The last time W. Stephen Pindell of Dayton remembered being in a public library was during his college days in the late 1960s.
But when Pindell, 46, lost his executive banking job of 7 1/2 years in February, it was the county library he turned to for help in preparing forhis job interviews.
"Any time you go into an interview and can show you have at leastsome knowledge about the company, it helps," said Pindell, as he prepared to interview for a vice president post with a credit union.
His previous job, at First American Bank in Columbia, was eliminated in a corporate reorganization.
Many local professionals who have been forced back into the job market by the recession are rediscovering the county's public libraries, which have welcomed them with beefed-up collections of business publications and computer databases aimedat helping job-seekers.
"Within the last six months or so, we have seen an increase in the three-piece suits," said Jim Byrnes, librarian at the Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City.
White- and blue-collar workers alike have been checking out books on resume-writing and interviewing techniques from the career section, which is the most consistently used in the library, Byrnes said.
Pindell said thatif his current job prospects don't work out, he'll be back in the library to research other financial institutions.
"Since I was laid off, I've discovered that there's a wealth of information on businessthere, particularly local business, and particularly if you're trying to target a particular market, as I am," he said.
The library also is attracting people from outside the county.
"There's nothing that can compare with this library here," said Jean Flewelling, who regularly drives nearly an hour to Columbia from her Annapolis-area home.
Flewelling, who is pursuing a career in human resources after bailing out of the mortgage banking industry, said resources at the Anne Arundel County libraries in her area can't compare.
"They're just not organized for this type of thing," she said, before pointing out various shelves loaded with books for job seekers.
She got herintroduction during one of the library's orientations for job-seekers, which are run in conjunction with the non-profit Columbia job-assistance service, CareerScope.
One reason the county library system is so well-stocked for employment searches is that it received a federal grant of about $30,000 in the mid-1980s specifically to boost itsbusiness reference materials, Director Marvin Thomas said.
Because the economy was in good shape back then, the improved collection "wasn't geared only toward the job-seeking, but to career development and vocational opportunities."
Now, however, the county's library staffs have seen a marked increase in job-seekers as the economy has turned sour.
"We've noticed a tremendous increase in the past year of employment-related questions," said Alan Bogage, the library's reference specialist.
When library neophytes come to the reference desk, librarians interview them to find out what sort of information they need, and if they're not sure, they ask employment-related questions to help figure out which references would get them on the right track, he explained.
Many people don't ask for help because they just come for newspapers and job listings.
"As soon as we check in the newspapers, people come up to check the employment sections," Byrnes said.
And every other week at the main branch in Columbia, job-seekers are even more anxious to see another publication.
Alvin Reich of Owen Brown Village paused last week while poring over a report of the Federal Jobs Digest, which lists federal job openings.
"On Mondays when this comes out, there's a line to get to it," he said.
Reich, 44, is looking to resume his 16-year career for the Government Printing Office after work in the private sector proved unreliable.
A computer programmer from Clarksville who was laid off seven weeks ago said she comes to the Columbia branch just to check Baltimorenewspapers for employment listings.
Although she was having trouble finding companies that need the computer languages she knows, she didn't reach for any of the library's nearly 1,000 employment and business reference books or the computerized index of 800 business-related periodicals.
Had she asked, she could well have benefited from a quick check of Info-Lan, a computer database with a section devotedto computer periodicals, Bogage said.
"She could put a language in, and there could be an article on the key companies using that language," he said.
The other database offered, Business Periodicals Ondisc, provides printouts of articles from 300 business-related journals and indexes 500 others. It costs about $19,000 a year to keep up to date but is invaluable to anyone researching business, Bogage said.