"It is so rare that we have an opportunity for time to talk, to think out loud and to share best practices. When you come together and you have that precious time to just talk and listen and share, not only does it help validate whatever you may be trying to do in your state but it helps inform your process."
--A Project Compass summit attendee on the value of the program
Knowledge, Skills, and Support to Meet the Challenges of Today's Libraries
In a single year, thirty million Americans used a library to help address career and employment needs. Of these, 3.7 million found a job according to Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries (PDF, 2.1 MB), a study conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by IMLS and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Recognizing the important role that public libraries play in supporting the nation's unemployed, IMLS and the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration partnered in 2010 to foster connections between the nation's workforce agencies and its public libraries. In keeping with its support of workforce resources at public libraries, IMLS awarded grants in 2009 & 2010 to WebJunction and its partner, State Library of North Carolina (SLNC) for Project Compass. The program was designed to collect information about the increasing demands on library services due to the recession to provide training, to foster peer knowledge exchange between librarians about best practices in responding to unemployment issues, and to create a central online source for librarians looking to connect customers with workforce resources.
State Library Resources and IMLS Funding Facilitate Strategic Planning
Funded by Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2009 & 2010, Project Compass was able to provide:
Year One Accomplishments
- State by state snapshots of the increasing demand for library services relating to job seeking
- A series of regional summits for state librarians to discuss and share successful strategies for providing resources to unemployed patrons
- A wide variety of online workforce resources for librarians
- 5 summits (4 in-person and 1 online) attended by 109 state library representatives from 50 states and the District of Columbia
Year Two Goals
- 60 in-person workshops teaching front-line library staff in the nation's highest chronic unemployment areas about connecting unemployed patrons to workforce resources
- Online workshops for library staff unable to attend in-person workshops
- Enhancing workforce services and programs for unemployed patrons
- Informational sessions and training workshops on workforce recovery for attendees at many state library association conference programs
- Projected estimates of reaching 1800 library staff throughout the country
- Online workshop guide for libraries who wish to hold their own training sessions on workforce recovery for library staff
When the recession caused libraries to confront increasing demands from unemployed patrons seeking assistance in job-seeking, WebJunction saw an opportunity to help.
Responding to Workforce Community Needs
"Library Responses to Economic Tough Times", a survey of state librarians used to develop data for the state-by-state snapshots, demonstrated how much communities affected by the recession were relying on the support of the library. 94% of libraries reported increased patron demand for help finding jobs, writing resumes and cover letters, and filing online application forms. "When faced with unemployment, very often, people turn to the library first," says Gutsche. "It's almost instinctive. The library is a very trusted institution in the community." In contrast to many workforce development agencies, libraries are family-friendly, open longer hours and are often more readily accessible—there are only 3,000 workforce agencies in the country compared with 16,000 public libraries.
|Above: Shelley Walchak, Senior Consultant at the Colorado State Library, presenting a showcase of the workforce recovery efforts of the state library at the Portland (OR) summit in the first year of the project.|
A topic of conversation between librarians at many of the summits was the necessity of working closely with other community agencies to best serve patrons' needs. Gutsche related the story of one library in Tacoma which began seeing a sudden rush of job-seeking patrons every night. "The workforce center across the street closed at five and all those people who had unfinished tasks flooded into the library. The library was able to shift its staffing patterns and understand what needs people were coming with by talking to the workforce agency staff. They came to a mutual agreement as to how they could best handle the sudden flow and keep meeting the needs of the patrons which is really the ultimate goal for everybody."
Discussions at the Project Compass summits revealed how much library response to the needs of unemployed patrons goes beyond traditional job-seeking help like resume-writing. Gutsche was surprised by "the extent to which libraries have had to serve patrons who have little to no computer experience in a job market that demands computer skills." Today, even jobs which require no computer knowledge often have online application processes—a daunting prospect for those unfamiliar with computers. Librarians were confronted with other equally challenging issues. Most importantly, how can the library help the unemployed in an economic situation where few jobs exist?
Program Implementation in Support of 21st Century Skills Development
Gutsche and her team were inspired by a comment from one South Carolina librarian at the first Project Compass summit: "It's really important for us, the library, to help people get on a path to something." Even if finding a job is particularly difficult, libraries play an important role in encouraging patrons to build the kind of skills that will make them competitive in a 21st century job market. "When you can't just plug [a patron] into a job there are other pathways that will help people start to develop skills that eventually will make them more empowered and more successful. It's helping people find their own direction and the library is the catalyst," says Gutsche. "It's a necessity due to the rapid changes of society and technology, this new necessity of life-long learning—it's no longer an option."
The idea of encouraging the development of 21st century skills—such as collaboration, communication, creative thinking, problem-solving techniques and familiarity with technology—shaped year two of Project Compass. Funded by a 2010 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant, year two has focused on getting workforce resources straight to frontline library staff, both through a series of in-person workshops in areas of the nation with the highest unemployment rates and by further developing WebJunction's online resources into a free downloadable workshop guide for library staff unable to attend in-person sessions.
WebJunction understands that libraries have always been focused on life-long learning for their communities —that is what 21st century skills are about. The IMLS publication Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills (PDF, 2.3 MB) influenced many of the workshop documents, including a self-assessment checklist for libraries to gauge their ability to nurture 21st century skills.
Collaborative Efforts for Workforce Recovery
IMLS and the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) are working together to encourage collaboration between the workforce investment system and public libraries. Learn more about how state and local workforce investment boards, state workforce agencies, and One-Stop Career Centers can partner with public libraries.
Based in Seattle, Washington, and Dublin, Ohio, WebJunction is supported in part by OCLC, grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the library community. More information is available at www.webjunction.org.
Founded in 1967, OCLC is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing library costs.