We recently conducted a survey to get responses on The Edge Benchmark Three, which is focused on providing technology to meet community members' job-seeking and entrepreneurial needs. The variety of responses to this survey varied widely. One person responded, "Are we supposed to be doing all that?" While others saw this Benchmark as a necessary and essential challenge and some attested that their library is already providing all the services and technology mentioned.
The greatest obstacles to accomplishing Benchmark Three included the need for addtional funding, time, space, and technology. Many mentioned that these services are only possible at their library through partnerships, a great idea for stretching otherwise limited resources. As the song goes, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, right? These libraries are certainly modeling a great practice of engaging their community to help them do more together than could ever be accomplished independently. Read the quotes below to find out how libraries around the country responded when asked their initial thoughts on Edge Benchmark Three.
Here are some quotes from librarians who completed our survey that find them to be necessarily aspirational.
- These are reasonable and aspirational goals for even very small and rural libraries. These benchmarks could also be made measurable and clearly translatable to funders to demonstrate library value in the community. Excellent!
- This is absolutely on target! The public library is (or should be) the center for community continuing education. Many small libraries do not have the resources to teach the classes, but certainly can provide space and support services.
- The energy and resources required to meet the bullleted items will challenge many public libraries but that is of course the reason to define benchmarks.
- One success story: A lady had to get her husband registered for classes for his business, she couldn't use the computer, so asked for our help. She was so anxious, she was literally shaking. I helped her get it done. When we were through, she jumped up and hugged me, thanked me profusely, and said we just saved them $35,000.
- About 25% of our computer users are job seekers. Anything to assist them is needed.
- These are all goals that today's libraries should be working towards. Our library does fall short on a few of the items, but do strive to do what we can with our limited resources.
Partners are Essential.
These librarians mentioned the importance of partnerships in providing necessary services.
- I suspect that many libraries offer these services and resources through partnerships with other nonprofits and government organizations - indeed, it is the only way our library can do so.
- I think it is very important for libraries to help job seekers in any way possible. We have partnered with Job Service to have a representative on hand one day a week to help job seekers.
- I like most of 3.1 but instruction on using online job-seekings, etc. needs to be provided in real time; recognizing the limited staff resources, we should be developing partnerships with individuals and/or agencies who can do this on-site during our open hours.
Barriers to Success: Space, Technology, Funding
These librarians replied to a question asking what they needed to be successful in Benchmark Three.
- Some small rural libraries are not able to provide group instruction due to number of computers needed or space requirements.
- These are great activities. I've included many of them in the five year plan that I am currently writing for our library system. Since many of the activities you list will require funding--software and database purchases, staff time to create and produce classes, staff time to provide or locate training for front-line library staff--I'm not sure that they are realistic benchmarks for most public libraries during these current, ongoing lean budget years. I'm guessing that many libraries would have to look at these as goals, rather than standards.
- Yes, it makes sense. In a small library such as ours; however, there is no way that we can afford to offer classes or pay someone to train our employees.
- Where are tiny and solo libraries in all this? You really need to develop separate benchmarks appropriate to different-sized libraries. The software, we can (and usually do) provide, but it is often difficult to schedule more than a handful of classes ANNUALLY, especially if they are multi-session: If we offer "how to turn on a computer," word processing and spreadsheets, that is about all we are able to schedule. You also forgot basic tasks tiny/solo rural libraries deal with on a regular basis, such as helping technically and/or functionally illiterate patrons to navigate unemployment and job-help websites.
- 3.1 [refers to] semiannual training provide to staff from an HR or small business expert -- this will be difficult as we don't have any businesses in our county large enough to have and HR person to help us with this and we cannot afford to pay someone - we rely on our State Library or library consortium of which we are member to help with this type of training and as is the case in most places, the State Library's budget has been cut so much that they struggle to provide staff training for the public library on an annual basis -- it is a good goal to set but I think will be difficult for most rural libraries to meet
More Information, Resources and Clarity, Please.
We had many responses that asked for clarity and simplified vocabulary, as well as resources to support this important work.
- What, exactly, does "curated" mean?
- The vocabulary is too sophisticated and has too much library jargon.
- Most of the people who are job searching are lacking in computer skills. When we have classes, they don't come. There are so few jobs in this area, everyone is discouraged. We need ideas for job creation and training on how to follow through on them. Easily accessed examples of GOOD resumes and cover letters - with information on how to format margins, create letterheads for cover letters, and proper placement of a letter on the letterhead. I can do it, but it would make it much easier for patrons if they didn't have to ask for help, but could just see it.
- Models of pre- and post-surveys would be very helpful.
- They do make sense. I don't need more information, but I think examples are always helpful--which databases for career development?
- All the factors are stuff - I don't see anything about staff attitudes or training in assisting workforce development or job seekers. Attitude and respect go a long way in assisting someone who has been out of work for years, is chronically under employed, has life factors that hinder employment options such as a disability or child care needs, or is simply very discouraged and seeking someone to blame. Many can be put off by the attitudes and perceptions of agencies that are supposed to help them.
Thanks for Helping!
Thanks to everyone who continues to lend time and share expertise for this initiative. Each time you offer your ideas and feedback, the project gets stronger. If you haven't yet shared your ideas on the Edge Initiative, sign up for our monthly newsletter to learn about the project and find out about our monthly survey (AND win a prize if you're lucky!).