Workers in transition – libraries responding in time of economic change – Tumbler Ridge Public Library

Tumbler Ridge has the distinction of being one of the most comprehensively pre-designed resource towns in British Columbia’s history. Built in the 1980s to support the development of local coal mines, its existence is directly connected to the success of the mining industry and subject to the fluctuations of the industry. In 2011, the international price for coal dropped, which triggered the first of four mine shutdowns. By 2014, two more mines closed and by 2015, the last of the mines went into ‘care and maintenance’ mode, mainly staffed by temporary workers. Initially mine workers were able to find work in the nearby oil and gas industry in the Peace Region and Northern Alberta, but as that industry also suffered its own dramatic downturn in 2015, hundreds of mine workers were left looking for new employment.

Many of those unemployed mine workers found their way to the Tumbler Ridge Public Library for help. While helping users work on their resumes, the library staff noticed that some of the workers were struggling with low literacy and computer skills, especially the ones who had been in the mining industry since their late teens. In the absence of a Service Canada or WorkBC centre, library staff established a temporary volunteer Resume Writing Service. As the unemployment rate rose, they decided to offer the service on a permanent basis, along with other employment and social assistance support services.

The library actively collaborates with the Tumbler Ridge Chamber of Commerce by participating in local job fairs, including BC Hydro’s job fairs for Site C. It was at one of these job fairs where the work of the library became known to Service Canada. After that discovery, Service Canada partnered with the library to provide in-depth training to library staff on Service Canada’s offerings, which enriched the information staff were able to pass along to their clients.

The library received an Industry Canada grant, which permitted it to hire an intern who provides computer and technology support to clients. The Technical Assistance Program, is held twice weekly. Clients can drop-in or schedule time for one-on-one assistance with any kind of device or computer. The service has been indispensable to many of the unemployed workers. By developing their literacy and computer skills, workers were able to search for new jobs, complete employment insurance forms online and apply to jobs with confidence.

To this day, Tumbler Ridge Public Library is supporting community members by giving them the tools they need to be successful, and providing a safe space through career transitions.

“It used to be you could just hand a buddy your phone number or a resume and have work the next day. Now you have to go online and apply. I don’t know how to do that – I don’t even own a computer.” ~ Tumbler Ridge Library User

“If you guys weren’t here, I’d most likely be dead. I couldn’t fill out the reports online for EI or assistance. I don’t own a car to get to a centre to get help. If it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t have anything.” ~ Tumbler Ridge (50+) Library User

Quotes submitted in consultation with Tumbler Ridge Public Library

An excerpt from: Inspiring Libraries, Connecting Communities: a vision for public library service in B.C.