Editorial: A workforce focus in our libraries

This editorial originally appeared on February 8 in the Pioneer Press Editorial Section


The St. Paul Public Library is spotlighting a powerful theme that unites its work and the fundraising that supports it: preparing St. Paul’s workforce.

The system and the nonprofit Friends of the St. Paul Public Library have a compelling message about a vital workforce and about libraries’ role as a place to prepare for full participation.

Many of the programs and services detailed on the library website at sppl.org/workplace have been part of the system’s work for years, but the time is right to raise their profile.

With its momentum and growing population, St. Paul is poised to compete in a global economy, the system’s new director, Catherine Penkert, told us. “Here at the library, we want to ensure that those exciting opportunities are available to everyone.”

The library wants to be a leader in helping Mayor Melvin Carter “with his vision of building a city that works for all,” said Penkert, whose appointment became official when Carter took office last month.

Expanded emphasis on the workforce, Friends President Beth Burns explains, helps make connections “we’ve known were there but we haven’t always articulated so directly.”

“To thrive in a changing society, our corporate community depends on a strong workforce pipeline,” says a brochure from her agency, recognized as one of the best library-support entities in the nation. “The foundation of a robust workforce is a community that can read, learn, inquire and adapt.” The brochure is posted at https://thefriends.org/2018/01/02/saint-paul-public-library-preparing-residents-work.

The Friends organization — committed to providing at least $1 million a year to the city’s libraries — is describing support from corporate partners as an investment in the future workforce.

The link between the libraries and the corporate community involves the recognition that learning is a lifelong endeavor that begins “at a very young age, helping children — and the adults in their lives — really value education,” Burns told us. It recognizes that “without literacy, everything else is so much more challenging.”