Making an impact at the library with Enrique Rivera

How one staff member is taking his lived experience and sharing it with the community

For many years, the library has been a hub for community members seeking a new job or advancing their career. For Enrique Rivera, a library workforce development bilingual outreach specialist, this work is especially impactful as he gets to share his personal story with people who are incarcerated at Multnomah County Inverness Jail. 

Joining his county colleague, Carol, Enrique travels to Inverness every week to connect with individuals at the facility, a program conducted in partnership with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. He co-hosts a set of classes to introduce individuals at the facility to library resources, books and teach literacy skills. 

Enrique Rivera, a library workforce development bilingual outreach specialist

“For many people, coming to a physical library location is a luxury. So going out to different locations and meeting people who have never even been to the library is a way to connect with the community,” says Enrique. 

During his visits to corrections facilities, Enrique shares his personal connection to the people he is helping and why he is passionate about the library. He tells them how he used library resources to find a job after he was incarcerated as a young adult. Prior to this, Enrique had never stepped foot in a library. Though he’d signed up for classes at Portland Community College, he needed help fixing up and printing his resume. 

“I went to Belmont Library and told them I need help with these two things. I printed 30 copies of my resume and started handing it out to any place that would take it,” says Enrique.

After this experience, Enrique started using the library all the time. He didn't have a personal computer, so he would go to Belmont Library to complete his school work. He became a regular at the Belmont branch and started to keep an eye out for open positions.

He started applying and was hired a year later to work at Gresham Library as a page— a position that primarily assisted with shelving and checking in materials. During his 11 years at the library, Enrique has worked at almost every branch. In his current position, he shares his journey and inspires community members to use the resources available at the library to find a new career after incarceration.

“I didn't have big dreams after being incarcerated, but what I wanted was to have a normal job, and for me that was a big thing, to have a sense of normalcy. This is what a lot of folks want. They want a job that is stable and pays a living wage - especially when you’re in this position and have a record, it becomes this past, or something that will prevent you from doing something different. So when they see someone who had a similar experience, they appreciate that and express their appreciation. So now to be able to help people do this, is a way in which I can give back what the library gave to me,” says Enrique.

The library has an abundance of books, digital materials, knowledgeable staff, online classes, and one-on-one support, that can all be tailored to individual career needs. 

“Job search has changed a lot over the years and people need a more holistic approach to help them with a variety of needs,” says Lori Moore, a workforce development librarian on the library’s Workplace Team. 

The library has helped patrons with career resources for a long time, but the dedicated Workplace Team formed as a response to changing community needs during the pandemic. More recently, the team has seen trends change from people who are unemployed to those looking to learn new workforce skills, make a career shift or start a new business. 

“We've seen more people leave the traditional workforce to start their own businesses, especially women and minorities,” says Tara Nash, small business and entrepreneurship librarian. “We see that small business support and job support both have the same goals of allowing people the opportunity to find economic stability and fulfillment.”

For small business owners, the library offers free classes for all stages of the small business journey including workshops on business development, strategy, finance and marketing. It also offers personalized small business advice —  a unique service covering things like developing a business plan, doing market research, and connecting entrepreneurs with community partners. 

In addition to direct career and small business assistance, the library offers GED help, literacy tutoring, technology training, and an abundance of other adult learning classes.

In terms of future plans for people at the correctional facilities, Enrique hopes to see some more opportunities for them to check out books and fully utilize library resources:

“There are plenty more things I could say, for instance one of our Indigenous adults was very happy to hear about the library’s services to the Indigenous community. He thanked us for allowing him to come a second time to this class — since there is usually limited room and we offer it first to those who haven't come before — and that he told his family about me and my story because it gave him hope that he too one day could work in a library.” 

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