Magazine article Information Today

Public Libraries Step into Job-Search Niche

Magazine article Information Today

Public Libraries Step into Job-Search Niche

Article excerpt

The most pressing question for working Americans during the current financial crisis has not been "What is the federal deficit?" or "How much has the Dow dropped this week?" It's been something much more basic: "Will my job still be there tomorrow, and if it's not, can I find a new one?"

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As unemployment approaches 10%, an increasing number of Americans have found themselves back on the job market during the past several months, many for the first time in decades. What they have encountered is a hiring landscape that is more competitive and more complicated than ever before, with classified ads giving way to online postings and paper resumes giving way to computer forms.

For those with limited or nonexistent computer skills, going through this process when their livelihood depends on it can be nerve-racking, to say the least. But increasingly, job hunters have been turning to public libraries in their search process, according to a February 2009 report from the American Library Association (ALA), "Job-Seeking in U.S. Public Libraries." According to the report, 62.2% of public libraries consider aiding job seekers as "critical to the library's mission," up from 44% the previous year.

A Long-Standing Tradition

According to library consultant Mary Wasmuth, public libraries have served as a sort of informal career center for years. Wasmuth spent 15 years at the Framingham Public Library in Massachusetts before retiring last year, and she says she took a job in the industry after being laid off herself.

"I was laid off from my first job before I was a librarian in the '70s," Wasmuth says. "I used the library a lot for job searching." She says that libraries have always been a valuable resource for job hunters, but that role has only come to the forefront lately.

"Recently, as online job hunting has become pretty much essential, in my last couple of years, we started seeing so many people who had worked their whole lives but didn't know how to use the computer and really needed a lot of help," Wasmuth says. She now works on five job-search programs in Boston-area public libraries, and she tries to provide help for people who might feel discouraged by the depressed job market or might not even know where to start looking for work.

Something for Everyone

Libraries such as the ones Wasmuth works with have begun to provide organized help to job seekers in the form of computer education classes or specific seminars on how to find a job. Public libraries in Forsyth County, N.C., have initiated a project called Survive and Thrive, which includes programs designed to fill specific and unmet needs that job seekers might have.

"In December of 2008, as local unemployment hovered around 10%, our library began an internal discussion about what role we could play in providing help to those who had lost their jobs and were looking for new work," says Don Dwiggins, the public information officer for Forsyth County Public Libraries. "We knew we had many resources that would be of benefit to the unemployed but what we didn't know was how best to present this information to the community."

After more research, Forsyth County initiated Survive and Thrive programs such as "Networking Your Way to the Job" and "Practice Interviews and Resume Critique With Local HR Professionals." Forsyth County has conducted 15 Survive and Thrive programs since April, with each one attracting between 35 and 40 people on average, Dwiggins says.

"Response to our programs has been extremely positive," he says. "We ask attendees to complete an evaluation after every program and we have received high marks in all areas we survey. So many times someone will come up to us after a program and express how grateful they are that a program such as ours exists in the community and how much they are benefiting from it."

Librarians have also learned that not all job seekers are the same. …

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