team met with Beloit Library management to discuss these staffing changes and how this might work at our library. The Beloit Director and staff readily and happily shared documents for staff orientation, training, and basic competencies. As a result of our discussions with Beloit staff and utilizing their documents as a guide, our library made major staffing changes in September 2019. We followed Beloit’s lead closely and are pleased with the transition.” Stacy Stevens, T. B. Scott Free Library, Merrill, WI

• “We traveled to Beloit where we received an informative tour of the library and could see the new service model in action. We also had an in-depth discussion with the library director and department heads as to why Beloit decided to make this transformation and how they approached managing the change and implementation. Beloit had done a great job in laying out the new organizational chart and showing the relationship between the traditional model and the new service model. Nick explained how department heads were assigned to their new positions and how staff were organized under the new service model, including how supervision of staff would be managed across the new departments. Indian Prairie continued to study various service models but kept coming back to the model developed by Beloit. Their example inspired us, and we’re very excited about moving to this new way of serving patrons as we believe it will solve the problems we had identified and will create a much better user experience for our patrons.” Jamie Bukovac, Director, Indian Prairie Public Library District, Darien, IL

• “In 2019, following our visit to the Beloit Public Library, Kim and I developed a comprehensive plan to combine and consolidate some service points on the 1st Floor of Central Library. That proposal was approved by the Deputy Director. Before we could implement any of it, COVID closed libraries. SILVER LINING: Our proposal has served as the basis of the limited service model in development for Central Library’s reopening at the end of August. We had a vetted and well-researched plan ready to go during this very stressful time. Our limited service model won’t incorporate all of our grand plans, but it set the stage for reduced services not being too intimidating of a change. All the best to you and the good people of BPL!” Rachel Arndt, Milwaukee Public Library

• “I’ve made changes to the circulation department regarding the training materials that you provided. I’ve revamped our entire training process to give my staff a better understanding of the library as a whole using what you provided as the framework. I also updated our onboarding procedure so that all new staff get to experience work in all of our departments based on what you shared.” Paula Stanton, L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire, WI

• “We actually made a lot of changes based on the conversations we’ve had and the influence of your reorganization. We combined our circulation and reference department into public services, re-defined everyone’s job description, and required cross training between the public services desk and the children’s desk. … The result has been much more cohesion and a more patron-focused, team-oriented culture.” Laura O’Grady, Hershey (PA) Public Library. Laura is also the author of The Desk-less Library article that appeared in Public Libraries (attached).

• “On my end, you’ve certainly inspired and influenced me, and I am working towards some of that still (new organizational chart, eliminating barriers, etc.). So many of the things I’d like to implement will get interwoven with those plans.” Angela Zimmerman, Mukwonago (WI) Public Library

• “Definitely stole some of the ideas from you! I’m planning these departments: Collections (selection, tech services), Community Engagement (programs and outreach), Public Service (single service point and consistent public service messaging), Communications and Marketing, Technology, Building & Maintenance.” Bruce Gay, Waukesha (WI) Public Library

• “We worked with the Adult Services department to transition to…more of a roving customer service interaction model to prevent a lot of customers from congregating at any one ‘desk.’ So, our time spent at Beloit was time well spent.” Aaron A. Carlin, Rockford (IL) Public Library

• “The information you provided was helpful in our discussions as an Admin Team, and we appreciate your time and willingness to share your library’s experience. The possibilities are exciting!” Rachel M. Fuller, The Urbana (IL) Free Library

• “We began using competencies to set expectations with our Operational Supervisory Team, formerly known as the Building Supervisory Team. This team consists of staff from all library departments that can serve as supervisors … and your work and idea gave us the inspiration!” Svetha Hetzler, Sun Prairie (WI) Public Library

• “I say ‘yes,’ we have been influenced by your re-organization and intend to move forward, when possible again, with something similar. Your ‘Steps to Advancement’ concept may be the most useful thing we look to do!” Susan Heskin, Superior (WI) Public Library

In addition to library professionals, leaders of non-library organizations also have taken note. In June of 2019, BPL Director Nick Dimassis and Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther accepted an “Innovative Approaches to Problem Solving” award from the non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Forum (see “Beloit Library, City Receive State Award for New Services Model” article). The recognition, which followed Governor Evers’ remarks, was for The Best Beloit Model reorganization and its unique inter-governmental partnership for the Blender Learning Café. This award was a win for Beloit Public Library but also for all Wisconsin libraries. Why? Because it is what WLA has been working toward for several years now: ensuring libraries remain visibly relevant to stakeholders at both the local and state levels. BPL’s recognition from the highly respected Wisconsin Policy Forum made a substantial impression on local government officials, who then returned to their communities with renewed confidence in the services and resources that their own libraries provide.

2020 brought forth many new challenges with COVID-19. Thanks to the flexibility of staff, the agility of the organization, and the customer-focused service model, BPL was positioned to not only adapt but to thrive in the face of adversity. The framework of The Best Beloit Model prepared BPL staff to quickly and efficiently reach reasonable and attainable solutions to continue to deliver needed service to the public during a pandemic.

The Best Beloit Model of self-sufficiency was in place long before the library closure in March 2020, so when the library reopened on June 8, patrons were welcomed back to an environment with which they were familiar and comfortable using. Self-checkout of materials increased from 50% of checkouts in February to 80% of checkouts in June with staff assistance available from a social distance behind a monitor that can both mirror the patron’s screen as well as allow staff access into the patron’s account to offer deeper assistance – all with limited touchpoints and no need to transfer materials or library cards, or get within 6’ of one another. During a time of record-high unemployment, the community’s need for computer access drove the initial need to open the library. BPL minimized touchpoints and implemented a new roving computer help desk equipped with technology that allows staff to remote into any computer to help a patron without having to encroach upon their space.

Thinking ahead is part of the daily mantra at BPL, meaning that while other municipalities, businesses, and organizations were trying to place orders for long back-ordered PPE, BPL already had a stash of masks, gloves, cleaner, and sanitizer on hand by April, having ordered a large supply back in March before there was ever even a discussion of closing the state. There is no question that the implementation of The Best Beloit Model empowered library staff in anticipating issues, facilitating a safe reopen, and accommodating patron needs by creating and sustaining a safe library visit experience. This attentive approach has led to the city’s approval to install a permanent drive-up pick-up window that opened in January 2021 and offers patrons a safe curbside experience throughout any season.

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