Are Maine public libraries a luxury?

By Linda H. Lord, Special to the BDN
Posted April 22, 2013, at 12:50 p.m.

Please don’t answer that question until you read what today’s public libraries are doing to help with Maine’s workforce and economic development.

What does an older woman do who finds herself jobless after years employed by one company? With no computer and Internet access at home, she may not know how to file for unemployment or how to apply for jobs online. She may not know how to write a resume or have basic computer skills. What she can know is to go to her public library where she can learn these skills.

I know a 60-year-old woman with a high school education who was jobless after her company closed its doors. The local career center sent her to the public library where she learned basic computer skills, created a resume, searched and applied for jobs. This scenario happens often in public libraries across the state.

Not only do many companies — such as McDonald’s and Walmart — require that job applications be sent online, but they also inform applicants of interviews by email. What does a person do without computer access? They can use their public library where staff will help them search for jobs and set up email accounts. Plus, the computer and Internet access are free.

Non-traditional students also frequent public libraries. Online academic institutions ask public libraries to proctor exams and assessments as our neighbors seek to increase their qualifications for various jobs and advancements. The public libraries in our state also offer practice tests from GEDs to GREs. Students of every type are welcome at the library.

Often medical professionals need access to online training modules and exams required to keep jobs. These tests for recertification can be taken at Maine public libraries. I heard of a library patron who didn’t have Internet access at home but recently received her MBA by using, for the most part, her library’s public access computers.

Even when a library isn’t open, library users and even tourists can sit outside the building and fill out school applications, check on stocks, bonds and business activities or check email and do a Google search. Wireless connectivity is available in the vast majority of Maine public libraries, making Internet and email available 24/7. Tourists can be comfortable staying in Maine for longer vacations because they can access these services for free.

I know a local bank that sends people to a public library in the southern part of the state when clients ask for ways to check their credit reports.

I know small business owners that take advantage of information sessions from the Internal Revenue Service or learn better planning and marketing techniques through sessions at the public library. More than a dozen public libraries across the state have video connections allowing patrons to take part in statewide programs conducted by the IRS or other agencies and organizations. I know individuals who became better consumers through programs such as the Lawyers in Libraries project.

Are Maine public libraries a luxury? They do provide the latest murder mystery or DVD — but they are much more than a luxury to the thousands of people who receive the critical help described above. Libraries provide many other programs and services for people during their lives, from cradle to grave, but those other programs can be described another day. Check out what’s going on in your public library. There is probably something there you need.

Linda H. Lord has been a Maine state librarian since 2009 and is a life-long user of Maine public libraries. She is a former Maine Department of Education instructional technology coordinator and teacher and librarian in Unity-based RSU 3.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/04/22/opinion/are-maine-public-libraries-a-luxury/ printed on August 21, 2014