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Unemployed for about 2 1/2 months, Libertyville resident Michael Page is looking for a retail sales job and he thinks improving his computer skills could boost his chances.
"I've been having a little trouble because I'm new at computers," Page, 55, admitted.
So on Tuesday, he joined a half-dozen other people in a small computer lab at Libertyville's Cook Park Library for a class called "The Basics of Online Job Searching."
The participants all middle-aged or older adults learned about basic Internet navigation, the best keywords to use for a job search and the importance of password security, among other subjects.
Such classes are being staged across the suburbs and across the country. Public libraries have become the go-to resource for people on the hunt for new jobs, whether they're unemployed or simply looking for a change.
"They come here first," said Shannon Scanlan, a business services librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library who has helped run a popular Job Seeker series.
But the demand for employment services is growing at the same time libraries are reporting significant funding struggles that have strained personnel and resources.
Nearly 60 percent of public libraries reported flat or decreased budgets in the 2011 fiscal year, according to a recent study by the American Library Association and the University of Maryland's Information Policy and Access Center. Sixty-five percent of libraries anticipate flat or decreased
budgets this fiscal year.
Like so many employees in so many fields, librarians have to do more with less. But many are meeting the demand for jobs programs in creative ways, such as partnering with local Rotary clubs, community colleges and other organizations.
"It's a matter of priority," said Cook Memorial Public Library District Director Stephen Kershner.
Programs and services for job seekers and people struggling with unemployment have been offered at libraries in West Chicago, Arlington Heights, Wheeling, Schaumburg, Huntley and other suburbs.
Some gatherings are stand-alone efforts, while others are part of more extensive series.
The Arlington Heights library launched its Job Seeker programs during the last recession in February 2009. It was a response to high unemployment in the community and requests from patrons who were lacking modern job-seeking skills, such as formatting a resume or using social media, Scanlan said.
"We had people who were out of work for the first time since the 1980s," Scanlan said. "It was much, much needed."
Last year, the library offered 25 programs about two a month. Topics included how to find government jobs, using the LinkedIn networking service, and using a foreign degree in the United States.
About a year ago, the library opened a business center in the nonfiction area. It offers five computer stations, a collection of computerized business and job resources, Skype and webcams for video conferencing and online classes, and even a scanner that allows people to add printed resumes to digital services.
Twice a week, a professional consultant comes to the library to review resumes.
"He's got quite a following," Scanlan said. "They usually book up a month in advance."
The programs are funded with help from the local Rotary Club, which has given the library grants totaling $8,000 since 2010.
Elgin's Gail Borden Public Library has formed similar partnerships, with Elgin Community College and other groups and agencies, for its employment programs, library spokeswoman Denise Raleigh said. …