Those looking for work but lacking in basic computer skills may find the process difficult and frustrating.
From composing a professional-looking resume to filling out an application, the ability to use a computer is vital in simply getting one's name considered for a job. And, of course, many jobs require at least some basic computer know-how at the workplace itself.
In October 2010, the James Prendergast Library opened a new Public Computer Center, featuring 16 workstations at which unemployed and underemployed adults could be trained in what they need to know to make themselves more viable candidates for the job force. Many have turned out over the past few months for classes that have been offered in the lab in computer basics, resume training, word processing and other skills for that purpose.
Kay Finley, left, receives training from Jamestown Community College instructor Janet Haveron in the Public Computer Center at the James Prendergast Library.
Roxanne Meredith, left, receives training from BOCES instructor Kathy Collver in the Public Computer Center at the James Prendergast Library.
And recently, said Cher Oquist, Public Computer Center librarian, the fruits of their labor are beginning to ripen.
''When I get a phone call (from a student, saying) that they have found a job, I am so happy for them,'' Ms. Oquist said. ''It's so rewarding helping them. They get a job, and it helps them and their family.''
In recent weeks, Ms. Oquist said, five students have reported that the training they received through the Public Computer Center has helped them find a job.
One of the students is Brenda Hull, who said she came to the Public Computer Center for resume training and to get over what she described as a fear of computers.
''I learned how to do certain things and not be so afraid of them, afraid of hitting the wrong button,'' she said. ''(Ms. Oquist) gave handy little hints, things that will stick with me.''
Ms. Hull, owner of Gold Star Treasures in Levant, said she has been self-employed on an on-and-off basis for the past 20 years but was in need of a second job to supplement her income. She said she was having difficulty finding one, however, because of both a lack of computer skills and a resume that some saw as outdated.
''It was four or five pages (long), and this helped me kind of get it into a different format,'' she said. ''It just kind of helped me figure out a more modern way of doing my resume, punching it up, getting it sorted out.''
The computer skills she learned in the Public Computer Center also were helpful to Ms. Hull, she said, and she said she believes herself to be of an age range that is not desirable to many employers.
''They all want the young kids who have computer skills, and most of the jobs I've noticed needed that,'' she said. ''I had been trained for various jobs on computers, but I couldn't just step in and do whatever.''
After applying for a job as a dietary aide at Lutheran Social Services, Ms. Hull said she was surprised to be offered the job. She accepted the position and said she was relieved to finally find work after months of searching.
She said she isn't sure what made the staff at LSS choose her, but when looking around at her co-workers, she knows the upgraded resume and newfound computer skills couldn't have hurt.
''I have no idea what people are looking for any more,'' she said. ''I would say 90 percent (of the employees in the dietary area) are very young - high school kids or early college age. ... I was really surprised when they hired me. Something must have set well with them.''
Ms. Hull's story is just one of several successes that have come out of the Public Computer Center recently.
Another student who came to the library for coursework and assistance in the job search has found work as a boom operator. One who received help formulating a cover letter announced recently that he had been hired as a short- and long-haul tractor-trailer driver. Another who received one-on-one resume and cover letter help has gotten a job at a local nursing home at an activity assistant. Another still found a job at the Audubon Society as a volunteer coordinator and office manager.
Ms. Oquist said that there have been other successes within the center, especially noticeable in her Let's Start With Computers courses. The difference between what she sees when she arrives for the first class - when people are sitting at the desks, not touching the keyboards - and when she arrives for the eighth week of class is astounding, she said.
''I walk in and one person is on Facebook, one person is searching for jobs, one person is emailing their grandchild,'' she said. ''It's amazing to see the transformation, the confidence it builds and the skills they learn.''
The Public Computer Center was created after the Prendergast Library was one of 30 libraries and five mobile training centers in the state selected through a project called Broadbandexpress@yourlibrary, which made grant money available to libraries in communities that feature a high percentage of unemployed, underemployed and low-income residents.
Coordinators from Jamestown Community College and Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES have been brought in to allow the center to meet multiple target populations simultaneously. Ms. Oquist said that a wide range of students attend courses in the Public Computer Center.
''(There are) people who have been laid off, people who are looking for a job for the first time, people who want a better job,'' she said. ''The patrons have been very appreciative.''
Courses offered in the Public Computer Center include Introduction to Computers, Introduction to Windows, Introduction to Word Processing, Introduction to Spreadsheets and others. One-on-one assistance in other job-search needs is also available.
Helping people find jobs and better their situations in life is an exciting thing, Ms. Oquist said.
''Initially it took some time, but now all of a sudden we're starting to see results,'' she said. ''That's the true reward, that's the fruit of all the labor.''
For more information about the Public Computer Center at the Prendergast Library, as well as a full class schedule, visit the center's website at prendergastlibrarypcc.weebly.com or call 484-7135.