Our research in 2022 for Arts Council England explored how England’s public library services help jobseekers get jobs and provide a unique combination of human help, digital and learning resources, and desk-work environment.

Our report recommends that the public library offer to jobseekers should be consolidated and expanded through local action and a national partnership with Jobcentres and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Our research gathered first-hand experience from jobseekers through ethnographic interviews across England. We heard how difficult job seeking can be, how it leaves individuals feeling anxious, stressed, and disconnected. We also heard how other services that are supposed to help, sometimes make things worse. We found that jobseekers rely heavily on public libraries, often contrasting positive experiences in libraries to less-positive experiences elsewhere.

According to jobseekers, libraries are different because they help them build confidence and encourage progression, and have free practical resources on hand. For some, the library feels like the only place where wanting to move forward is respected, with nothing like it available elsewhere.

“They’re like, ‘We are holding your hand and you’re going to reach the end of the tunnel with us.’ And you actually feel that. It’s like, ‘What is important is for you to reach that goal that you want to achieve, and we can be walking with you.’ That’s what it feels like. I’ve never experienced it elsewhere.”

(Jobseeker describing their library)

Alongside testimony from jobseekers, we looked objectively at what library services provide through two national surveys of library services. This confirmed what jobseekers were saying and showed library services provide a unique combination of three forms of support: human help; digital and learning resources; and a calm desk-work environment. This report describes in real-life terms the difference these forms of support make to job seeking and how they serve as important ‘precursors’ to getting a job. This unique combination of support is available on a national scale across England’s 150 library services, which are among the public’s most trusted institutions1 and which between them operate 2,800 individual libraries.

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