A Day in the Life: My Work at the Brooklyn Public Library

by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO

While I’ve worked as a consultant for METRO for nearly six years, I’ve also taken my own advice throughout my career and worked multiple jobs. My current other position also involves advising job seekers, at the Brooklyn Public Library.

20141204_DayinEllensLife.JPGBPL is famous for, among other things, its open-book-shaped Central Library at Grand Army Plaza, and it is a beauty of a building, recently named by the Village Voice as NYC’s best public library. I am often asked if I work there, and while I am at Central a couple of times a month, my primary duties are with the New York City Connected Communities program (NYC-CC), which supports digital literacy and provides job search assistance at eight other locations in Brooklyn. As a Job Information Resource Librarian my duties include advising residents on their resumes and job searches, teaching workshops on various aspects of job hunting, and helping to create resources to be shared with partner organizations that are also serving those neighborhoods.

While “my” Connected Communities branches are not the only places I visit – I am also regularly at other BPL libraries and do outreach – those locations are noteworthy in themselves. Each is a “Carnegie” library (built with funds donated by philanthropist and library-lover Andrew Carnegie) and the youngest one, the Washington Irving Library in trendy Bushwick, is 91 years old. Some of the Carnegie branches have fireplaces; it’s hard to imagine open flames now at a NYC public library, but once upon a time on a cold day you could warm up and enjoy a book by the fire at various BPL locations. Another one of the branches I work at regularly, the beautiful, recently-renovated Stone Avenue branch, celebrated a centennial this year; it opened in September 1914 as one of the country’s first libraries just for children.

In some ways the employment services I provide to these public library patrons are unlike those I provide to information professionals. Many of those I serve at BPL have what is referred to as “multiple barriers to employment,” which can include homelessness and limited education, work experience and reading/writing skills. I frequently refer them to other Library services, such as English, literacy and computer classes. Their goals and questions are very different from those of librarians and aspiring librarians and their job search needs are sometimes the most basic ones: creating a simple resume or navigating an online application for the first time.

In other ways, though, the job search advising at BPL is the same as advising any group of people. When reviewing a resume I always keep in mind that this is an autobiographical document chronicling the person’s work life and that it is important to give honest feedback and useful advice with respect and encouragement. Job hunting these days is difficult no matter who you are and I am sensitive to that too. Advisees can be resistant to pieces of advice they are not comfortable with - networking comes to mind! - and addressing unrealistic job search expectations is a part of almost every workshop.

While the neighborhoods and their residents that I serve have their challenges, there are also moments of (sometimes unexpected) joy and beauty, and contrast. The stained-glass windows at the elevated train stations are gorgeous especially with bright sunlight shining right through them. I love the stillness and quiet of a dimly-lit library before it opens. Helping someone who had no idea how to put together a resume and seeing the anxiety and doubt change to pride and relief when it is completed is very rewarding.

I also get a kick out of working in a library system that includes the library Francie Nolan loved so much in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, although the librarian in the book was less than friendly! (For the record, the branch that fictional Francie frequented is the Leonard Library, another Carnegie-funded location.) I’ve been called “the resume lady” and “my favorite librarian” and told “my friend said you helped her and told me to come see you” and “I’m so glad you’re here”. No two days are alike at this job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Photo Credit: Jim.henderson via Wikipedia Commons