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House Education and Workforce Committee releases Danielle Milam’s statement to Congress

Public libraries today embody the spirit of American entrepreneurial innovation, self-discovery and self-improvement. In our Library District’s service area of 1.5 million people, over 656,000 residents are active library users. Last year people checked out 12.6 million items. We hosted 6.5 million visits and 1.4 million computer sessions, making us one of the busiest urban public libraries in the nation. Of the 13 branches here in the metro Vegas Valley, five branches circulate over a million items a year. Our newest facility, which opened in May this year, is circulating over 100,000 items per month and kids pour in from neighboring schools at 2:30 to get on the computers. In some of our 12 rural locations in remote Clark County, we are the only source of community internet access.

These statistics illustrate what has been happening in libraries since the beginning of the local recession in spring 2009. Despite a 30% drop in local tax revenues (property and sales), the Library District has maintained seven-day-a-week, 60 hour-a-week service, for the reasons you have heard today–in our region, a great number of people need to find jobs, keep their homes, get on the internet and access information for school, health or business. Since early 2009, the Library District has seen demand soar for programs that support employment search and placement: resume preparation and job readiness classes; career research, assessments, and self-study certifications; computer training and English language instruction. We have experienced a boom in volunteers, with close to 80,000 hours contributed last year by people who are in between jobs, looking for jobs, or trying to build employment resumes. We have seen more people showing up in our branches with their laptops to take advantage of free public Wifi, as households cut expenses, including their monthly internet connection.

The Library District is actively and successfully building stronger working relationships with schools, colleges, universities, and a wide variety of strong local agencies like Opportunity Village, SCORE, RSVP, AARP, Vegas PBS, KNPR, Three Square, and Catholic Charities. In that context, we are defining our role, and realigning our resources and strategies for adult learning to respond to local residents’ need to search for jobs and prepare for job interviews, retool workforce skills with new digital literacies, reinvent or expand their small businesses, or do business with employers or government agencies which are increasingly only accessible online. One of our most successful new programs is E.A.S.E. (Educational Assistance to Sustain Employment). This prototype program, funded jointly by the Library District and Department of Education, leveraged federal funding with our considerable expertise in providing adult literacy, citizenship, and English language instruction, and our knowledge of how to improve the reading, writing, and verbal skills essential to attaining and retaining employment. Another initiative in development, the Youth Digilab Design Studio, will provide youth with technology and training to produce digital products ranging from videos to powerpoint presentations to publications. We know that the result of this program will be youth who are ready for 21st Century employment environments.

We have also tuned up our portfolio of online resources which are available to jobseekers 24/7. Our website, which was accessed 3.8 million times last year, has prominent links to resources at the Department of Labor–Employment and Training Administration, the Nevada Career Information System, and private vendors like Resume Maker, BrainFuse (an online homework help and tutor service) and LearningExpress (which provides free online practice tests such as courses for realtors and civil service, or tests, such as the GED, SAT and others). Our cardholders enjoy 24/7 access to a variety of local, regional and national newspapers and business research databases, such as Business Source Elite and Reference USA.

We have strong ties to local employers and support their employment recruitment efforts with links to Gaming Work Permits, for example, and local employer job posting sites. When thinking about improving the employment pipelines of the U.S., it would be remiss not to mention the most critical role played by public libraries: promoting reading and school support. Every week our Library District holds hundreds of reading programs for families with young children, provides homework support for school-age youth, and information or instructional programs for people transitioning from school to work or work to school. Current research points to reading and new digital literacies as critical foundations for education, employment and entrepreneurial success.

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie called libraries “People’s Universities” because they support career and workforce development, support people who want to better their lives, their employment opportunities, and their ability to thrive in increasingly complex business environments.

Today’s public libraries are models for digital skill diffusion and workforce development. Every day over 300,000 Americans get job-seeking help in public libraries. The number of libraries with free public WiFi outnumbers and augments the access provided by private enterprises, like Starbucks.

We are reducing the digital divide. Our Library District is one of 5,400 libraries nationally that offer free technology classes for those who need to retool quickly with new digital skills. We also are one of 13,000 U.S. public libraries that offer career assistance, available many more hours a week than the Department of Labor’s 3,000 One-stop career centers.

As we all learn to maximize diminishing public resources and increase the return on our public investments, this is a good time to look at the public libraries which are already built, staffed, and outfitted with internet access, public Wifi, technology, trainers and specialty programs provided in collaboration with community partners in all sectors.

Today’s situation is urgent. It is time to consider new workforce development models that are scalable to the high levels of unemployment, that can quickly mobilize resources to those in need, where they are, fueled by their inspirations and inquiries.

The motto of many libraries today is “Start Here. Go Anywhere.” It reflects the free choice way people use library resources in times of transitions. We urge you to include public library roles and resources in the design of strategies to get many people to work, quickly, with relevant and current workforce skills.

The full transcript can be found here and thanks to Danielle Milam for her excellent remarks.

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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