Libraries adapt to help unemployed

People use a computer lab at the Library.

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Kai Ryssdal: This not-necessarily economic statistic today in honor of this being National Library week: The American Library Association says overall library use during the recession has risen as much as 23 percent. That means more people visiting, more people checking out books, using what libraries have to offer, as they try to find jobs.

From Colorado Public Radio, Zachary Barr reports.


Zachary Barr: Librarians meet guys like John Collins all the time. He's an unemployed security guard, and his approach to looking for work is old-fashioned: He gets out the yellow pages -- flips to the S's -- and calls security companies.

JOHN COLLINS: I'd say are you guys hiring, do you have any openings? They'd say yes, but you have to apply online for us to even consider you for employment.

So for help going online, Collins came to the Denver Public Library. But before he could send in even one application, he first had to learn...

COLLINS: How to turn the computer on, how to check an e-mail, how to make an e-mail, passwords, everything.

BARR: Did you have an e-mail account?

COLLINS: Uh-uh. I didn't have nothing. I didn't even know how to work a computer, period.

Librarians here have been so overwhelmed by people like Collins, they've had to reassess their services. Now, the Denver Public Library is offering one-on-one training with tech-savvy volunteers.

TRAINING SESSION: No space. No space? OK, let me try again.

This year, the main downtown branch is expected to give nearly 1,000 private lessons -- teaching basic computer and Internet skills and how to write a resume.

TRAINING SESSION: Now you can check here the availability for it, so go ahead and click on that.

With at least 15 million Americans out of work, libraries across the country have seen their own transformations: An Illinois library installed a new reference desk beneath a sign saying "Your Job Search Starts Here." In North Carolina, public librarians from nearly every county came together to share ideas on helping the unemployed. And some big city libraries are renovating entire floors to make more space for job-hunters.

But Jason Kuhl -- from the Arlington Heights Memorial Library northwest of Chicago -- says there's a limit to what he and his colleagues can do.

JASON KUHL: People would come in, and they would think we could review their resume. And that's just not what librarians do. We're not experts in that.

So instead, Kuhl recruited HR professionals to review the resumes. And that's a librarian for you -- someone who knows how to get things done.

According to Tula Giannini -- the dean of the Pratt School of Information and Library Science in New York City -- librarians' skills are a perfect match for the times.

TULA GIANNINI: Our field now is sort of inter-meshed with probably the most dramatic things happening in our culture, which is a digital revolution, and we're right at the heart of that. So there's much more that we can do now.

Consequently, Pratt's tweaking its curriculum to make sure aspiring librarians know how to use social-networking sites and hand-held e-gadgets. It's an interactive profession now, Giannini says, one where the library users, particularly job-seekers, should be prepared to give as much as they get.

Giannini: The user's a partner with the librarian. It's not, "May I help you?" It's like, "We're going to do this together." And I think that's where things are going now.

Another direction things are headed: shrinking budgets. Many libraries are facing severe cuts or even closing down. Though they may not care to admit it, some librarians might need these job-seeking skills themselves one day.

In Denver, I'm Zachary Barr for Marketplace.

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