Implementation Example: Providence Public Library

Getting Started

Learning Lounges at Providence Public Library (PPL) grew out of a recognition that many adults face barriers to participating in traditional adult education classes due to fixed-schedule classes, waiting lists, and the need for ‘just-in-time’ help with education and employment-related needs.

In 2014, with two-year support from an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership grant (LG-07-13-0318-13), the first Learning Lounge opened at PPL to address these challenges. In the next five years, PPL collaborated with partners in libraries, adult education, and the workforce community to open six additional Learning Lounges in various locations (three in public libraries, two in-state workforce development centers, and one in a public housing center). Each of these organizations has limited capacity to serve the needs of their patrons/clients and Learning Lounges fill that gap. For example, staff at state workforce centers do not have designated time to help adults learn Microsoft Word to create a resume. Libraries, including PPL, often do not have enough staff or time available to offer one-on-one help with online job searches and employment applications.

Staffing Learning Lounges

To better coordinate the growing number of Learning Lounges at multiple locations, a full-time Learning Lounge Coordinator was hired. The Coordinator manages the logistics of each location including determining space and schedules with partner organizations, training staff, developing marketing strategies, providing direct support to clients and aggregating data.

PPL leverages its resources and expertise in adult education to staff Learning Lounges with adult educators and career coaches. Some Learning Lounges have volunteers (university students who have worked as tutors in adult education classes, Learning Lounge visitors, and other community members) who often help adults with specific needs such as math. Most Learning Lounges have one staff member. Learning Lounges that average more than ten visitors per day usually have two staff, one of whom may be a volunteer.

Training Staff

The Learning Lounge Coordinator on-boards new staff through an in-person orientation and a handbook that includes protocols for welcoming visitors, completing the intake form, and opening or closing the Learning Lounge, as well as a list of web-based learning and employment resources, and a list of community referrals. Staff and volunteers who are new to the Learning Lounge work as assistants for about two weeks or until they feel comfortable working without support and are familiar with community and online resources.

Staff are also required to be trained as proctors for the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessments. The assessment data helps Learning Lounge staff identify appropriate learning resources for adults learning digital literacy skills, and with a passing score, learners earn certificates and digital badges that can be used as an employment credential. Learning Lounge staff also proctor other online tests, often for adults taking online college courses. Clients make arrangements with their educational institution to send test requirements and materials ahead of time.

Learning Lounge staff rely on the Rhode Island Resource Hub, a public portal to adult education and career resources. This website contains both online and brick and mortar community resources. It is probably the most useful resource for Learning Lounge staff and visitors, as the information is comprehensive, the resources have been curated by adult education professionals, and the website includes assessments in reading and math that will match resources to an individual’s skill level.

Learning Lounge staff can refer visitors to a Career Coach who is available by appointment to help individuals with career planning. The time and place of appointments are flexible to best accommodate the needs of the community. Learner support is also offered by email, often to help review resumes or share possible job opportunities.

Collecting Data

Visitors to Learning Lounges complete an initial intake form on their first visit and an attendance form each time thereafter. Data collected includes demographic information, employment status, the reason for the visit, and outcomes such as getting a job, a promotion, entering college or job training, or passing an exam (such as the GED) or assessment (such as the Northstar). The data enables the library to document community needs and share outcomes with potential funders. Although the average daily number of visitors varies, busier locations welcome about 10 adults per day.

Maintaining a Focus on Learning and Employment

Initially, adults came to the Learning Lounge seeking help in accessing information, such as social services, housing or banking. These needs were beyond what the library had anticipated and intended. To address this, PPL re-worded its promotional material to be specific to learning and employment needs. In addition, it partnered with a community development agency that serves people who are homeless and provided them with space and dedicated hours to assist people with housing resources.

Over time, Learning Lounges have come to be supported in part by a state Governor’s Workforce Board grant. PPL hopes to open more Learning Lounges in Rhode Island and help other libraries implement the Learning Lounge model in their communities.

For more information, contact Kimberly Libby, Head of Adult Education, Providence Public Library, (401) 455-8138 or