Assessing Public Libraries’ Activities Related to Workforce Development

A Research Project Undertaken through the Measures that Matter Initiative

April 2022

(4 minute read)

Public libraries support workforce and business development activities in their communities. Examples include job search support services, computer access for online job search activities, and formal classes on starting a business. However, not much is known at the national level about the full range of library activities in this area, including how these library systems manage these types of services across their multiple outlets, how the pandemic may be affecting their responses to community workforce and business development needs, the impact of library workforce and business development services on the broader workforce and business development ecosystem, and the consistency of libraries’ ability to meaningfully measure and communicate their workforce and business development outcomes.

To better understand the role public libraries play in supporting and measuring these services, the Measures that Matter initiative (MtM) is supporting a pilot project study to investigate different models of workforce and business development activities in a variety of local contexts. Mt Auburn Associates will conduct the study. Measures that Matter is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) RE-00-16-0181-16. The Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) serves as the lead partner with IMLS for MtM.

The pilot project is designed to 1) develop a framework that articulates libraries’ roles in workforce and business development; 2) explore libraries’ design and delivery of library workforce and business development services, engagement with partners, and outcome assessment; and 3) identify potential tools to measure the impact of libraries on workforce development outcomes to help build library capacity to develop innovative programming.

Mt. Auburn Associates has developed research questions to be used in creating ten case studies of libraries engaged in innovation related to workforce development or business development service delivery and measurement. The proposed case studies are intended to build hypotheses to support further research about how libraries organize around these workforce and business development activities independently or in conjunction with other partners, their role in the broader workforce development ecosystem, and the feasibility and utility of program measurement and communication. These purposive and non-representative case studies are intended to be illustrative of good examples of workforce and economic development service design and delivery to inform future research and practitioner dialogue.

The purpose of this project is to investigate the range and provision of library-delivered workforce and business development services, how the pandemic impacted the delivery of these services, and how libraries measure and communicate their contribution toward workforce and business development individual- and community-level outcomes. The case studies will allow us to identify hypotheses in these areas that can be further tested in future research and practitioner dialogue.

To investigate the proposed research questions, the Mt. Auburn team plans to conduct ten case studies of “influential” public library systems related to workforce development or business development service delivery. These case studies will focus on:

  • the role the library is playing in workforce and business development;
  • the types of outcomes associated with the library’s activities;
  • how libraries coordinate and administer workforce and business development services across their system, including the role that outlets play in multi-outlet systems;
  • the capacity challenges of the library to take on efforts to measure the outcomes of its work;
  • the partnerships the library has with other local organizations;
  • how other stakeholders in the workforce development and business development ecosystems perceive the libraries;
  • how state-level resources, supporting policies, and other contextual factors are influencing the library’s approach to workforce and business development; and
  • the factors that impeded or facilitated library elasticity to the dynamic environment of the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The data collection will inform the proposed study’s two key deliverables: 1) a final report with case studies and cross-site findings on key themes and hypotheses and 2) three targeted research briefs that provide public libraries and other interested groups with measurement tools for helping build monitoring capacity in this area of work.

The primary stakeholders likely to be interested in the findings from this research include library associations, state and local libraries, state and local workforce development agencies, policy makers, and small business support providers. Mt. Auburn will structure the project to be responsive to this diverse stakeholder audience and focus on creating high-utility products, such as the research briefs, which identify libraries’ contributions and build library capacity for outcome measurement and communication.

The project may inform broader field learning and build research hypotheses for further investigation related to effective service delivery practices, libraries’ role in the workforce and business development ecosystem, and measurement and communication efforts regarding the impact of libraries in economic development. Libraries may identify promising practices that may better serve the needs of their communities, and more traditional workforce and small business development stakeholders, including education providers and state and local workforce development agencies, may glean learnings that influence potential partnerships with libraries.

For more information, contact measuresthatmatterlib@gmail.com or Project Director Timothy Cherubini at tjcherub@gmail.com