Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

E-Government and Employment Support Services: Addressing Challenges for Public Libraries

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

E-Government and Employment Support Services: Addressing Challenges for Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Abstract

As more employers and government agencies provide information exclusively in a digital format, communities rely on public library staff and technology services more than ever. At the same time, libraries are also facing demands due to reduced budgets and staffing. This chapter of The Transforming Public Library Technology Infrastructure provides data, tools, and best practices to help libraries address and overcome service challenges.

Major Challenges

According to the 2010-2011 Public Library Funding and Technology Access Survey, 80.7 percent of public libraries provide patrons assistance in applying for or accessing e-government services. (1) (E-government is defined as "the use of technology, predominantly the Internet, as a means to deliver government services to citizens, businesses, and other entities"). The survey also asked about job-seeking services provided by public libraries. Nearly 91 percent of the libraries surveyed reported providing access to job databases and other job opportunity resources. (2) Two areas, e-government and employment support services, are placing significant demands on public libraries, all while budgets are being cut and staffing levels reduced.

The survey included a wide range of questions regarding e-government and employment services. The following statements on the survey were generally rated as the most challenging for public libraries:

* Library does not have enough staff to effectively help patrons with their e-government/employment seeking needs.

* Library staff does not have the necessary expertise to meet patron e-government/employment seeking needs.

* Library has too few computer workstations to meet patron demand.

Inadequate staffing, topping the list of greatest challenges, was closely followed by lack of staff expertise, particularly relating to e-government assistance. Some libraries stated that they do not have enough workstations to meet the e-government and employment needs of their community. Most libraries, even those without dedicated computers for e-government and employment services, were able to extend the computer workstation times for patrons to complete forms and applications.

While public libraries are experiencing increased demands for e-government and employment support services, they are also facing demands due to reduced budgets and staffing. A number of libraries are developing training resources and creating partnerships to address these challenges. Perhaps public libraries should consider calculating the costs of both technology infrastructure and staffing in providing e-government and employment assistance. After all, public libraries are increasingly taking on the roles of other government agencies. Dealing with Staff Shortages

Public libraries across the country have been enduring budget reductions resulting in fewer staff to assist patrons. E-government and employment queries often require a significant amount of staff time, particularly when patrons do not possess adequate computer skills to complete online applications. A typical employment transaction often includes teaching the patron how to use a computer; helping the patron complete an online unemployment form; guiding the patron through employment websites; and finally assisting with an online job application. This type of transaction can take an hour or more of staff time.

One technique library staff may use in addressing this type of patron query is to incorporate video tutorials. This reduces the amount of time spent directly addressing the needs of a single patron. Libraries can produce their own videos or use video tutorials created by other agencies. Pasco County Library Cooperative created a Basic Skills Toolbox. A video tutorial, divided into six short chapters (1-4 minutes each), includes links to a mouse tutorial and other computer skills tutorials. Each chapter details a different aspect of using a computer, including using a mouse, opening programs, and typing a Web address in the browser address bar. …

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