Friday, November 18, 2011

Job in a Box CLA presentation 2011 #calibconf

(I am posting the slides and text from my California Library Association conference presentation. It provides a little more detail from when we unveiled the machine back in June. Feel free to contact me for more information.)

Good Morning. My name is Jeff Scott and I am the Deputy County Librarian for the Tulare County Library. Our program is about our Job in a Box. This is a $60,000 LSTA project that would place a Brodart Lending Library book machine in the Visalia and Dinuba Workforce Investment Board One Stops. We fill the machines based on feedback from library staff, library circulation statistics, and job coaches at the One Stops.

Pitch an idea
For those unfamiliar with this new way of applying for LSTA grant, I will provide a little background. The program is called Pitch an Idea. Instead of investing the blood, sweat, and tears over a grant that may not get funded, the state library has simplified the process here. You get a notification that these grants are available and you have one week to write up your elevator talk, develop a total cost, and submit that to the state. The State Librarian, with a group of experts, then makes conference calls with questions about your proposal. If you make a compelling case, your project gets funded. I really like this approach since it saves a lot of time for library staff and it’s an opportunity to be very creative.

What inspired the project? This project was actually one of two we submitted to the state library. For those of you familiar with Pub-Lib Robert Balliot you may recognize the phrase, "There’s a Book for That." That was actually the title of our other project that we had submitted. The idea behind that was that we would place a machine in community centers around the city with a focus on that center’s purpose. For instance, if there was an Art Museum or non-profit center, we would place a machine in there and create a collection based on the users needs. If it is a history museum, we would place a machine in there and have materials relating to museum displays. Lastly, we included Work Investment Board One Stops. After carefully considering the work that would be involved in placing several of these machines in the city and throughout the county all at once, we decided to focus on the biggest need, job assistance.

Segway to partnership
Last year, the State Librarian’s office held a conference to help library directors collaborate with their local Workforce Investment Boards. The Department of Labor had recently instructed their local boards to work with their local community specifically targeting libraries.

De-facto job centers
For many years, libraries have acted as de-facto job centers. We help with resumes, set-up email addresses, and navigate an often complicated online application process. Even though we often receive no recognition (monetarily speaking anyway) for these efforts, it has become particularly critical for libraries to take on this role during our recent recession. We are the safe place to forage in this harsh winter of recession.

The biggest objective for a library to build a partnership with the Workforce Investment Board is funding. When you turn on the news and you hear about job bills that are trying to get pushed through Congress, much of that funding is going to your local Workforce Investment Board. Most of the money that they receive is distributed to partners in the area. Adult Literacy and Job Assistance are two of the key sources of funding. The key to receiving funding is to partner with WIB and put yourself in a position to receive distributed funds. One of the key aspects is to find out more about how your local WIB operates.

Libraries and WIBs are Similar     
WIBs and Libraries work in a very similar fashion. If you were to enter a facility and ask for job services, you would fill out an application, and then be whisked to a computer center. These centers look just like computers in libraries. Some examples:

Computer Labs
There are no time restrictions in the WIB centers. They can actually be there all day on the computers. It’s interesting how reversed this concept can be. Even though a library computer lab does not have to have a specific mission, a WIB center obviously does, yet you can get completely unrestricted time. Customers can go in the center and not do one bit of resume writing or job searching. Furthermore, there isn’t anyone on the floor to help them with the computers. Typically, there is just a security guard available. A typical WIB center doesn’t receive funding to provide this service, therefore, support is minimal. And you wondered why you receive so many job seekers at your computer labs; you are the only one there to help them in your communities.

Job Coaches
Most of the steps taken by serious customers involve Job Keys, Job Coaches, and Placement. A customer comes in and asks for job services. The customer is brought over to the computers and takes a job keys test. This makes an assessment of their abilities. If their abilities are below what the One Stop can support, they can refer the person to other services. Often, the library will see those people who don’t make that cut as they may require literacy skills or someone that can provide technology training that WIB doesn’t provide. Those that possess necessary skills are passed onto job coaches. Job coaches work with the customer to find out more about what the customer needs. If they possess the right set of skills, they can more likely be placed. Those successfully placed at a job provide the revenue for One Stops.

Where WIB makes its money?
One Stops make their money on placement. How many of the unemployed can they find jobs for? They do this very well. For example, a recent grocery store chain Vallarta came into town needing employees. WIB already had the names and abilities of people that would fit right into the job on their rolls. They established the interviews in their facility and helped with all the paperwork. The grocery store was able to get up and running far more quickly with their help rather than having to do all of the work, the advertisement, the placement all themselves.

How do libraries fit in?
Libraries can fit into the funding cycle by searching for ways to partner. The local WIB in Tulare County has an Employment Connect Council that coordinates all job training efforts in the county. CSET, Proteus, and other private contractors all go to this meeting and report. They also get many of the magnets to come in and give a talk about what they are looking for in employees. We were able to become part of this council and talked about our computer classes, literacy programs, and job seeking assistance efforts. After this meeting that the State Librarian coordinated, we got a seat at the table and began discussions on how we can partner.

Gaining a Foothold
One way the library could integrate itself into the One Stop service flow was by providing resources at critical junctures. When a customer came in, the ones that have the highest potential for getting a job are provided a job coach. This person provides guidance and resources. The library can play a very strong role here by providing the needed resource. In the past, we had tried office hours (providing a staff person available to answer questions and help with library services), but we wanted something that had smaller staff time and higher impact. Job coaches often refer their clients to book resources. What better place to get that resource than at the library? However, an easier way to go about it was to provide the books at the point of need. They may make referral to us, but that doesn’t mean we will see that person. This is how we decided on using the Brodart Lending Library book machine inside the One Stops.

Previous Experience
We have had previous experience with these book machines. Last year, we were awarded a United States Department of Agriculture grant to provide library services in poor rural areas. We used the lending library and placed it in the small town of Cutler near a school. The circulation on the machine by children was more than we could have possibly hoped for. The first day we had the machine, the books were almost entirely cleared out. We decided that we can use this as a model to expand future library services with minimal staff impact.

One Stops
We decided to place the machines in the Visalia and Dinuba One Stops. We decided on those two since out of the four One Stops in the county, these were the only two that were run by our library (Porterville and Tulare libraries are run by the city, but there is still potential to partner with them to expand the book machines there).

What needed to be accomplished
The many problems with this plan were manifest. We could place a book machine in the one stops, but who would choose the books? What would happen if they didn’t have a library card? What are all the obstacles that we could face? Furthermore, how could we encourage One Stop Customers to be full library patrons if they didn’t have to come to the library to get materials? What cross training was needed for WIB and library staff so that we can know what we both do?

Our plan was to coordinate the unveiling of these machines with a program that was paid for through the state grant. The grant would pay for cross training of both WIB and Library staff. Furthermore, Paul Clayton, a popular motivational speaker for One Stops, was hired to have the kick-off program in April of this year. Our main problem was how to solve these operational problem between February and April.

The Collection
What material would go in the machine? The library already had a strong test collection that includes GED, ASVAB, and SAT prep, but we had to research the most popular items that would be most beneficial for job seekers.

We surveyed our reference librarians and ran circulation statistics in the areas of 658 (business), 373 (secondary school) as well as other areas. We also asked WIB staff, particularly the job coaches, what type of books we should have. The result was a list of over 300 titles.

The problem that we encountered with this was that even though the machine could hold 300 titles, we wanted to focus on a core list and purchase duplicate copies inside the machine. That way, there isn’t a title that is missed. As you can see from the machine, you can only see what is in the front row of the machine. In the case of job help, it’s difficult to recommend a book if it is buried in the back.

Some example titles would be What color is your parachute?, How to write better resumes, 48 days to the work you love, GED, high school equivalency exam and How to prepare for the ASVAB.

Even as we filled the machine, job coaches approached us on what we were missing. Many of their customers were veterans recently returned from their tour of duty. We ending up purchasing books on how to adjust to civilian life after a tour of duty and what to do next.

Some interesting problems with the collection I will describe in detail later on. One of which was a misunderstanding at one of the one-stops about what should go in the machine. While we had agreed on workforce books, she had thought we should put childrens picture books in the machine. More on that later.

Issuing Cards
Another issue that we had to tackle was what if customers weren’t library patrons. Sure the books were there, but if there is no way to get a library card, then they are useless. After cross training WIB staff we described the problem. Staff were willing to provide library card applications since they often need customers to fill out paperwork. However, they did not have access to our database so it could not be activated in real time. What to do?

Our plan was to create dummy cards that were created with names like OneStop1 so that the WIB staff would have a live card that would work on the machine. WIB staff would issue the card, connect the library card number with the paperwork and fax the paperwork in. We would then create the patron. This worked exceeding well and helped accomplish another goal of the project, getting more One Stop customers to become full-time library patrons and realize all the library had to offer. We also saw a dramatic change in perspective in regard to the library.

We conducted a pre-survey of WIB customers and their perception of the library. We asked them how often they used the library, what did they think of when they thought of the library, and what would make the library easier to use. What we found in the survey results was that the more people used the library, the more they saw the library as other than a repository for books. After three months with the machine in place, we reversed the perception as more WIB customers became library patrons. Whereas only 18% saw the library as a place to get books in the pre-survey, 75% saw the library as a place for job resources and computers after the survey. Even though, ironically, we found a way to integrate library services into the One Stop using library books. Customers found something tangible right in front of them and once they see a small aspect of what they could do, they wanted to see all the could do. Getting a library card at a WIB One stop resulted in more customers becoming full library patrons and utilizing all of our services.

Some things to keep in mind in regards to the machine. The machine can hold up to 300 books at one time. Providing a variety of books in each row will only block the books behind the front book. It’s important to try to find a small selection of the most needed books and provide multiple copies of them. Some of these books can be quite heavy as well. An entire row of a heavy GED book may end up straining the coiling system on the machine. Sometimes it is necessary to use every other slot in placing the books or using two different rows. The Brodart Lending Library can be used with or without a connection to your catalog. If you choose to connect it, there can be issues with the SIP connection dropping that can leave the machine inoperable. We chose to leave the machine offline so any transactions are stored on the local computer inside the machine. The information can be retrieved and then uploaded to our catalog. This can even be done remotely with an internet connection. We haven’t had any issues with authentication, but using the machine in a different environment can lead to some minor problems. Even if you choose to not connect the machine to the Catalog, you will still need an internet connection to the device so that the manufacters at PicInk can trouble shoot or re-boot the machine if necessary. It’s easier to make a connection inside a facility with an internet connection as the One Stops do have. However, even in a remote environment, a sprint card can be enough of a connection to troubleshoot issues with the machine.

You should also look into moving the collection around to add more books and take out ones that aren’t moving. This isn’t necessarily a hot check-out spot since the collection is very specific as is the clientele. We don’t need to check on the machine more than once a month as circulation is low. We check-out around 10-20 books a month at each location.  

Lastly, it’s important to have all One Stop Center coordinators on the same page. Whereas we felt we were clear about what we were doing with the committee that was formed with Library and WIB staff, some people misunderstood. We had a complaint from the Dinuba facility about the collection. We had first thought that maybe the machine wasn’t working properly or we had the wrong books in place. It turns out that she had expected regularly library books, particularly children’s picture books. We explained that the machine was for workforce development materials. She still insisted on getting children’s books and actually tried to work up several rungs on the administration ladder (both up and down) to change this. This kind of issue ties back with general WIB management. While most One Stops are dedicated to providing services to the unemployed, others are not so vigilant about what customers do on their computers (in some cases booking their cruise) and therefore, would prefer to have just general library books in the machines. A further point, an ironic one at that, was that the One Stop was only three blocks from the library branch.

The Results
In the end, we changed the perception WIB customers had of our libraries. We also changed the perspective of WIB staff and administration. Our partnership was highlighted both in the Library’s and the Workforce Investment Board’s annual reports. This partnership now puts us in a position to partner with WIB for future grant projects whenever another Jobs bill is passed. Furthermore, the project in of itself has generated more publicity for the library. It has demonstrated innovative thinking in tough economic times. Furthermore, it’s generated enough interest from our foundation to warrant using the machines for a fundraising campaign entitled "Your Library in More Places". There are many underserved rural areas in Tulare County and we could use these to quickly deliver service that is more reliable and more available than a bookmobile stop. We hope to see these pop up all over the county in the coming few years.