Fairfield librarian is a 'mover & shaker' in tough jobs market
In the meantime, Sparzo said the library is committed to its program, which began in 2009. "My fondest wish is that everyone will get placed. But let's face it, there's always people looking for work. I take it one brochure at a time. I think that is what has made it be so popular -- that we don't try and map it out forever."
The program, spearheaded by Sparzo and Maura Ritz, who was the library director at the time it started, has seen more than 3,000 people from more than 39 towns come through the doors looking for guidance and resources in their job searches. The topics have included writing resumes, handling interviews, dealing with stress, understanding social media, starting a home office and a host of others.
For her efforts, Sparzo was named a "Mover and Shaker" -- one of 50 -- by the Library Journal, the premier magazine for the library world. In the category of "Community Builders," Sparzo is called a "career booster" by the peer journal. "Movers and Shakers" are considered to be helping to shape the new future of libraries and their role in their communities.
Sparzo's enthusiasm for the program is evident, but she prefers to deflect the praise she receives. She said about the magazine's award, "I, frankly, feel that it must belong to some other librarian because I know that there are so many talented people here, and I have gone to conferences and other training events throughout the state and there are so many people who are doing a wonderful job in many different areas."
Sparzo, who earned her Master in Library Science degree in 2010 from Southern Connecticut State University, said the idea for the jobs program "pretty much hit us over the head in terms of the streams of people coming in fall of 2008. Everyone that worked the public service desk realized that so much need was there and we had to do something to respond."
What originally started out as a speakers program has blossomed into a full-fledged jobseekers' employment resource stop. At first, she said, the people looking for information were commuters to New York City who primarily worked in the financial district. They were between 35 and 65 years old and had been employed for a long time but didn't know how to look for a job, didn't know the current resume standards, didn't know about social media and their personal networks had languished. "That first year was extremely tough because they were with us -- that same group -- week after week for six to 12 months or more. I think it was hard on a lot of them as individuals. The people I meet week after week are working hard at looking for work. It's just simply a function of factors that are beyond their control at this point," she said.
No one at the library thought the program would become so large and important. "We thought it would be over in 2009," said Sparzo, who joined the library full time in 2004. But when 80 to 90 people started attending the early workshop sessions, the library knew it had to keep the series going for as long as needed. Now, the average attendance at the sessions is about 40 people, who are between the ages of 30 and 70, some still looking for employment and others who have decided to change careers or go back to school when it was evident their fields were not returning. "It was everything and it is everything today."
Calling the more than 80 workshop presenters over the life of the series the "unsung heroes," Sparzo has had no trouble securing their involvement. She reached out to some and others came by word of mouth. "They all said yes. All of them. If you have to come down to what made this work, it was having such a rich community of professionals and their willingness. And many of them were small business people themselves ... so they were getting into some tough times on their own, but they came out and did this gratis. I am pleased to be able to say that it was a win-win because many of them got a follow-up ... there has been a two-way exchange -- it didn't just benefit the jobseekers, it benefited the speakers."
Susan Roughley, the owner of Jump-Start Consulting of Fairfield, has been a workshop facilitator from the beginning, and aided Ritz in formulating the series even before she convened her first class. Roughley, a marketing consultant, said she helped the library figure out who would be served and the jobseekers' requirements.
Using Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzy's wisdom about life and hockey -- "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been" -- she said the library was forward thinking in developing the program and tapping a "wealth of resources" in Fairfield through small business owners and other professionals. "They out-best themselves," she said of the library leaders.
Saying she is a "big fan of the library," Roughley agreed to lead a workshop using her business consulting and executive coaching backgrounds. She uses what she calls "reverse engineering," instructing jobseekers not so much how to gain employment but rather letting them know what industry leaders are expecting with new hires.
Roughley has an interesting twist to her involvement. She was on someone's radar because of one of the Podcasts of her workshop and was offered a temporary three-month job to fill in for an employee of an executive outplacement company in Westchester. When the fill-in job concluded, the company offered to keep her on. She has been working there for two years. She is a believer in networking, which she refers to as "giver's gain ... Something will come back to you."
As for the success of individual jobseekers, Sparzo has heard from a few who have landed jobs or have used the series as a stepping stone to switch careers. She would like to hear from more of them.
The Jobs Series is regularly modified to meet the needs of the users. Networking groups were added, the library opened a half-hour early on workshop days for informal networking, Podcasts of each workshop were instituted on the library's website, a Linked/In group was established and a new series for small business was implemented. The tweaking of the program comes directly from the jobseekers through a weekly questionnaire. "I consider that my map because I am not unemployed. In the beginning, I had no background in what this group would need or what sort of things they were dealing with," said Sparzo. "How can you really until you are walking their shoes?"
Through that feedback, Sparzo also started to hear that jobseekers wanted more one-to-one time with a career counselor so since April 5, Ann Wright, a representative of the nonprofit Career Resources, has been available on Tuesday mornings. Dozens of people -- from all age groups, educational backgrounds and skill sets -- already have sought her advice and direction.
For Sparzo, the real story behind the Jobs Series is the participants themselves. "They have become united as a group." They were a little hesitant to network at first, but, she said, "as soon as the speaker stops at 8:30 or so, they turn to each other like they've known each other for years. And you literally have to flick the lights and threaten to lock the doors to get them to leave at 9 o'clock. So there's something about that common shared knowledge that brings them all together."
She added, "This is people helping people. Certainly the speakers are helping people and the jobseekers are helping each other. Early on, the networking groups were throwing tips out to each other because they are all in different fields. They weren't competing necessarily for the same jobs. They would support each other."
As for the future of the program, it is booked through June and the networking group will continue to meet through the summer. "But beyond that, I just kind of take my cues from the jobseekers. I think it is about listening and responding ... I am sure we will be back in the fall and keep going ... The folks will keep on coming for a while, and we'll see what happens. We are committed to it."