UNEMPLOYMENT - Libraries branch out into job-hunting centers
Public libraries around the Bay Area and the country have emerged as vital resource centers for the growing hordes of job hunters. With free Internet access, tons of information online and in print, knowledgeable staffs and convenient locations, public libraries are attracting unemployed folks like never before.
Libraries have risen to the challenge, holding classes on resume writing and job interviewing, subscribing to specialized job databases, offering online prep courses for civil service and other exams, amassing materials on starting businesses, creating Web sites on career development and even offering free career counseling. Recently, the nation's libraries agreed to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Labor to more effectively help job seekers.
Last year, 30 million people reported turning to their public library for help in their job quest, 6.9 million did some job-related training at library computers and 3.7 million found work using a library computer.
"There's a hunger out there for information on job hunting," said Luis Herrera, city librarian of San Francisco. The library attracts capacity crowds to its class on how to find a job online, and there is huge demand for its classes covering basic computer skills - something many displaced workers lack.
Around the Bay Area, Livermore's spacious library opened an entire job center, Free2Succeed, staffed by a professional career adviser. San Mateo's main branch has marshaled volunteers with experience in human resources who meet one-on-one with jobless patrons. The new Walnut Creek library has an entire room devoted to job hunting. The Fremont Main Library holds a course that delves into the breadth of resources available to job hunters.
Livermore a leader
The Livermore Public Library has been in the vanguard of the trend.
A couple of years ago, said Leila Swisher, supervising librarian, the staff noticed a big increase in patron requests for job-hunting help.
"Many of these patrons were unfamiliar with the latest trends in seeking employment, particularly in an electronic environment," she said. "It was apparent that the library could benefit from having expertise on staff in the area of career advising."
The library received grant funds to create Free2Succeed, with an adviser who offers free 90-minute private counseling sessions and runs classes on job-hunting.
Megan Pittsley ran Free2Succeed from its fall 2008 opening until recently and now works as a career adviser while also consulting with other libraries on how to create job centers.
"Once word got out, I had people coming up from Modesto to see me," she said.
The San Mateo Public Library also offers free one-on-one career counseling.
"Like libraries across the country, during this difficult period we're seeing more members of the community who are displaced and laid off looking for resources at the library to help with their job hunt," said Ben Ocon, city librarian. "We began to see this as an important area to match our resources with those looking for help."
The library turned to its cadre of volunteers and found 19 with backgrounds in human resources. In February, they started offering individual job counseling at the main branch. So far, about 717 community members have met with the volunteers.
"They provide a lot of morale-building support; sometimes it helps just to talk to someone who understands what it is to be looking for work," Ocon said.
As the Fremont Main Library was inundated with job seekers, Gertrude Rooshan, business specialist, developed an eight-week course to provide more in-depth help than basic resume-writing courses.
It covers such topics as researching salary ranges and finding "hidden jobs" - those filled before they're advertised.
"Craigslist is important, but it's not the best way to find a job," she said. "I realized we could do better by showing people all the other resources that are available."
Librarians say that assisting job hunters is a natural extension of their role as information navigators.
"Libraries are about helping people find the resources they need to be successful," said Stacey Aldrich, state librarian of California. "Workforce development at libraries has been accelerating over the last two years and has skyrocketed this year."
When the state library surveyed California's eight regional library cooperative systems earlier this year, all asked for more access to online job resources, Aldrich said.
Support for community
"The most unanimous thing every region said was that they wanted to do something with jobs to support their communities," she said.
In response, the state library is awarding grants for libraries to subscribe to online services that offer live interactive help with resumes and job interviews and to purchase more computers for job hunters' use.
Increasingly libraries are finding community partners to help meet job hunters' needs, Aldrich said. Often that may mean working with One-Stop Career Centers.
The Dublin library, for instance, has teamed up with a One-Stop center to offer classes and individual appointments at the library, said Peggy Watson, head of branches for the Alameda County Library system.
At the national level, collaboration between libraries and the government job-hunting system was recently formalized.
"As the nation has struggled through the recent economic downturn, libraries were inundated with people seeking help with employment-related issues," said Mary Chute, deputy director for libraries at the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The institute, a grant-making federal agency, in June joined the Department of Labor to encourage the workforce investment system and the country's libraries to collaborate to help job seekers. It has awarded grants to assess libraries' needs, provide nationwide workforce development training for librarians and develop a job-hunting curriculum that libraries can adapt to their communities.
Many displaced workers may not find another traditional job but instead will create their own by starting a small business. There too, libraries can be key, Chute said.
"Lots of times we find that the local library serves as the office for people doing startup business work," she said, citing developing business plans, studying applicable laws, researching competitors, learning the nuts and bolts of setting up payroll and getting insurance, as examples of information available at the library.
Both the LoJack car-theft prevention device and Duck Boat tours were started by entrepreneurs who did all their initial research at the public library, she said.
Libraries all point to the unfortunate timing of having their budgets slashed just as demand for their services is surging, but say they will continue to adapt to best serve patrons.
"I don't think retooling yourself will ever go out of style," Chute said. "In the spirit of 21st century skills, I think libraries will be prepared not only to reinvent library services in the most responsible way but to help patrons themselves reinvent what they have to offer."
More people using library computers
In belt-tightening times, fewer people have a computer and Internet access at home. Sometimes, the library is the only way to go online for free.
-- More than 77 million people over age 14 used a library computer last year.
-- 30 million people used library computers to help address career and employment needs.
-- Among these users, 76 percent searched for jobs online.
-- Among job seekers, 68 percent went on to apply for a job or submit a resume.
-- 23 percent used library computers to receive job-related training.
-- 3.7 million people reported finding work using a library computer.
-- 88 percent of public libraries provide access to job databases and other job opportunity resources.
-- 67 percent of libraries report that staff members helped patrons complete online job applications last year.
-- Nearly 90 percent of public libraries offer formal or informal technology training to library patrons.
-- 67 percent of libraries report they are the only provider of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities.
Sources: Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, American Library Association
By Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer
E-mail Carolyn Said at firstname.lastname@example.org.(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010