building community for the unemployed

Cheryl Napsha is a librarian after my own heart. I met her online while doing research for the LBC project and her words are the opening epigraph. And although it’s not the only reason I think of her as a kindred spirit, you can read her nice comments about the book on my reviews page.

I heard from Cheryl a few times in the last few months via email as my blog has been on hiatus (if you’re wondering why the hiatus: in part because I didn’t retain my clarity of purpose here after the book was published and in part because I was spending more time than usual worky-working) and each time she planted a new seed about the connection between community librarianship and service to the unemployed. In her most recent email, she shares some of the things she’s working on in her Michigan library:

We’re in Michigan, so while our ‘official’ unemployment is over 15%, our actual is well over 22%. Which means about 1 in 5 people who come to the library are desperately seeking work or social services.
We’ve done some things to respond, like: increasing the number of free computer classes (basic, Office applications, etc.); added a job seeker’s lab for 1-1 help in writing resumes, filing for unemployment, or anything even loosely related to jobs; and increased our 1-1 computer instruction. We’ve also offered lots of programming, including a 4-part ‘boot camp.’ We’re doing a lot more cultural and social programming, including concerts and family-oriented programming. All that is pretty normal. One of the unusual things we did was that, when we were faced with a 12% budget cutback last June, we INCREASED our hours by 10 weekly!!! So that was exciting.

I’m thinking there must be a more proactive solution, a way that the library could develop partnerships with social service or for-profit entities to help those in need. For instance, could we develop a partnership with a cosmetology school to offer free haircuts/makeovers at the library? Could we somehow create a job fair here? What about regular weekly sessions to practice interview people?

I’m thinking it’s way past time for information/referral for the public library, and that we should take advantage of this opportunity to really meet people where they need us.

Can you think of anyone I could connect with who’s on the same path?

Cheryl’s comments made me think of a project we’ve just started at WebJunction called Project Compass: libraries providing direction in tough times. This project is facilitating conversations and interactions for state library administrators around library services to the unemployed. We’re already learning a lot through this work, but are really looking forward to our five regional summits this spring, where we’ll raise concerns and jointly strategize about how to ensure libraries are making the most of scarce resources by sharing and in some cases even working together. As part of the compass project, WebJunction is also having a webinar on 1/28 that will highlight and facilitate more conversation about what’s happening in local libraries. If your library is struggling with unemployment issues, or has approached challenges of the last year in ways that you can share with others, please join us on Thursday. You can register to attend from the WebJunction homepage at www.webjunction.org. I’ll be there, and hope to learn from you all.