Earlier this month, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University hosted an event with the authors of Gigged and Temp. While I was not able to attend the event, I did start reading the books, both of which are fascinating.
In this post, I will take a closer look at Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work by Sarah Kessler, but this isn’t exactly a book review. If you would like to read reviews, I recommend ones from the Washington Post and Fast Company. Instead, I am going to consider how reading a book like Gigged can be helpful for librarians developing programs and services for the public.
It is no secret that the gig economy has changed the landscape of employment in the United States. Gig workers (also known as freelancers, independent workers, and casual earners) are making up a larger percentage of the working population every year. Consumers also benefit from the gig economy every time they use Lyft, Uber, Gigster, or numerous other services that cater to their needs for food delivery, transportation, home maintenance, and more.
Depending on where a person touches upon gig work (whether as the creator of a technology platform, an independent worker taking gigs, or using the service), their experiences and expectations vary greatly. Gigged explores the promise and reality of the gig economy specifically for workers who rely on contingent work as their main source of income. While there are benefits in terms of flexibility of work and autonomy, drawbacks include unpredictable wages and a lack of additional supports (benefits, retirement accounts, workers’ comp, etc.).
Should libraries support gig employers?
When thinking about the library’s place in the gig economy, my first inclination is to be helpful to business. How can libraries better help businesses connect with gig employees? How can the library help gig employees to do their work better?
To those ends, perhaps a library’s resource guide for jobseekers could include information about platforms that hire gig employees. If there are local companies hiring freelancers, the library could host networking or career events to help individuals connect. Even library resources such as Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) can help gig employees “level up” the skills they may need to be hired for certain types of freelancing gigs.
But all of those “solutions” start with the assumption that the gig economy is on the same level as traditional employment or that all gig platforms and services are equal. That a library is helping someone to find a job if they are connecting them with gig employers. While those ideas are certainly not bad, and I would not discourage libraries from doing those things, there are many more considerations that should be part of this discussion.
Focusing on the worker in the gig economy
Gigged provides a view of the gig economy that is not rosy or aspirational for those working on the front lines. Of the five or six individuals profiled as gig workers, only one comes out of the experience having gained anything (experience, skills, livable income, etc.), and even he winds up in a traditional job at the end. Instead, those who work as part of the gig economy face serious struggles and hardships as they attempt to support themselves and their families.
Where does that leave the library? In addition, how do librarians fighting for the public good address the gig economy?
Libraries cannot pretend that the gig economy does not exist or that it will not continue to be a large part of how Americans are employed over the coming decades. However, librarians must be aware of the employment issues surrounding the gig economy in order to best assist patrons.
For instance, workers should be aware of the laws that define contractors and employees; if an individual is misclassified, he or she may not be receiving the compensation and benefits that are required by law. Financial literacy is also an important skill for gig employees since they must budget for expenditures that are not handled by employers, such as health insurance and retirement savings. Since their income may be variable at different parts of the year (and vacation, sick, days or jury duty may not be covered by an employer), workers should also be financially prepared to still cover their expenses when they are making less money. Lastly, librarians may want to stay informed on initiatives to protect workers rights and advocate for laws that will force companies to better protect and compensate gig employees.
These steps allow libraries to have a more meaningful role in improving the lives of their community members who participate in the gig economy. It is not enough to think about finding jobseekers work–librarians should be concerned with the overall value of the employment, including whether it will provide meaning, fulfillment, and livable wages.
What are your thoughts on the library’s role in the gig economy? Share your thoughts with me!
Kessler, Sarah. Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.