Librarians Aiding The Unemployed

By Staff
June 9, 2009

Librarians are playing a lead role in the recession by assisting unemployed workers with applying for jobs, food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment benefits.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that according to a Library Research Service survey, 70 percent of librarians said they helped more patrons with computers in the last 12 months, 66 percent said they helped more look for work, while 34 percent said they helped seek jobless benefits.

"These days, it's really social work in some respects," said David Stoner, a librarian at the Clearwater Public Library System in Florida. "And it's really satisfying to see how much you are helping."

Andrew Breidenbaugh, chief librarian at Tampa's John F. Germany Public Library, noted that some colleagues crave the "good old days," when being a librarian was more about recommending books than about navigating technology. Nevertheless, he said, they know times have changed.

Anne Shepherd, director of the Dunedin Public Library, said that the library gives unemployed people a sense of belonging. "They come here, they know the staff, they sit at the same table every day," she noted, "like possibly they belonged to an office in the past."

As a result of increased use of public libraries nationwide, some librarians are being trained to better assist with online job search tools and other resources. The Yakima Herald Republic in Washington state notes, for example, that a project called "Hard Times" seeks to compile job-related resources for the Washington library community.

"There was a phenomenon of people coming in, seeking jobs, and having to learn how to find jobs online, how to apply for jobs online," said Rand Simmons, who manages the project.

Elizabeth Bumgarner, who works as the library manager at the Aurora Public Library in Illinois, agreed that library patrons often need assistance, and some have never even used a computer.

"Ninety-nine percent of what we're doing in the career center is education," she told The Beacon News, "teaching people how to find resources and how to use them. . . . We're exploring what people need and what help we can provide."

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