by Royce Kitts, Library Director
Last Fall I had the opportunity to attend the Association of Rural and Small Libraries annual conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One of the wonderful speakers at the conference was Sandra Nelson. She talked about how conferences fill us with so many ideas and that when we get back to our ‘normal’ routine those ideas get put on the back burner, and a lot of times just kind of brushed aside, not to be revisited. Ms. Nelson encouraged us as we attended programs that year to think of one or two things that we can take away from the conference and really make work at our library.
Now it might not come as a surprise to anyone, but we are right smack dab in the middle of a recession in this country and jobs are scarce. One of my favorite sessions at ARSL was put on by the State Library of North Carolina and was about the efforts they are putting forth in connecting citizens of North Carolina with job resources. It seemed like such a natural fit for a library to offer and tailor services to specifically meet the needs of the newly unemployed, underemployed, and those who have not had to enter the job market for quite some time.
On the way back from the conference on a bus that was chartered to take a bunch of us Kansas librarians to the beautiful Smoky Mountains, we had the misfortune of spending an extra day on the bus due to it breaking down in a little town called Nashville, TN. Lucky for us, we got to spend the night holed up in a mechanic shop. As I sat there, I really started to work on what we could do at the Tonganoxie Public Library to help people out. I tell you, I got stranded with some fine librarians. I was able to talk and plan things out with two of the best, Cindi Hickey and Laura DeBaun, and if ever I was one to share credit for anything, I would mention how much they helped me formulate a good working plan on what to do.
Hours of talking and brainstorming led to an idea I called “The Job Bank.” An area in the library where people could go to fill out online applications, work on resumes, and gain skills that would be needed in the modern job hunting environment. They could print off resumes, applications, and cover letters, etc. Then it hit me, the only way this would be better is if they didn’t have to worry about public computers that had a waiting list, or getting on a machine that auto-logged them off, and my favorite - what if they could do this all for free?
So that was what I started working on when I got back to the library. First I made a sign that said “Job Bank Coming Soon!” and plastered it all over the library. I didn’t even know what I was going to do, but I figured once I put a name to it, and put it out there, we had to get the ball rolling.
When it came to getting the computers, I was able to put a call out to libraries in my area and within just a few hours the generosity of libraries like the Atchison Public Library and the Basehor Public Library meant that we had three basic Internet machines, a printer, and a print server.
And let me tell you this, you get a good tech person on your side as soon as possible and the impossible becomes easy. I was lucky enough to get to work with Thatcher Rea at NEKLS. He was able to refurbish the computers and get in place a system that is relatively maintenance free. Not only that, but he took the time to drive up from Lawrence one afternoon and install and make sure everything worked.
Our Friends of the Library group this year was very excited about how this project helped our community and designated all proceeds from our annual Festival of Mini Trees fundraiser this year to the Job Bank. This insures that for the foreseeable future we will be able to have the equipment and supplies needed to keep this program going.
We are not sure how to measure the success of this venture just yet. It was completed at a minimal cost, with hard work, free hardware, and the volunteer efforts of a lot of people in the Tonganoxie community and from the Kansas Library community at large. A few hours ago I helped a young man log on to a website so he could look for a job. The other day I sat with a lady who for the first time had to file a government document online. She had never touched a computer. A member of a local charity group came in the other day with the newspaper and told me that at their last meeting they thought the Library was a real asset to the community with a project like this. My grandpa always said that it doesn’t matter how many people you help, it only matters that you help to the best of your ability.
Thanks again, especially to Thatcher Rea, Cindi Hickey, Laura DeBaun, and the Friends of the Tonganoxie Public Library. Kansas librarians make Kansas special.