Librarians in business

DeWayne Bartels
Eureka librarians Nancy Scott, left, and Ann Reeves hold equipment purchased with a $1,000 federal grant.

When Nancy Scott looks at Eureka she said she sees a wonderful town, but also one in transition and in need of help.

The economic downturn brought a new awareness to Scott, director of the Eureka Public Library, of the need for technology skills here.   

Scott said librarians were seeing an increase of people coming in to use the library computers to file online for unemployment benefits, yet they did not have the computer skills to do it.

“We were amazed by that,” Scott said.

So in 2009 when the chance to seek a grant to do something about that arrived, Scott jumped on it. And, the library was successful in getting the grant. A new focus at the library was born.  

The grant money came from ILEAD U which is a continuation of the state library’s commitment to providing innovative education opportunities, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said in a letter announcing the library received the grant money.

The grant money comes from the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grant.

Scott said only eight grants were awarded in the entire state.

“That means we are a model library,” Scott said.

The libraries selected for the grant were told they needed to identify a common need. The Eureka Library partnered with libraries in Farmington, Towanda and the Central A&M High School Library which serves Assumption and Moweaqua. Each of the libraries received $1,000.  

“We chose to deal with unemployment and to focus on the positive,” Scott said.

The grant application said all the communities faced the paradox of “living in a transitional time without the necessary skills to survive the transition.”

The unemployment rate in the communities served in this grant have seen unemployment rates soar from just over 4 percent in 2007 to an average of 9.7 percent in September of 2009.

“Coming on the heels of the economic boom of the 90s, the generation of workers who assumed they would be reaching the fullness of their careers during the first decade of the 21st Century has instead seen the bottom drop out of their retirement plans,” the application said.

Scott said as part of their application they also sought out to determine the stress levels caused by the local economic picture in a six-county area.

A figure of more than 11 shows an area in high economic stress. When the figures were ascertained it showed Woodford County with a score of 9.92, Peoria County with a score of 13.51 and Tazewell County with a score of 13.39. The overall score for all six counties was 11.5.

“Our small communities are especially vulnerable to the instabilities caused by economic downturns,” the application said.   

That, Scott said, combined with the level of economic stress is why it was decided the libraries needed to have a focus on economic development and fostering a positive attitude.

So, the librarians became keen on finding ways to help anyone who was looking for small business opportunities when Katie Lemkemann, who now sells sandwiches on the library lawn on Mondays, walked in.

“She came in to the library to use our computers to apply online for a sous chef position at Eureka College,” Scott said.

“We had a Rotary Club meeting at the commons at the college. I saw Katie there. We kept our relationship going. We asked her to do cooking lessons at the library.”

At the beginning of this summer Lemkemann appeared at the library with an idea.

“She wanted to branch out and do the things she was trained to do. She wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Scott said.

“It tied in with ILEAD U. We helped her start her own business. That was just the start. We’ve already had someone else come to us wanting to start a business and asking how we could help. It was because of the interest in the library Katie generated.”

Scott said the word is starting to get out in Eureka that the library has resources for small business.

“We’re the information specialists in Eureka with a special focus on small business. It is gratifying to do this on so many levels. As a librarian I am gratified people think of us first,” Scott said.

“Every day we help people and seldom see the ripples caused by our assistance. It’s the most wonderful feeling to see the impact of what we do.”  

Scott said the library used its grant money to buy Flip Cameras and microphones so businesses could use them to create spotlights on their business that will be featured on a website yet to be developed.

“This is just the beginning,” Scott said. “We don’t know where this is going.”