Libraries are a helpful resource during economic crisis

Guest Column • Norma E. Blake

During the past year, over 100,000 New Jersey residents lost their jobs, adding their names to a list that was already well over 200,000. Many families in our state are facing economic challenges, some for the first time. Businesses, both large and small, are closing their doors as their revenue stream is squeezed by a lack of available credit and reduced consumer spending. As families and businesses cut their budgets, they are turning to their libraries to make up for some of those cuts and shave expenditures.

“As a small business owner, in these struggling economic times, every dollar counts,” Lisa Harper of A&L Harper Trucking Company told us. “I learned that the Burlington County Library subscribes to a database through the New Jersey Knowledge Initiative (NJKI) that I was about to pay a couple of hundred dollars for. Since then, I’ve learned of other resources available for businesses at the library.”

Rachel Schneider, owner of Magnus Marketing Group, finds the library’s resources vital to her business and the businesses of her clients. “I work with a lot of small and start-up companies who like me, could not afford to subscribe to the databases my library provides,” she said. “With the resources on NJKI, we are able to research business and industry trends in newspapers and trade journals. It allows small unknown companies that cannot afford to advertise or have a website the opportunity to be discovered. By using Frost & Sullivan, I was able to put together an effective business plan for one of my clients to guide their success, and use the resources available to find prospects to help grow all of our companies.”

In response to these harsh economic times, libraries are not just maintaining services, like NJKI, but adding programs to help those community members who have lost their jobs to learn new skills, to cope with new challenges, to ease their fears and to help their bottom lines. Some of these people are not strangers to the staff, but it is the first time in many years — perhaps their entire lives — that they have come to the library unemployed and worried about the future. Some have little or no computer skills, have never created a résumé, and have never looked for a job online. For those with laptops who have cancelled service at home, our libraries offer free Wi-Fi. Some small business owners have seen their business plans ruined and need expert advice on how to reorganize their business to preserve its viability.

Our librarians are reporting that computer use is up substantially — an average of 25 percent — as a direct result of the increase in unemployment. At the East Brunswick Library, their 50 Internet stations are always busy. In Plainfield, the 19 public computers are busy 11 hours a day, six days a week; and the Morris County Library has seen a 275 percent increase in attendance at its career seminars.

Libraries all over New Jersey have transformed themselves to meet the needs of their communities by scheduling career counseling, résumé writing and networking workshops; English as a second language and citizenship classes; basic and advanced computer classes; and classes on financial literacy and management. Some have set up career centers and are working with their local employment service offices to bring in speakers in the evening. Libraries in Caldwell, Cranford, Princeton and South Brunswick have scheduled SCORE programs and counseling sessions for small business owners.

With this increase in demand, one of the things we realized was that many of our customers, now faced with economic challenges for the first time, might not know what assistance is available or where to get information about those services. In response to this need, the State Library created Get Help! at, which provides links to a spectrum of important service providers covering everything from applying for food stamps and children’s health care to veterans’ services and foreclosure prevention help.

In spite of the need and in spite of the increased usage, many of our libraries — 28 percent in our random sample — are reporting decreased operating budgets. This will result in a reduction of products and possibly operating and staff hours, occurring at a time when New Jersey families need their libraries the most. Your library is a valuable resource in your community — for adults, teens, children, seniors, businesses, organizations. It’s a vital resource at a very affordable price.

With their wealth of resources, variety of programs and increased services, our libraries are striving to make these difficult times a bit easier for small businesses and families facing economic and employment challenges. The personal service our users receive can relieve some stress, remove some doubt and increase confidence. Our libraries have never been more important to the citizens of New Jersey and are committed to providing the resources our users need to speed their personal recovery, which, in turn, will aid in making our national recovery much faster.

Norma E. Blake of Moorestown is the New Jersey state librarian.