Library Love: Unemployment Edition

Unemployment. Underemployment. Unenjoyable employment. We've all been there or are there or will be there. We don't live in the age of the all-caring parent company that employs one for life. (Unless you work in government. But wait! Even non-partisan government jobs can be terminated over the television these days. Nothing is safe.) Did that age really ever exist? Maybe for some of our parents, but overwhelmingly, we all have to hustle at certain points in our lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median employee tenure in 2016 was 4.2 years. That's not very long! We also live in a time of at-will employment and the gig economy, which seems to be great for everyone except the person doing the gigging. But hey, who am I talking to? Writers. Writers and artists in general know better than anyone about the shifting sands of employment. It's work. It's hard. But you're not alone, and not in a vacuum, even if it feels like it. Libraries are there to help.

Libraries — especially public libraries — have a long history of assisting job seekers in finding employment. Their role in this process became especially pronounced with the advent of the Internet. Suddenly, we had a digital divide, in which job seekers increasingly had to use computers and technology to apply for jobs, but didn't always own the (expensive) technology themselves. Libraries across the nation stepped up to be the great equalizer, providing hardware and software and resources to the public. While we can now do an awful lot on our phones, this digital landscape hasn't changed all that much. The need is still there. About six years ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Library Association funded a survey of public libraries around the country to gauge the range of technology services libraries provide and the impact they have on their communities. The Information Policy & Access Center digs down into some of that data about employment services, and finds that over 300,000 people around the country are assisted in their employment search every day.

Your local public library helps people, just like you, search and apply for jobs and develop competitive skills all the time.

Here's an array of library services to make your next job hunt as brief as possible:

Computers

Sounds pretty basic, but not everyone actually owns their own computer. Or maybe yours died. Or, it is so old like mine that the fan runs all the damn time. Does it ever make sense to buy a computer when you're unemployed? No, of course not. Did you know that libraries were early adopters of computers and the Internet? They've been providing access to hardware for a loooong time. Typically, computer access is timed, so you get 30 or 60 minutes at a machine. Come prepared and maximize your time.

Online Resources

One of the things librarians are great at doing is bringing helpful resources together. Most public libraries have a site devoted to resources for job seekers, many of which include subscription sites paid for by your library. The Oakland Public Library is a great example, with multiple paid resources for residents like ReferenceUSA and Learning Express Library. Lots of libraries have subscriptions to Lynda.com, a fantastic tutorial website for developing current software skills, like how to do more than sums in Excel. All you need to access your library's paid resources is your library card.

Public library sites are also fantastic places to find lists of local resources, like job sites in your city, sites on which to post your resume, and local organizations to help get you on your feet. Very often, there are local resources that you may not be aware of, but will help you in your job hunt. A simple Internet search for your public library plus keywords like "job search" or "unemployment" should locate those for you.

Hands-On Help

Many libraries offer recurring workshops to assist job seekers. My public library has drop-in sessions to "teach yourself tech." These sessions are great when you just can't find a YouTube video explaining what you need. The San Francisco Public Library has a variety of classes on everything from job coaching to maximizing your LinkedIn profile and network. Many libraries help people create and refine their resumes. For example, the Denver Public Library offers resume classes.

Local Collaborations

Some libraries take their role in helping job seekers even further by partnering with local organizations or businesses. The New York Public Library, for example, partners with St. Nick's Alliance and SAGEWorks. These organizations directly work with underserved populations to place them in the workforce. Sometimes, local organizations offer classes and services that complement what the library offers. An organization in my area called Workforce Boulder County offers workshops on everything from small-scale budgeting to resume reviews to job fairs. I learned about this organization from my public library website.


Looking for a job can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn't have to be. Your local public library helps people, just like you, search and apply for jobs and develop competitive skills all the time. Make use of their resources and ask for help. And good luck.

Stephanie Bonjack

Column by Stephanie Bonjack

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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