Guest Opinions

Libraries bolster Idaho talent pool

Idaho doesn’t have the workforce to sustain the jobs we need to fill. Desirable talent such as engineers and other skilled workers isn’t widely available here, forcing many organizations to recruit employees from out of state.

Recent news reports indicate businesses considering expanding in or relocating to Idaho are no longer clamoring for tax breaks and are instead talking about the need for talent. Thus, the Gem State must invest in efforts that bring together industry and education, and libraries are an important part of that solution. So much education takes place out of school, and Idaho’s libraries are well equipped to help people get into jobs and run businesses.

Often the only source of free broadband connectivity in rural Idaho, libraries are among our communities’ most prized assets. The quality of the library is second in importance only to fire protection, according to an analysis of 67 community values ranked in 26 Idaho Rural Partnership Community Reviews that the University of Idaho Center for Resilient Communities compiled last year. This mirrors the findings of a national study conducted by the PEW Institute, which discovered libraries are more valued and respected than schools and police.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses — the lifeblood of the economy — can turn to local libraries for help writing business plans, finding financial resources, and figuring out which forms to file. Like every Idaho resident, businesses have access to our Libraries Linking Idaho website — lili.org — whenever and wherever, allowing them to boost productivity without purchasing information and resources elsewhere.

Its mighty array of resources includes a Small Business Reference Center with tools and detailed “how-to” instructions on a wide range of small business topics. The Business Source Premier section provides the industry’s most-used business research database and the single most substantial collection of active, peer-reviewed business journals. And lili.org’s LearningExpress Library offers self-paced skill-building tools on subjects ranging from business writing and grammar to math and software such as Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Suite.

Individuals can access library resources for professional-development purposes — services that are especially vital to unemployed and under-employed people preparing for the workforce and searching for jobs. In addition, lili.org includes resources that can help prep people who are pursuing a career that requires a license or certification such as real estate or law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Commission for Libraries continues to collaborate with the Idaho Department of Labor, public libraries, and educators statewide on workforce development initiatives. Individual libraries throughout Idaho are also doing exciting things. The Meridian Library District’s unBound technology laboratory lets residents — including entrepreneurs and established businesses — experiment with emerging technology. Up north in Bonners Ferry, the Boundary County Library District offers a Youth Business Incubator and a Learning Center with a Fab Lab. Plus, 28 Idaho public libraries are participating in the commission’s nationally recognized Make It at the Library project designed to create makerspaces in libraries statewide.

Our libraries are huge, economic engines in their own right. The Online Computer Library Center reports U.S. libraries purchase an estimated $14 billion in goods and services annually. Libraries also deliver an incredible return on investment, according to an analysis of 10 major ROI studies of public libraries in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin between 2004 and 2009. Communities enjoyed an average return on investment of $4.52 for every $1 spent on public libraries with ROI ranging from $2.38 to $6.96.

Communities looking to bolster their economy would be wise to invest in their local libraries. They’re powerful engines of economic development.

Ann Joslin is the Idaho State Librarian, Idaho Commission for Libraries.

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