2023 Library of the Year

Brown County Library Named 2023 Library of the Year

The Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) recently announced that Brown County Library was selected as the 2023 WLA Library of the Year.  This award recognizes distinguished achievement in service provided by any type of Wisconsin library, library system, or network.

This notable distinction is based on activities or accomplishments in the areas of impact to the community, commitment to innovation, and commitment to library users.  Nominations are reviewed by WLA’s Awards & Honors Committee.

The Brown County Library system, established in 1968, consists of the Central Library, eight branches, and a bookmobile.  It serves 80% of the households in Brown County. 

A true community asset, the Brown County Library is empowering people to be their best.  Executive Director Sarah Sugden states, “People are our purpose, and this is intentionally woven into Brown County Library’s identity and work.”

The library seeks to put people at the center of all library operations, policies, procedures, resources, and services.  The library’s brand (It’s Yours) and visual identity, a new website and room reservation system, organizational goals focused on customer service and empathy, and the development of a Belonging Action Plan demonstrate the library’s response and commitment to the community. A Library Story initiative gathers user impact stories that are shared on social media, library reports, and interior displays.

Library spaces are used in various ways to meet the needs of the community.  Examples include being host sites for school Summer Lunch Programs, dedicated space for a hydroponic vertical farm that grows fresh lettuce that is then offered to library visitors for free, an area to distribute free hats made by volunteers in the winter months, and all library locations serving as collection sites for community diaper and blanket drives. Larger-scale programs like Ren Faire, Summer Reading Program events, and Pop Con™ use library indoor and outdoor spaces creatively to accommodate large numbers of people. Highly visible walls are exhibit spaces for local artists.

Collaboration with community partners heightens the impact of the library – the Brown County Seed Library, housed at the Central Library, offers curated seeds and related programs; together with Achieve Brown County, the library is raising awareness of the declining reading proficiency rates among area 3rd graders, and Career Navigators with Worker Connection, a program provided by the WI Department of Workforce Development, offer job seekers on-site assistance.

Access to technology is critical to meeting the needs of the community.  In addition to computers, laptops, printers and photocopiers, the library offers digital literacy programs, Chromebooks and hotspots for checkout, Print from Your Own Device software for patrons’ use, Wi-Fi connectivity on the Bookmobile, mobile device charging stations at some locations, and RFID book returns. The library is leading efforts to connect individuals with resources and opportunities. The new East Branch and other renovation/relocation projects demonstrate this leadership.  Study and meeting rooms equipped with technology are inviting spaces for collaboration or individual use.

Library staff contribute to national and state library efforts by sharing best practices and participating in professional association work. As consultants and presenters, the library staff are able to share their expertise with the larger community.

The library was presented with the 2023 Library of the Year award at the Awards & Honors Ceremony that took place on Thursday, October 26, 2023, during the Wisconsin Library Association annual conference in Middleton, WI