Tennessee State Seal
Job Help as Close as the Public Library
(Published: December 3, 2009)

(This column was originally published in The (Nashville) Tennessean Nov. 30, 2009.)

By Tre Hargett

Many economists believe we are headed for a jobless recovery — that is, one in which many sectors of the economy start to show improvement while there is little or no gain in job growth.

If you are out of work, that doesn’t sound like much of a recovery at all. Unfortunately, far too many Tennesseans are facing that situation.

The state’s unemployment rate was 10.5 percent in October, 0.3 percentage points above the national average. The rate may rise even higher following the closing of the General Motors plant in Spring Hill Nov. 25, which idled another 2,000 workers.

No doubt, these are frustrating times for job seekers. But libraries across the state are doing what they can to help.

One of the most popular amenities our libraries offer is free Internet access. In today’s business world, people need to be able to search and apply for jobs online. In many communities, particularly in rural areas, public libraries are the only source of free Internet access.

There are almost 4,000 public access computers in the state’s public libraries. Nearly 200 libraries across the state have WinWay software, which provides users with a ready-made format for resume writing.

And the Tennessee State Library and Archives has applied for more than $6 million in federal grant funding to add even more computers in rural areas. The federal grant, if approved, would also provide money to increase staffing and extend hours at some libraries.

Having access to computers isn’t of much help if people don’t know how to use them. So more than 45 public libraries across Tennessee are offering free computer classes.

Also, federal grant funding that became available last spring helped a half-dozen libraries across the state set up job training centers where visitors can get career counseling, advice on how to write a better resume or tips for online job hunting.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives helped make communities aware of those funds; screened grant applications; distributed the money to qualified recipients; and partnered with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to train librarians at 45 libraries statewide in how to help people fill out unemployment applications.

Those types of training programs can have a ripple effect. Librarians who learn new skills at a workshop often return home and share those skills with colleagues and library visitors, and these educational benefits can be far-reaching.

The Tennessee Electronic Library, another resource offered by the Tennessee State Library and Archives, can also be a great help to job-hunters. The Tennessee Electronic Library is a collection of about 400,000 online books, magazines, podcasts and other items. Its resources are available free of charge at www.tntel.info.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is also seeking federal grant funding for a financial literacy program called Smart Investing @ Your Library. This program is designed to help people make better decisions about managing their money, avoid risky financial behavior, and plan for the future.

That type of information can be particularly useful to people who are underemployed, unemployed or on the verge of unemployment.

Obviously it’s not possible for all of our state’s libraries to be equipped with every type of resource a job-seeker might need, but there is a lot of help available for those who know where to look or for those who ask a local librarian for assistance.

A visit to a library won’t guarantee anyone will find employment. But a library can be a great place to start a job search.

Tre Hargett is Tennessee’s Secretary of state.