CRANSTON, RI – In an effort to help connect more job seekers with employment, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) have introduced the Workforce Investments through Local Libraries Act (WILL) Act. This bipartisan legislation will better integrate public libraries into state and local workforce investment strategies by recognizing public libraries as allowable “One-Stop” partners and authorizing new demonstration and pilot projects to establish employment resources in public libraries.
At an event at the Cranston Public Library’s Central branch today, Reed joined Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) Director Charles J. Fogarty, Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) Chief Library Officer Howard Boksenbaum, and Cranston Public Library Director Edward Garcia to discuss efforts to bolster support for public libraries with additional resources, technology, and funding.
“Public libraries provide important resources for job seekers, such as free access to computers and wi-fi connections, as well as job preparedness programs. We want to give Rhode Islanders the skills they need to be more competitive in the job market. The WILL Act strengthens the connection between our public libraries and the “One-Stop” system to better serve job seekers with more targeted services,” said Reed. “The WILL Act would give library users better access to workforce activities and information related to training and employment opportunities, including resume development and job bank searches. Enabling libraries to utilize Workforce Investment Act resources will help them provide targeted job search support in communities all across America.”
The Reed-Cochran bill would amend the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the primary federal law that supports workforce development. The WIA’s “One-Stop” career system is designed to serve the needs of job seekers and employers and is managed by local Workforce Investment Boards, composed of representatives from local businesses, educational agencies, community-based organizations, and economic development agencies. Under the Reed-Cochran bill, public libraries would be added to the list of representatives on Workforce Investment Boards.
In Rhode Island, NetWORKri operates “One-Stop” career centers under the umbrella of the state Department of Labor & Training (DLT), providing resources for job seekers through a partnership of professional labor, training, and education organizations. Last year, Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, helped secure a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for DLT, working with OLIS, to install specifically formatted computers in 15 local libraries connected to the state’s EmployRI.org virtual career center – including two at Cranston area libraries.
Libraries in the following communities were also selected to host the computers: Central Falls Public Library; East Providence Public Library; Greenville Public Library; Harmony Public Library; Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library, in Harrisville; Newport Public Library; Pawtucket Public Library (two computers); Providence Public Library; Providence Community Library/Mt. Pleasant; South Kingstown Public Library; Warwick Public Library; Westerly Public Library (two computers); West Warwick Public Library; and the Woonsocket Public Library.
DLT has also worked with the state’s Office of Library and Information Services to offer free netWORKri workshops at public libraries around the state.
With the help of federal funding, the Cranston Public Library also hosted an all-day “Digital Literacy Instructor Workshop,” an initiative of Broadband Rhode Island (BBRI), OLIS, local libraries, and others that aims to promote broadband adoption and digital literacy throughout the state.
There are more than four times as many libraries as one-stop centers in high unemployment counties nationwide. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 30 million Americans used a library computer to help address their career and employment needs in 2009.
Reed noted that the WILL Act could greatly expand the reach of the workforce investment system by fully integrating public libraries into the delivery system and providing them with the resources they need to better assist Americans in finding work.
“Libraries are convenient and accessible. Parents looking for work can bring their kids in with them knowing that while they are able to find services they need, their children can take advantage of enriching literacy and educational offerings at the library. We need to maximize our resources and draw upon the strength of community assets like public libraries to ensure our workforce development efforts are effective and efficient. The WILL Act leverages and expands access to vital workforce development resources,” concluded Reed.
SUMMARY: the WILL Act
• Amends the Workforce Investment Act to include library representation on state and local workforce investment boards;
• Ensures the coordination of employment, training, and literacy services carried out by public libraries as part of the state workforce investment plan;
• Recognizes public libraries as an allowable “One-Stop” partner;
• Authorizes new demonstration and pilot projects to establish employment resources in public libraries; and
• Encourages the Employment and Training Administration to collaborate with other federal agencies, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to leverage and expand access to workforce development resources.