According to a 2010 study of perceptions of libraries, 37% of respondents said that they have used the library more often since the economy tanked. Another study revealed that 10% of the US population used library computers for some kind of job help. Libraries and librarians have therefore been among the first responders for people who have lost their jobs, offering vital unemployment services.
Nowadays many people turn first to Google and other search engines for their information needs. That doesn’t mean that an Internet search can completely satisfy them. It can’t, for instance, help unemployed people identify personalize what they find to fit their own needs. That requires direct communication with another person. Meanwhile, there are about 3,000 government unemployment offices nationwide and more than 16,000 libraries. Government services for the unemployed come with both long wait times and a certain social stigma. Library services carry neither.
Libraries have much more to offer people than simply helping to look for a new job. As a part of their traditional role in fostering lifelong learning, libraries are working to help people learn the new skill sets necessary to succeed in the 21st-century workforce. In particular, libraries offer five kinds of lifelines to the unemployed.
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Help develop computer literacy
It has become practically impossible to find work without computer skills. The jobs themselves might not require computer literacy, especially in manual trades and many service jobs. But now, most government services are online. So are many job applications.
How is someone who doesn’t know how to use a computer, or even a computer mouse, supposed to survive. It’s simply impossible. So libraries offer instruction in how to use a computer. Ironically, the tutorials are mostly online, but library staff can certainly help with the most basic tasks required to use the tutorials. The Pasco County Library System in Florida has made a few short, simple videos that people can watch.
That approach may even ease the pressure on people with no computer skills. After all, they might fear that the librarian will judge them. Watching a short video tutorial of someone using a mouse, opening and closing programs, using menus, filling out forms, saving work, etc. demonstrates how easy it is. It gives the patrons confidence to try it themselves. Soon, they can go through the tutorials and learn at their own pace. Perhaps the experience will also help them be more comfortable in approaching a librarian.
And let’s not forget than a disturbing number of adults can’t read or write well enough to function in our society. I wrote about libraries and adult literacy last week.
Support job seekers
While computer literacy is necessary for job seekers, it isn’t enough. Many of the unemployed, having been laid off from long-term jobs, discover that the process of job hunting has changed drastically since the last time they had to look. Many others, entering the workforce for the first time, face completely new complexities. Many unemployed may have developed a high level of computer skills on their former job. They might spend much of their leisure time on social media. Even for the computer savvy, the wired marketplace can be a daunting unknown territory.
So libraries have developed a variety of workshops. Some workshops teach people to set up their own web pages. Others concentrate on how to use Linked-In, Monster.com, and other specific sites.
Support local entrepreneurs
Not everyone who has lost a job wants to find another job. Unemployment stimulates many people to start their own businesses. Whenever a large employer pulls out of a small town, becoming gainfully self-employed might actually be easier than finding another job. Of course, that means that the new entrepreneur must learn some basic business skills.
As a response, even small-town libraries have found that they can develop services that have a lot to offer to the local business community. Often in collaboration with the municipal government, they offer workshops to teach basic skills in business planning, marketing, etc. They provide instruction in how to transform a hobby into a business. More advanced topics can include research in the global marketplace, social networking, and financing for their business. Whatever classes and workshops the library offers also provide the face-to-face networking opportunities that are so crucial to success in business.
Help develop financial literacy
Unemployment often comes on top of other financial worries. People who never gave budgeting a thought and who racked up dangerous levels of the wrong kinds of debt now confront having to live on a vastly reduced income.
Libraries offer financial literacy programs modeled on their very successful adult literacy programs. They offer a combination of class work with one-on-one tutoring from qualified financial coaches. They often find ways, such as story times, to involve the entire family together.
As people in the community gradually learn to handle their finances realistically and responsibly, they can become important resources for the library financial services. Libraries are beginning to work on developing peer sharing opportunities or mentoring so that they can share their perspectives with people new to the programs.
Create connections and collaboration
Libraries have long fostered a sense of community. Each of the first four points has demonstrated how they have connected individuals to each other in the course of offering services to the unemployed.
In the process, libraries have also collaborated with each other and formed partnerships with other institutions. Public libraries naturally collaborate with state and local government. After all, they receive funding from government. In particular, libraries have developed their unemployment services in partnership with a variety of workforce services. Some libraries have also worked together with television stations to create documentaries. Many have sought new opportunities for collaborating on projects related to the new economic and technological realities facing the workforce.
Unfortunately, at the same time libraries have been expanding programs and facing increased demand for their services, they have suffered deep budget cuts. They have had to reduce staff. As all levels of government must cut their budgets, many government leaders do not recognize the importance of library services.
If you have benefitted from any of your library’s services to the unemployed, speak up. Write a letter to your local newspaper to express your gratitude. Library directors will speak out about their successes; everyone expects that. Voices from the general public will reinforce the message.
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Major source: “A Boon to the Workforce: How Librarians Help Workers in Need of 21st-Century Skills,” from Library Journal