Op/Ed

Building the library of the future: Libraries enhance our workforce

DANA HART, ILSLEY Public Library Director

Workforce development is a hot topic today. I’ve noticed that many politicians talk about the importance of preparing America’s labor force for the future, and I’m always a little surprised that they leave public libraries out of these conversations. Maybe it doesn’t make a great soundbite, but the truth is that public libraries have been helping connect people with employment opportunities, build skills and improve job prospects for decades. Ilsley Public Library is no exception.

In addition to providing free access to internet, hardwired computers, and wireless access after-hours from our parking lot, Ilsley’s librarians also offer online job search and résumé and cover letter development support. It is not uncommon for someone to be well-qualified for a particular job, but lack the digital skills necessary to submit an application. Librarians provide job application assistance to help bridge that gap.

Ilsley Public Library also provides access to LearningExpress, a platform that includes skill-building resources in reading, writing, math and science, and tutorials and tools for creating resumes and cover letters, interviewing, job searching and salary negotiation. This includes access to prep tools for professional certifications and occupational licensing tests, such as the Commercial Driver’s License exam; nursing and medical testing prep; and SAT, LSAT and GRE test prep.

For community members who participate in remote learning, librarians provide proctoring services for exams. Providing these resources to everyone, for free, promotes equity and ensures that all community members have the opportunity to build skills and pursue a career of their choosing. 

The Ilsley Public Library is also, of course, an employer. In addition to our regular full-time librarians, the library employs a rotating cast of substitutes, work-study students from both Middlebury College and the Community College of Vermont, and high-school pages. The page and work-study positions do not require any previous experience, and this is significant. Your first job is often the hardest to get, but it is the gateway to all subsequent employment: Once you gain experience, it is much easier to find another job later on. Ilsley Public Library works with these students to provide a first job experience, focusing on teaching fundamental employment skills and providing exposure to a well-functioning workplace. 

The American Library Association’s recent advocacy campaign proudly claims that “Libraries Transform Lives.” This is not hyperbole. Getting a first job, learning a new skill, or passing an occupational licensing test are all defining moments of opportunity. Access equals opportunity, and Ilsley Public Library is one place in Middlebury where everyone has access to the resources they need to prepare for and pursue meaningful employment.

Read Fiona Gong’s story about her work experience at Ilsley Library. Click here.

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