Columbia Public Library offers job application assistance

Friday, March 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:14 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 20, 2009

COLUMBIA – Since the age of 15, Michael Pierce has been a member of the workforce. He never needed an e-mail address or a resume to find a job until now. A month ago, he didn’t have either. Now, he has both.

Pierce, 54, has been attending sessions at the Columbia Public Library that are helping him overcome limited computer skills and apply for jobs online. The job application assistance drop-in session showed Pierce how to fill out forms and applications. A librarian helped him create a resume and set up an e-mail account that many employers require.

"Now I can do an application for a job, and I can e-mail them my application online," Pierce said.

Pierce isn't the only person in search of work. The unemployment rate in Missouri hit 8 percent in January, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

Since the IHOP he worked at in St. Louis closed nearly six months ago, Pierce has been jobless. He's been staying with relatives in Columbia since December while looking for work. Pierce said he's been applying to about three jobs a day and would take just about any type of work – food service, assembly or packing and shipping.

Pierce tries not to let the discouragement faze him. “I just take the bitter with the sweet," he said. "I just stay focused.”

The job assistance program at the library was started in September when the librarians noticed that the public computers were being used by people who were trying to fill out job applications. Since the computers have a one-hour limit and most applications take longer, the library decided to set time aside for people to work on applications and get one-on-one help.  They now offer a weekly job application assistance drop-in session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. each Tuesday. The program had a quiet start but has seen increased interest since the first of the year.

Steve Donofrio, a public services librarian, said there is a "variance of people" who use the program. Some of the people are familiar with computers and filling out forms but just need the space and computer time, he said. Others need help with drop-down menus, mouse use and e-mail.

He said he has seen job seekers in their mid-60s who probably have never used a computer before, and teenagers who are not computer literate. On a normal day, three to five people drop in; on a busy day it might be seven to 10.

Donofrio helps people create a resume, get an e-mail address if they don't have one and fill out applications. Some people struggle since each company has a different online application.

"Even that for some people is a whole new conceptual jump," Donofrio said.

People also use the time to practice their computer skills using Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint tutorials that the library provides.

"They realize that a lot of the jobs they see like an office manager or whatnot requires basic computer skills," Donofrio said.

Sandra Crews, assistant teaching professor of business at MU, said Internet recruiting is increasing because it is cost effective, efficient and convenient. "Online applications often require the standardized information that employers want to know, whereas, traditional resumes only present what applicants choose to tell potential employers."

“My advice to applicants is simply to follow the recruiters' instructions for applying," Crews said.  "If they only accept online applications, then apply online. If they accept traditional cover letters and resumes, then submit hard copies that highlight applicant's skills and experience. In my experience, networking is still the best route to a job."

A 2007-2008 technology access study by the American Library Association reported that 22.9 percent of libraries help patrons complete job applications. This is an increase from 21.5 percent in 2006-2007.

The Daniel Boone Regional Library reports the use of Internet computer sessions has increased 7.2 percent, and the Columbia Public Library has seen an increase of 12.4 percent in library visits between January 2008 and January 2009. In January 2008, an average of 197 people visited per hour, and in 2009, the number of people increased to 227 per hour.

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