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Seeking Your Future:

The Role of the Job Information Centers at the Queens Borough Public Library

Presented at the International Library Information and Analytical Center Conference on

Libraries and Business in Digital Environment: Social, Economic, Information, and Legal Aspects

March 18, 2002 at the Flushing Branch,

Queens Borough Public Library

Natalie McDonough

Coordinator of Adult Services

Programs and Services Department

Queens Borough Public Library

ABSTRACT: An integral part of the Special Services unit of the Queens Borough Public Library, the Job Information Center is the one place where customers can find out about a new career, develop their resume and cover letter, and find out how to interview for a new job. The library began this service twenty years ago at the Central Library in Jamaica and expanded to a second location last year in the Flushing Library. The proliferation of the Internet, with information for job seekers has complimented, rather than detracted from, the services that is provided. By navigating the JIC section of the QBPL web site, customers can search for information on job hunting in New York City or the nation. Specialized handouts on careers in nursing, education, engineering, social sciences as well as civil service have been developed. In the months since September 11th, there has been an increase in the numbers of those seeking employment, with a 72.5% increase in appointments for the last quarter of 2001.

Beginning in the early 1980’s, a Job Information Center (JIC) has been an important part of the services provided by the Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL). With the strong reputation of this service, a second location has been opened in the Flushing Library in 2001. There are a number of programs offered at each location, with services for job seekers as well as for the business community.

The Discover Your Career Potential is a self-administered questionnaire that allows individuals to select the subject areas that they are interested in, which offer insight in the types of jobs that they might wish to pursue as a career. The Polish Your Resume workshops take place in our Cyber Center, an area in the Central Library comprised of 48 public-access workstations with Internet access, Microsoft Office and QBPL’s reference databases. This workshop concentrates on improving the look of the resume, while an appointment with the JIC Librarian offers the opportunity to review the content and the type of information that should be included on the resume.

While technological advances that facilitate job seeking are an important component of the service, it is the one-on-one service that the customers receive that is most appreciated. Job hunting is a stressful activity, but it is made easier when a librarian is there to assist individuals with fine-tuning their resume, preparing for an interview, searching for training opportunities and where to look for job ads, and also provide support during the job seeking process. Customers regularly return to the JIC to express their thanks for the assistance of staff, and to report on the job that they found as a result.

A recent addition to the JIC has been a new public-access computer with MS Word and the Internet. This allows customers to search through online pathfinders designed by the JIC Staff on web sites specializing in job hunting. Two of the most popular pathfinders are “New York City Jobs on the Internet: Including the Greater New York Metropolitan Area” featuring local government and civil service sites in New York City, Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey, and “Job Hunting on the Internet” that offers more general, commercial sites offering job listings. The other guides relate to careers in particularly fields, education, engineering, nursing, social services and civil service. These pathfinders were researched and developed by the staff of the Special Services unit of the Programs and Services Department, which encompasses all the Job Information services. Each one includes links to local civil service agencies and the New York State Dept. of Labor web site as well as specific sites that relate to the profession. The Education pathfinder includes links to the National Education Association as well as links to finding teaching jobs overseas. To widen the audience for the pathfinders, they were incorporated into the JIC web site, and can be accessed by customers across the country and around the world, without the limitations of Library hours.

The TRAIN database is an online product that was purchased for the Job Information Center from the City of New York. It provides training opportunities for customers throughout the five boroughs that comprise New York City. Programs in vocational training, adult education, substance abuse treatment and vocational counseling are listed. The Job Information Center librarian accesses this database for customers and searches for opportunities that match their background and interest. It is designed exclusively for low-income individuals with a maximum of a high school diploma and lists both free and fee-based training programs. If a customer has a disability, there are specific listings there for those qualifying for VESID (New York State Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) assistance.

The Library received funding from the Federal Government through the Workforce Investment Act (1998) as a result of a partnership with the Queens One-Stop Career Center. Queens Borough Public Library is the only library in New York State with staff available on-site to assist job seekers with questions about library programs and services, including the Job Information Centers, ESOL classes, the six Adult Learning Centers, programs of interest to job seekers, such as “How to Find a job at the Post Office” and “How to become a Home Health Aide” and QBPL circulating collections. QBPL purchased the book collection in the Resource Room at the One-Stop. This collection is for in-house use only, but library staff assist customers in finding the materials in a local branch of the library. The services of the One-Stop work in conjunction with those available in the Job Information Center. Customers of the One-Stop can find job listings and financial support for training and child care, while customers of the JIC can save their resume on a disc on the computers in the Cyber Center or Job Information Center. The computers in the Resource Room do not have the capability to save work onto a disc.

A collaboration with the Adult Learning Centers has resulted in a series of programs for job seekers in both English and Spanish. The English series included sessions on finding a job in New York City, the basic “Language of Work” about how to read job advertisements and interpret them, “Job Words” including the terminology for particular professions, trades or certificate programs, basic writing involved in a job search from applications and forms to cover letters, resumes and thank you notes for interviews. Two sessions were held on the actual job interview, with a final session on making use of the resources available in the community, whether it be the library, government agencies or local non-profit organizations. The Spanish language programs had a different emphasis, and had more information for those who are new to New York City or the United States. The highlights of these workshops were the information on documents and information needed for work, safety on the job and how to be protected against accidents and chemicals, workers compensation that is available in case of an accident on the job and how to be protected against illegal work conditions and wages that have not been paid for hours worked.

Customers have always known that the JIC has been an important service offered by the Library, but this has never been more true than in the months following September 11th, 2001. With this terrible tragedy, the rosy employment picture that has existed in New York has changed dramatically. During the quarter immediately following the World Trade Center disaster, appointments with the one Job Information Center librarian in the Central Library increased by 72.5% over the previous quarter. Groups of professionals who have not had to hunt to find work are suddenly coming into the JIC and not knowing where to look for any opportunity.

There are a number of fields that suffered immediately after September 11th, primarily airline reservations staff, hotel and restaurant workers, security guards, and those employed with “dot.com” companies. A second wave of job seekers emerged in the first few months after the disaster: those with backgrounds in banking and finance, retail sales staff and interestingly, drug and alcohol counselors and social workers. These customers have been particularly frustrated in searching for a job as it may be the first time that they have had to actually go out and hunt for employment. In this way, professionals and those in blue-collar jobs are facing the same poor job prospects, not just in New York City, but across the country.

The most common request for customers of the JIC are those seeking classes on, preparation for, and sites offering , the GED (General Educational Development) high-school diploma test. Some customers have previously dropped out of school and now wish to study for the GED, while others have recently arrived in the United States and do not have the educational background necessary for employment. Another trend involves those who have advanced diplomas or degrees from other countries, and need information on how to get these credentials recognized in the States. The staff of the Job Information Centers, particularly in the Central Library, have developed an extensive collection of print resources on resume writing and cover letters, as well as backgrounds on specific careers and educational materials on college requirements for undergraduate and graduate programs. The Occupational Outlook Handbook provides excellent material for specific job titles on the nature of the work and working conditions, educational or training requirements, earnings and the outlook for that field. The Handbook is available in print and on the Internet.

In addition to services for job seekers, the Job Information Centers hosted two very successful series of programs on building a business. The initial series, “Beginning Business Basics” focused on starting and financing a new business, and promoting Library resources that were available to entrepreneurs, specifically the Business, Science and Technology Division of the Central Library and the Small Business Center in the Far Rockaway branch. Due to the success of this series, a more specialized series, “Beyond Business Basics” was developed. These programs are more focused on topics of interest to emerging businesses. The “Business ‘net” workshop is a “hands-on” session conducted in the Cyber Center in the Central Library and discusses how to find and make maximum use of web sites to promote an existing business. Another session features the outstanding international business resources of the Flushing International Resource Center, held on-site. The third and forth sessions deal with marketing strategies and how to conduct analysis of the needs of customers, the products of competitors and determining necessary product development. The last session is on that most critical element in expanding a business, real estate, or as the title of the session refers to it, “Location, location, location”.

The Job Information Center is a vital part of the services provided by the Queens Borough Public Library, and one where technology and one-on-one customer service come together to maximize assistance to our customers.

Copyright © 2002. International Library Information and Analytical Center.
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