Middletown Township Public Library creates Job Help Center for Local Jobseekers

 

By Alyssa Rosen, Middletown Township Public Library

When I first started working as a librarian for the Middletown Township Public Library in Monmouth County, New Jersey in August 2010, I received what I considered to be an odd assignment—to revamp the library programs that help people find jobs.  As someone who worked at libraries since I was 14, it hadn’t occurred even to me that libraries could help job seekers.  I sat at my desk for the first few weeks of my new job staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out what kind of events and programs we could offer that could possibly help someone find a job.

Then, I discovered a list of email addresses another librarian put together, of people interested in job information.  I sent out an email (BCC, of course, to protect the privacy of the recipients), asking people what they wanted to learn about.  They answered that they wanted tips on resume writing, interviewing, and classes teaching computer skills.  We had the benefit of a 15 station computer lab, so I began working with the other librarians to expand our schedule of computer classes.  I brought in speakers to talk about how the process of interviewing had changed since ten, or even, five years ago.  I taught classes on how to research jobs online, and helped guide people through résumé revision using well-regarded books and websites.  Everything was free and open to the public.

The library’s foundation was generous enough to provide me with a budget-- so I was able to pay speakers, and do extras like set out some coffee and cake to life the spirits of the job seekers who attended events.  At every event, I passed around a legal pad, and asked if the attendees wanted to join a jobs email list. Then, I sent out emails every week or so about upcoming events at the library, local job fairs, etc., that might be helpful.  In 2011, the Job Help Center, as we now called ourselves, received a grant from the New Jersey Library Association.  We began to reach out to help local entrepreneurs, and provide financial literacy classes.   By the spring of 2012, the Job Help Center was off the ground: we had over 200 people on the e-mail list, and some well-celebrated job “landings,” by Job Help Center participants, who seemed to have formed a virtual community.

Just when we thought that the Job Help Center had hit its stride, something special happened in August 2012.  I learned about Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN), a free peer-led volunteer job search support and networking group.  These grass-roots groups were cropping up at public libraries throughout New Jersey.  The Job Help Center suddenly expanded to embrace this close-knit group of job seekers/ job transitioners/ underemployed individuals who met every week to network and support each other through the job search/ transition process.  NHN operates on the philosophy of “pay it forward,” that is, helping others as well as helping yourself.   Superstorm Sandy hit the area in October 2012, impacting NHN members, as well as library staff.  The recovery from the storm seemed to reinforce the “pay it forward” mentality.  People from all over the nation came to Monmouth County to help clean up storm damage; neighbors helped each other through the almost two week stretch of power outages.  NHN missed only one meeting after the storm.

NHN members are learning about our library as well as learning about how to improve their job searches.  They are getting library cards, taking out books, using our online resources, and attending our events.   NHN members are learning that the library is a place they can come to get internet access, take a computer class, or to enjoy a one dollar cup of coffee in our library café area near the fireplace.  Taking a break reading a magazine, or meeting up and developing friendships, they are no longer isolated behind their computer screens.   

The Job Help Center has come a long way since 2010.  NHN has been an influential addition to its programs and services this past year.  The community spirit and library support that its members have shown has helped the library just as much as the library has been proud to host such a positive and supportive group.