Streams

Librarians Vital Aides for Job Seekers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Since the economy went into tailspin last fall, librarians have been fielding some serious questions.

THORNTON: Everything from I’ve just lost my job how to I file for unemployment or I’m considering a career change where do I start?

Ann Thornton is director of reference and research services for the New York Public Library. To address torrent of queries coming from the newly unemployed, the library has started a new job search center. WNYC’s Ilya Marritz was at the launch yesterday and brings us this story.

REPORTER: New York Public Library President Paul LeClerc christened Job Search Central by recounting the story of a certain young man graduating from college in the early 1980s.

LECLERC: He came to one of our librarians at the Mid-Manhattan Library and he said he wanted to be a community organizer. How could she help him?

REPORTER: The man, of course, was Barack Obama. And the librarian’s advice did eventually lead to an organizing job in Chicago.

Paul LeClerc said anyone asking a librarian for help could one day become president, or maybe an important CEO.

But right now, the need is more basic, and urgent. After the economic meltdown began, foot traffic to libraries surged 12 percent. The library did a survey to find out what was drawing so many people. Librarian Ann Thornton had this to say:

THORNTON: One of the things we found out from users coming to this particular building was 34 percent of them were looking for jobs.

REPORTER: We’re in the Science Industry and Business Library on 34th Street and Madison Avenue, the old B. Altman Department Store. Inside, it’s all aeron chairs and new computers.

Thornton says Job Search Central was created with $1.2 million in existing funds, since the library’s own budet was been squeezed.

THORNTON: This was done with minimal resources, across the system, allocated to helping users find jobs.

REPORTER: The new center brings together 8,000 books, 11 new computer workstations, private meeting rooms, career development classes, and most importantly, staff trained to assist job seekers and when the doors close at night, librarians are are still available online.

THORNTON: It’s chat reference and so you can chat online live with a librarian any hour of the day.

REPORTER: Midday on Tuesday, and the place is full.

ABNEY: I’m a novice at this, I’m computer illiterate.

Elliott Abney from Harlem got a personal email address for the first time a few months ago, after he lost his job as a psychiatric technician.

ABNEY: I have my resume - a very cut down version in my email, Yahoo!. So I go on Craigslist, I look for positions, in the helping field. Working at a senior citizens home maybe.

REPORTER: Abney says at his age – 58 – it’s hard to do everything electronically.

ABNEY: I’m used to the one-to-one, the eye contact, to be able to explain what experience I have.

REPORTER: Much of the need right now is in basic computer literacy. But Ann Thornton stresses that she and the other librarians also see a lot of management-level professionals. And Gen Y-types.

People like Michael Stulic. In 2001, fresh out of college, he was determined to get a job on Wall Street. Conditions were not optimal.

STULIC: It was probably the worst economy after this one in the recent years.

REPORTER: A friend suggested Stulic try the public library.

STULIC: So I came in, checked out the database, and eventually I was able to land a job at JP Morgan.

Fast forward to yesterday. Stulic stands in a crowd of people celebrating the launch of Job Search Central. He’s now an experienced credit derivatives trading assistant.

STULIC: I’ve been there for seven years, so it worked out pretty well. You’re still hanging onto a job in a sector that’s troubled.

Actually I just got laid off last week so it’s, I guess it’s kind of fortunate that this came around.

REPORTER: Stulic says he’s making some personal connections, trying to find another job in finance. And if that doesn’t work out, he’ll be back at Job Search Central.

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