by Gina Duwe, Janesville Gazette Reporter
Originally appeared November 1, 2010 in the Janesville Gazette.
When area libraries started offering computer classes geared toward job-related skills two years ago, organizers found many of the laid-off auto industry workers had never used computers.
"They really needed the basic computer skills," said Ruth Ann Montgomery, director of the Arrowhead Library System, which coordinates and expands services at Rock County libraries [in Janesville, WI].
The libraries since the late 1990s had offered computer classes, but when word hit that the area would be flooded with thousands of laid-off workers, Montgomery took action.
Her efforts secured federal grants and set up classes focused on job-related skills at each of Rock County's seven libraries. This year alone, more than 330 classes have been held serving 1,782 residents, she said.
Because of Montgomery's outreach efforts, she recently was named this year's recipient of the Frances de Usabel Outreach Services Award, which is presented annually by the Wisconsin Library Association's Outreach Services Round Table.
"Throughout her career, Ruth Ann has been this person who is connected and knows what is happening in the community," said Barbara Huntington, youth and special services consultant for Division for Library, Technology and Community Learning at Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. "She just exemplifies outreach."
The award is named in honor of the former special needs consultant for the Wisconsin Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning, Frances de Usabel. De Usabel successfully advanced outreach services in Wisconsin public libraries for many years. Montgomery will be honored at a conference awards banquet Thursday.
"I was very humbled by it," said Montgomery, an Evansville resident.
The award recognizes libraries or librarians who take services beyond library doors and reach into the community, Huntington said. Montgomery has been a mentor for Huntington, who formerly was a consultant for the South Central Library System in Madison.
While Montgomery received the award for a specific project, it's almost a lifetime achievement recognition because of the connections she's made among segments of the population—the Hispanic community, seniors and children in poverty, Huntington said.
The libraries don't have a lot of stats about the computer classes, which Sheryl Oberle teaches, other than anecdotal stories, Montgomery said. The stories show people are learning a lot and having successful job searches afterward, she said. This year, the system started offering computer classes in Spanish in Beloit, she said. Rock County residents interested in a computer class should call, visit or go online to their local library for a schedule.