Supporting Job Seekers at Your Library: Webinar Recap

The public library means so much to so many different people: a place to check out the latest fantasy novel, a quiet workspace, or a center for picking up new tech skills. The library can also be a place to find a new job – though your patrons might not know that yet.  

Last week, TechSoup for Libraries hosted a webinar called Public Tech Instruction: Online Job Search Assistance. The webinar featured Shannon Distel, the Business Services Librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library near Chicago. I had seen Shannon speak about job resources and small business support services at PLA and knew I had to get her on a webinar. The other speaker, Stephanie Margossian, is the Chief Operating Officer and Founder of TRAIL, the developer of JobScout.

You can watch an archive of the webinar here, but I wanted to call out some of the key points and resources that stood out to me.

Assessing Community Needs

Surveying the needs of your community is a common theme here at TechSoup for Libraries. It is an essential step to take before implementing new programming at your library. Job services are no exception. We know that the economy is in flux and there are a high number of people unemployed or underemployed. But what services are your patrons specifically speaking? Do they need help with basic tech skills needed to obtain a job? Is there an increase of jobs in a certain industry? The truth is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution to provide job seeking assistance.

"What matters is that you look into the unique needs of your community and find a creative way to use whatever limited resources you have," said TechSoup for Libraries webinar host Crystal Schimpf.

We polled webinar attendees on whether the job seekers in their communities needed basic tech skills.

  • 50% answered that most needed basic tech skills
  • 46.1% answered that some need help with basic tech
  • Only 1.7% said that their patrons were all computer literate

Clearly, tech skills are an important part of the modern workforce. Margossian made an excellent point that digital literacy influences a number of industries that weren't traditionally tech-focused, such as hospitality, retail, automotive and more.

Diverse Community, Diverse Services

At the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, job seekers have an array of services they can take advantage of through the Business Center. Patrons can meet one-on-one with a business librarian or with a technology expert. Interestingly, one of the most popular requests is help with LinkedIn and other social networks that support job seeking.

 They also offer a digital studio with a digital camera, a printer, and software-loaded computer. Patrons can work on their online portfolios, take headshots, create videos, and more. Additionally, the library has a business center with databases for video tutorials, resume assistance, and research.

One of the most popular services is one-on-one resume help. The AHML hired two contractors with professional resume building experience and human resources backgrounds. The reviews are available for Arlington Heights residents only.

Stepping Out of the Library

One of ways Distel finds new resources and programs is by actually leaving the library and going into the community. She goes to job fairs, visits church and community college job events, and attends chamber of commerce meetings. This is a great way to seek out experts who can teach classes or offer one-on-one job seeking guidance to patrons.  

Distell recommends not only partnering with community organizations, but also embedding yourself in the community. She passes out her business card wherever she goes along with a fact sheet about the business services at the library. She also takes any opportunity to speak about the library --- whether it's at a community college or in a town hall meeting.

Not an Expert? No Worries!

You might not be trained in job seeking assistance at your library, but you know the phrase… "fake it 'til you make it." Distel herself did not have a background in job assistance and business services, but that didn't stop her. The key is to find free job assistance resources, both online and off.  

Distel said she uses Learn4Life, which is also a resource offered at the library, to pick up new skills. She also relies on a YouTube channel called The Interview Guys. She also recommends tapping into free resources that are already available within your community.

Her final tip? Listen. Sometimes job seekers just want people to listen to them. The more you listen, the more you learn about what your job seekers need.

"Keep your ears open and you'll be very, very successful."

JobScout: A Must-Have for Your Library

Until this webinar, I wasn't familiar with JobScout. It's a free online training tool for jobseekers and it was designed with libraries in mind through a partnership with the California State Library.

JobScout is a self-led job skills course, available 24/7 online. Anybody can sign up for a free account to use the resources and track their progress as they gain new skills. It uses some gamification – gaming features – to motivate users. You can earn badges every time you complete a course and gain a new skill.

One question we heard over and over is whether it is only available in California. Good news! Although it was developed with the California State Library, it is available to anyone, anywhere. There's also a version in Spanish.

Overall, this was one of the best webinars I've attended at TechSoup. I not only learned a lot from our presenters, but I also learned from our attendees. We had some great discussions going in the chat about various services their libraries or nonprofits offered. 

Got job resources to share? Let us know what they are in the comments.

Resources for Job Seekers:

Links Shared by Webinar Participants:

Image: AHML