menu

John Gerzema: America’s Thriving Public Libraries

John Gerzema: America’s Thriving Public Libraries
technology

Once thought to be road kill from the Internet, Library use reached record levels during the recession as people sought education and community. Today sixty-eight percent of Americans now have a library card, the highest percentage ever.

John Gerzema
  • 13 december 2010

The Texas sun beats down on a mud-colored landscape. A hundred yards to the south a light breeze ripples the water in a shallow pond. A small herd, maybe twenty head, collects where the land dips toward the entryway to a large structure the color of pale red rock. At high noon an experienced hand shuffles warily to the entrance, unlocks a big door, and lets it swing open. The crowd that had been waiting so calmly presses forward and inside. Most follow the leader, who ambles straight toward the computers, self-help books, and résumé-building guides. After all, this isn’t some cattle ranch. It’s the Dallas Central Library, where the pond is actually part of a public fountain and the herd is a crowd of people eager to access the Job Resource Center.

Like most libraries across the county, Dallas Central has seen a surge in visitors that began when the recession started. The Job Resource Center was opened in 2009 in response to the number of requests from people seeking help starting new careers. As Dallas librarian Miriam Rodriguez confirms, public libraries have become training centers for those who need to brush-up on skills, conduct a job search, or get free instruction in English as a second language. Rodriguez commandeered some space and some computers. “No investment was needed,” she explains. “We pulled from the collection. We had computers and we got volunteers. The volunteers were crucial.” Now at any given hour you will find a retired businessman conducting mock interviews with would-be job applicants and student computer experts teaching middle-aged men who have been laid off from their jobs how to use online employment sites.

Born in Cuba, Rodriguez was so ambitious that she began working full time at an academic library when she was just sixteen years old. She fell in love with the work and became a full-time professional when she earned a degree in information science from the University of Havana. Rodriguez immigrated to Dallas in 1983. She worked as a baker, practiced English, and never let go of her dream of returning to library work. In 1989 she got a job at a Dallas branch library, where she worked mainly with Spanish-speaking patrons. Rodriguez earned a master’s degree in library science at the University of North Texas (in 2005 she was honored as her school’s alumna of the year) and she moved up the ranks quickly, becoming an administrator whose multicultural projects won her national recognition.

But these days her work draws as much on her experience as a struggling immigrant as it does on her expertise as a librarian. As Rodriguez recalls, people who had been laid off, and many who were just frightened about their future, flooded reference librarians with requests for help with writing résumés and responding to job openings posted on the Internet. Others were already pursuing new degrees so they could make themselves ready to shift into new lines of work. “They say, ‘I’m taking classes at a college and I need the Internet to take a test.’ Or they are connecting to remote sites such as YouTube EDU to take online college courses.” The concept of lifelong education, long touted as the key to future employment, now seems to be accepted at all levels of society. “In the twentieth century people had one or two jobs in a lifetime,” adds Rodriguez. “Today it’s ten or fifteen. Learning is never finished.”

Once thought to be road kill from the Internet, Library use reached record levels during the recession as people sought education and community. Today sixty-eight percent of Americans now have a library card, the highest percentage ever. In the post-crisis age, it’s better to be inquisitive than acquisitive.

The Central Library in Dallas is one of fifty companies interviewed for the Wall Street Journal best-seller: Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live.

John Gerzema (@johngerzema/twitter) is president of Brandasset Consulting and Young & Rubicam’s Brandasset Valuator, the world’s largest database of consumer behavior, attitudes and values. Michael d’antonio is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, author and reporter

+#technology
+advertising
+Community
+Culture
+Finance & Money
+hispanic
+jobs
+John Gerzema
+Luxury
+Media & Publishing
+Spend Shift
+technology
+Texas
+USA
+work
+Work & Business
Trending

PSFK 2017: What We Learned From A 75-Year-Old Instagram Star

Arts & Culture
Reports
Reports
Mobile Yesterday
Fitness & Sport Yesterday
No search results found.