2016-04-06 / News

The librarian will see you now

A new county library program offers personalized, one-on-one service
By Donna Burch

Jessica Gonzalez, library regional manager for the county, meets with Kim Cundiff at the Chester Library last week. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Jessica Gonzalez, library regional manager for the county, meets with Kim Cundiff at the Chester Library last week. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Kim Cundiff was in a bind. She'd been laid off from her restaurant job, her unemployment benefits had ended, and she was falling behind on her bills.

She’d sent out lots of resumes, but no one was calling for an interview. She knew that probably meant something was wrong with her resume but didn’t know the problem or how to fix it.

“I had been trying previously to get some help with my resume, and I just wasn’t getting anywhere until I came into the [Chester] Library,” she said. “That’s where things made a big change.”

In 2013, Chesterfield County Public Library (CCPL) began slowly implementing a new customer service philosophy called the CCPL Way. The idea was inspired by the library’s Your Personal Librarian (YPL) program, which connects library patrons with a librarian for 30 minutes of personalized, one-on-one assistance. Patrons often use the program to learn smaller tasks, like how to download an e-book, how to make a table in Microsoft Word or to start research on a certain topic.

The CCPL Way takes YPL several steps further by encouraging patrons to develop a long-range learning plan and then work n ividuall with librarian over a series of appointments to achieve their goals.

Before implementing the CCPL Way, librarians would have directed job seekers like Cundiff to one of the libraries’ public computer terminals and shown her a couple of employment websites. They may have also pulled up templates in Microsoft Word to help Cundiff format her resume and then left her to work on her own.

But the CCPL Way goes far beyond that. When Cundiff visited the Chester Library last October, she was partnered with Jessica Gonzalez, library regional manager, for several appointments. Together, they worked to update Cundiff’s resume and cover letters.

As part of her learning plan, Cundiff set short- and long-term goals. Her immediate need was to land a job so she could pay her bills. Gonzalez helped her with the job search, connecting her with resources on how to properly dress for an interview and improve her job interview skills. When Cundiff finally received a job offer, Gonzalez helped her learn how to negotiate a more advanced job with better pay.

With a job finally secured, Gonzalez and Cundiff then shifted the focus of their appointments to work on long-term career goals. They researched local colleges and financial aid opportunities, so Cundiff could improve her standing in the workforce.

“The CCPL Way is all about the customer experience and finding out what they want to learn and why,” Gonzalez explained. “It is taking those interactions and building relationships with our customers, so we can help people. We want to help people achieve what they’re striving to achieve.”

Cundiff’s learning plan is an example of how the county’s libraries are evolving. Librarians are no longer content to direct patrons to books or websites and then walk away. Instead, they are becoming part of the learning process by facilitating the use of the libraries’ resources and helping patrons to review and interpret them.

The CCPL Way is much more handson. It’s about helping a patron achieve his or her goals rather than just directing them to information, said Mike Mabe, director of library services.

“The customers like what’s going on,” Mabe said. “They value the librarian for their knowledge, their expertise and the ability to use resources.”

The CCPL Way is now available at all library branches, and patrons can develop learning plans for almost anything. While employment-related learning plans are common, others have focused on enhancing their technology skills, starting a small business, improving their literacy or learning more about a particular health condition or legal issue.

“It’s a big idea, and it’s not something a lot of libraries are doing to the extent that we are,” said Carolyn Sears, library services administrator. “We’re starting to see some great results.”

Cundiff is one of those success stories. In January, she began training to become a surgical assistant.

“By coming here, it provides hope,” Cundiff said. “There are resources here to help me. It’s really changed my life. It’s helped me get a lot of things in my life together. I didn’t know if there was any possibility of change before, and now I know there is. They show you how to find your path to make your dreams happen.”

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