Bridging the Opportunity Divide

At This Library, People in Need Can Check Out Accessories for Job Interviews

October 2, 2018
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At This Library, People in Need Can Check Out Accessories for Job Interviews
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Young adult librarian Michelle Lee started the Grow Up program to lend professional attire to job seekers in need. Photo courtesy of the Riverside Library
As libraries expand beyond books into the realm of social services, some now provide sartorial support.

Michelle Lee was in the middle of a job-hunting workshop when the subject of wardrobe came up. “I was talking about work fashion, and one teen said that he didn’t have any clothing [suitable] for job interviews,” Lee told NationSwell. “And some teens were surprised by the idea that they had to wear professional attire” when interviewing for jobs.

Lee was taken aback by their comments. As the young adult librarian at the Riverside branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), Lee coaches local students on how to write resumes, practice for interviews and learn the skills they’ll need to join the workforce. But this was the first time Lee had thought about their attire and the importance of dressing for success.

It sparked an idea: What if the library could be a place where job seekers of any age could borrow the accessories they might need in order to impress a potential future boss?

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A selection of handbags available through NYPL Grow Up.Photo courtesy of the Riverside Library

As libraries expand beyond books and become hubs for artstechnology and social services, they are now providing sartorial support. NYPL’s Grand Central branch gives referrals for organizations that provide professional clothing for work or a job interview, as part of a program run by the economic empowerment nonprofit Single Stop. And the Queens Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia both have tie-lending programs.

So Lee submitted a proposal for a “fashion library” to NYPL’s Innovation Projectwhich provides funding and support for library staffers to pitch ideas for creative programs and solutions services for clientele. Lee ended up winning a grant to launch NYPL Grow Up as a pilot program at Riverside. Grow Up combines an attire rental service with a new series of “adulting” workshops that cover workplace fashion as well as budgeting, healthy living and other life skills.

Grow Up’s library features a range of neckties, briefcases and handbags that patrons can rent for up to three weeks. All they need is a library card (with less than $15 in fines attached to it). Grow Up even offers bow ties if interviewees are in need of something formal. “They can use it for a school performance or prom if they want,” Lee told the Washington Post.

Grow Up has already seen some success, particularly among female job seekers who report that the handbags are not only stylish and useful, but also practical: “You can put a lot of stuff in there,” one renter said.

If you would like to contribute to the program, the Riverside Library accepts donations of work-appropriate handbags, briefcases and ties during normal business hours.

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