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Unemployed Turn to Libraries

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On July 31, The Financial Times reported that an increasing number of people are venturing out to libraries in order to seek out job counseling, career expertise, and Internet access in order to find jobs in our tough economic climate.

I was in the Oakland Public Library's main branch last week and the place was packed. I love seeing a bustling library, but the majority of the people I saw were standing in line to use one of the free public access computers. The branch has imposed a 20-minute time restriction on the regular Internet computers due to high demand. Computers can also be reserved online ahead of time to ensure that there's little to no wait, but how do you reserve a spot if you don't have a computer or access to the Internet?

I know many libraries struggle with managing public access computers and the Cookbooks and other resources here have tried to offer advice and tips. Are you experiencing a huge influx of traffic specifically looking for job-hunting resources? Or people just needing computer and Internet access around creating resumes and finding job listings? Do you have any staff trained and dedicated to career coaching or other specialties in that area? If so, do you have any tips to share with other libraries? 

In the case of Oakland's library system, even with the growing demand, they've had to cut most branch schedules down to only open five days per week and ALL branches are closed one Friday per month due to both the city and state's budget crisis. They've even had to stop their bookmobile service until further notice. For Californians, one hope is that with a grant from the California Emerging Technology Fund, we can help get more computers and some Internet and training services into the hands of lower-income families to help alleviate the burden being placed on libraries.

Doing more with less seems to be the modus operandi for many these days... and libraries are no exception. 

Web-based software can be a solution

This is why the idea of creating a virtual library community, with online services and benefits is key. It saves the libraries' resources and the patrons' time. Patrons can access online resources 24-7, and since patrons use their own computers, usage isn't limited to the number of computers in a library. Many libraries already provide e-media to their patrons, and job search help can work like that, too — I know because I work for Optimal Resume, a company that provides online career management software to libraries (among other types or organizations). Libraries buy access to the software, and patrons can use it for free by registering with their library card number. Then patrons can create resumes, cover letters, practice for interviews and even create their own websites, all online. Their documents are stored online, so they're accessible from anywhere. Even if the library faces reduced hours because of budget shortfalls, job seekers can still access the software. Kelly Giles, social media strategist, OptimalResume.com

Libraries offering online solution for job seeking patrons

Over the past few months, we've been working with libraries across the country to provide a solution for their job-seeking patrons, even as libraries face record numbers of patrons and reduced budgets. Our software - called Optimal Resume - can help libraries on both of those fronts. Libraries provide our software - an online suite of career tools, including resume, cover letter, portfolio and website builders, and job board component - to their patrons. The library pays for the service based on how many patrons they anticipate will use it. We set up a domain for the specific library, and their patrons can register online (at the library or elsewhere) using their library ID number. Because the entire service is web-based, patrons can access the software and their document from any computer with an internet connection. Allowing patrons to access the software from outside the library frees up library computers and resources while still connecting patrons to a library service and helping them with the job seeking process. It also removes some of the career counseling burden that has been placed on librarians in the past months (see this Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/192764). Even with reduced branch schedules, patrons can still access materials because it's all housed online. Optimal Resume is just one indicator of the shift towards online resources for libraries. They're easier on budgets, and they're accessible 24 hours a day from any location.

Have a story to tell?

Tell us about your daily routine maintaining public computers, or a moment when you were particularly proud. Don't forget that what might be "that's nothing" to you may be an "aha!" to someone else!