Is It Working? Measuring Workforce Development in Libraries

In early September, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies released a statement about the next phase of Measures that Matter. It will focus on the “potential relationships between public library activities and community outcomes.” In this next phase of the project, the initiative decided to explore job development in public libraries.

IMLS - COSLA combined logosIn early September, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) released a statement about the next phase of Measures that Matter. It will focus on the “potential relationships between public library activities and community outcomes.”

Measures that Matter began in 2016 with the goal of coordinating a field-wide conversation around library data collection and developing and implementing an action plan. In this next phase of the project, the initiative decided to explore job development in public libraries, because such programs are an important part of libraries’ service to their communities across the country. Not only do the offerings themselves vary greatly, so too do the current methods of collecting data on their success.

This next phase aims to “learn about approaches and methodologies about workforce activities and [the] impact libraries are having,” said Timothy Cherubini, executive director of COSLA. Beyond workforce development, this phase will also help to “get a lot of clues and ideas on how we might approach other areas that the libraries have engaged in [for which] we don’t necessarily have impact measures in place.”

Currently, this initiative is in the consultation phase. IMLS and COSLA are “in the process of identifying evaluation experts to guide us through the scope and mechanics of the work,” explained Cherubini. He envisions that this next phase may kick off in late 2019 or early 2020, and take a few years, depending on the approach ultimately selected as a result of the consultations now in progress.

In parallel, Measures that Matter will continue following up on its recent report on the State Public Library Survey and the formation of a public library data alliance.

 

WHY WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT?

While virtually every public library in the U.S. offers basic assistance with resumes, many have now developed more sophisticated programming.

For instance, Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), OH, offers help with LinkedIn profiles, career coaching, and entrepreneurship classes. The Paschalville Partnership, a collaboration of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Paschalville Neighborhood Library and over ten local organizations, has created a Job Readiness Lab, staffed by Digital Resources Specialists, and holds a semi-annual job fair.

Libraries’ local presence in neighborhoods allows them to connect to community members in ways that other more centralized employment programs, notably government ones, can’t, said Julio Rodriguez, deputy director of the State of Illinois Employment and Training Office, who works with the Chicago Public Library (CPL) system in its workforce development programming.

Two major threads in the past ten years amplified libraries’ role as places to develop job skills. The first was the 2008 recession. “A lot of libraries became the de facto job centers,” Rodriguez explained in an interview. In Cuyahoga, people flocked to libraries to begin developing the new skills they needed to open their own businesses after losing jobs they had for 30 or 40 years at the same company, said Hallie Rich, CCPL communications and external relations director.

Another critical trend was the necessity of digital literacy in job hunting. Annette Mattei, project coordinator of the Paschalville Partnership, noted that the “entire job seeking market moved online in the past ten years.” Many people lacked the skills to be able to apply for jobs online. “Libraries became the first line into getting people to online resources,” Rodriguez said.

 

COLLECTING DATA

Many library systems are already collecting data on their job development programs. This data is used to enhance services, such as providing specific language resources in particular library branches.

But it’s also a matter of resources. Rich explained, “Workforce development is a high priority for [the Ohio] state government, as well as at the federal level. We need to be able to tell our story of impact in a way that elected officials and policymakers can understand and see demonstrable impact.”

And it’s not just elected officials and funders who need to hear that story: staff do too. Mary Ellen Messner, first deputy commissioner at the CPL, noted that the “data helps to tell the story internally [about] why we do it. It makes it easier to talk about and makes sure that people realize the importance.”

Patrons, also, want to know that if they spend the time to participate in these programs their efforts will be effective, Rich noted.

But challenges remain. The first issue is determining the right aspects to assess and figuring out how best to measure their impact. Just collecting data on attendance doesn’t show the whole picture. When patrons leave, is it because they got a job or because they gave up?

Figuring out a way to engage in effective data collection that also prioritizes privacy is a balancing act, Mattei pointed out.

Some systems have made significant efforts to improve their data collection as well as their analysis. CPL recently hired a chief data analyst to help answer questions such as, “Are we in the right place? Are we matching the needs of community?” explained Katherine Lapinski, CPL adult learning and economic advancement librarian.

Of course, not every system has the scale and resources for such a dedicated position in house. And local data, while crucial, doesn’t provide the national benchmarking that a field-wide initiative can. Lapinski believes Measures that Matter’s work is essential because it provides thought leadership to develop a “framework that can be shared with the whole sector, that helps, potentially, no matter where you are on the spectrum.”

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