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New York Library Helps Job-Seekers Look the Part by Lending Free Neckties and Handbags

A table at the Riverside branch of New York Public Library displays professional handbags and neckties for job seekers.
Image Source: New York Public Library

When I think back to 22-year old me, fresh out of college, going on my first “real job” interviews, I picture a nervous girl (a newly-minted an adult, really), wearing a suit she couldn’t really afford and driving a car that was barely clinging to life.

I can also remember other extra costs, such as resume paper (did you know how EXPENSIVE resume paper is?!) and stamps (because those were the days when resumes were mailed). And how about a briefcase? Or at least one of those nice leather folders to hold your resume, transcript, and letters of recommendation? Times may have changed since I was first interviewing for jobs, but the fact remains, all of these items cost money — money that someone just starting out, or who’s fallen on hard times, doesn’t necessarily have.

For job seekers who live near Riverside Library in New York City though, the pressure to “look the part” can be relieved somewhat. Well, as long as you owe less than $15 in library fines.

That’s right — thanks to an awesome idea proposed by Young Adult Librarian Michelle Lee, anyone preparing for a job interview can borrow items such as neckties, pocket squares, briefcases, and even handbags.

Michelle Lee, Young Adult Librarian at New York Public Library, stands in front of a case of handbags, briefcases, and more.
Image Source: New York Public Library

The “Grow Up Work Fashion Library” program, now a part of the New York Public Library Innovation Project, was among hundreds of proposals submitted to the library system earlier this year. But it was one of just 25 that were accepted and are now funded by a grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, in combination with donated items from Career Gear.

“Although the fashion library was created to help young people, it’s open to any adult who wants to borrow a tie or bag,” Lee shared with CNN.

A flyer for the shop obtained by Babble also explains that library card holders can borrow items for other big occasions as well — such as graduation or prom.

The library’s resources don’t stop there, though. According to CNN, both adults and teens have free access to the library’s online career-advancement pages, which include job-search databases, workshops on mock interviewing tips, and more helpful resources. One flyer even includes multiple links to books, websites, and articles that discuss proper business attire — something young job seekers often don’t know a lot about.

When I think back to 22-year old me, I can remember wondering, How should I dress? How do I look like I am serious and want the job … but am not trying too hard?

Then, once I did buy my one and only business suit (with a price tag that almost made me vomit), I remember cringing at the cost of the leather resume folder. And another ink cartridge to print resumes. It added up quickly and I was already in debt.

A display of handbags at New York Public Library sits in front of a wall that reads "Be the hero of your own story."
Image Source: New York Public Library

I’ll be honest, it’s pretty heartwarming to know that people like Michelle Lee and the good folks at the Riverside NYPL are trying to make it easier for job seekers who are simply looking to better their lives. It’s a tremendous resource for anyone to take advantage of — not only young adults who are just starting out, but also parents looking to re-enter the workforce or  job-seekers who’ve been laid off and don’t have money to drop on a whole new wardrobe.

If you’re wondering how it works exactly, it’s pretty simple: Grow Up Work Fashion Library allows you to borrow an item once for a three-week period, and you must return it in person to a library staff member. Similar to the book borrowing system, there’s a late fee — .25 cents a day, with a replacement fee that varies and depends on the item. (But I think we can all agree that’s a pretty fair price to pay.)

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