Community Ties

Philadelphia branch lends out neckties to job seekers

September 1, 2016


Preparing for a job interview can be nerve-racking. Looking your best often translates into feeling your best. But if you live in southwest Philadelphia, one of the city’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, where the poverty rate is a staggering 36% and unemployment is more than 16%—compared with national averages of 14.5% and 5%, respectively—then your prospects may seem dim. That’s where the Paschalville branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia has been filling a demand. Since March, it has been offering patrons neckties for three-week checkouts. Dubbed the “tiebrary,” the collection is located next to the library’s popular Job Readiness Lab. Branch Manager Jennifer Walker explains how the collection came to be.

The Paschalville branch serves as a community hub and lifeline in a vibrant southwest Philadelphia neighborhood. Patrons line the steps of the Carnegie-style building, connecting to our Wi-Fi while patiently waiting for doors to open in the morning. The vast majority of our patrons are job seekers, battling significant obstacles to employment, including poverty, low literacy rates, recent immigration, and, in many cases, returning to the workforce following an incarceration.

Niema Nelson, digital resource specialist, runs our Job Readiness Lab and coaches patrons through job searches. She and others provide extended computer sessions and individualized help with creating résumés and searching and applying for jobs.

Library assistant Omelio Alexander stands next to the “tiebrary” collection at the Paschalville branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Library assistant Omelio Alexander stands next to the “tiebrary” collection at the Paschalville branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

We provide a variety of programs and support for job seekers, including an annual job fair—the next of which is scheduled for October 7—and English as a second language classes.

We are always on the lookout for services that support our patrons. So when Nate Eddy, a coordinator in the Free Library’s Strategic Initiatives department, contacted us with the novel idea of lending neckties to patrons, we enthusiastically began working on the idea. We started off with 12 ties and a tie rack, similar in style to the merchandising displays you see in department stores.

As we began to process the ties and add them to the catalog, we quickly realized there would be some issues around display and circulation. For example, where should we place the barcode?

It soon became apparent that if we wanted to circulate them, then a tie rack simply would not do. Omelio Alexander, a library assistant, knew that the best solution would involve a case, which would allow us to add item information, including a barcode and accession number as well as a security tag. A case also mimics the shape of a book, fits nicely on a shelf, and holds potential for interesting displays. Omelio recalled the old VHS security cases we had in storage, and with his characteristic creativity, he set about repurposing them.

Omelio lined them in colorful paper and secured the ties with small binder clips. The colorful collection attracts quite a bit of attention and enthusiasm. We have received several donations, and the collection has grown to more than 50 ties in a variety of styles and patterns. We ask only that donations be new or gently used.

Initially, patrons seem surprised and delighted that they could borrow a tie in the same way they can borrow books. But perhaps because of the newness of the concept, they were initially reluctant to check the ties out.

Over the weeks we have promoted the tiebrary with posters, fliers, and bookmarks. The collection has also piqued the interest of local media, with stories in the press and broadcast news. With the help of media exposure and in-house promotion, early adopters have begun to borrow ties.

Patron Elfatir Muhammad recently returned a tie he wore to an interview. With a broad smile, he told us it must be a lucky tie because he landed a job as a maintenance worker that very day. He said it added the finishing touch and boosted his confidence: “The little things mean so much.”


Dispatches, by Kristen Wilson

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