Cheri Campbell writes from the Rust Belt:
I work as a reference librarian at a public library in Lorain, Ohio, located about 30 minutes due west from Cleveland. Lorain is a smaller version of the Rust Belt cities you've all heard about: Cleveland, Youngstown, Buffalo, Toledo, Detroit. Lorain once made ships -- George Steinbrenner of Yankees fame (or infamy) owned the local shipyard -- cars (Fords), and the steel that went into them. Lorain no longer makes cars or ships things. One of the two steel mills is on "warm idle" (mill lingo for the cooling of the blast furnace used for making bar steel), which means that about two-thirds of its 1,000 employees are on indefinite layoff.
The recession of the early 1980s hit here hard and really never went away. The official county unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent and foreclosures are a huge problem as elsewhere in Ohio.
Last Thursday, my library held a "recession resources fair" to help people find out how they could perhaps better "survive" in the current economy.
At about 1:15 that afternoon -- 45 minutes before the event -- I walked out of the locked meeting room where representatives from various social service agencies were setting up their display tables about budget meals and veterans benefits. A librarian working at the desk told me that some people had already arrived to attend the fair. I looked up and saw a nicely dressed couple in their mid-30s, along with a teenage boy, browsing through our Spanish-language DVDs.
At 2:00, I opened the door leading to the recession resources fair. The family I had seen waiting came in. Maybe 10 minutes later, a man who appeared to be about 40, also well-dressed, walked into the room. He paused for a moment, taking the measure of the room. The librarian at the front desk greeted him. I could overhear him telling her that his wife had called him and told him to come down to the library to check out what was available at the fair. He circled the room, picked up handouts and the free CD-ROMs about resumes and interview skills from the employment services table, and quickly left. Other people soon followed, alone or in groups of two or three or even more. Some picked up handouts from every table, while others, more focused, headed straight for a particular table.
If someone approached my table, I greeted them and explained what the library could offer -- books on all aspects of the career search and job hunting process, computer access. I gave them handouts on resume help and offered my business card. If they seemed interested in that assistance, I then walked that person to the state employment agency table and introduced them to the counselor at that table, where they would then be told about what that agency could do for them -- job training, classes on interview skills and resume writing, referrals to GED and English language classes and more computers for job searching.
It was a concentrated version of what librarians do every day -- tell people about what we have and where else they might go for more help. But this time, the additional sources of help weren't a phone call away, but were maybe waiting for them inside a public library meeting room. I will likely never find out if anyone in that room received information or assistance that will make any kind of real difference in their lives. All any of us there could do was to try and help.