I just ran into this website and read this backgrounder. I had no idea that libraries back in 1995 did not feel that it was their place to get involved in adult literacy and I am really glad to see that things are changing so much. The library where I work is trying to get a grant to help with literacy for adults – especially those who are learning English as a Second Language. We are attempting to build our collection but need funding to meet the needs of our community. We need people to volunteer to run literacy groups and are unable to staff them at the library, however we can provide library space. I hope that in the future there will be more recognition for the role which libraries can play in adult literacy and more opportunities for libraries – especially public libraries – to work with literacy organizations.
What can libraries do right now – even with very little funding?
1. Work towards sustaining and motivating existing learners through library tours, outreach programs (ie. class visits), book clubs. Maybe you can even allow people to submit book reviews to your library website.
2. Reach out to new learners with library programs and events. Right now I am working on an astronomy series. It is not based on books and reading and will instead follow more of a learning circle model. I will make books and resources available to anyone interested and promote other library programs at this event like our FREE film night. Also, when someone asks a question and has trouble figuring out where to find an item or choosing an item pay close attention to why they are having difficulty. There could be many reasons including difficulty using technology for online catalogs, difficulty figuring out key search terms or it may be something else. Often we assume that all of our patrons can read and write English, but in a community that is growing and where not all speakers are first language English and not all persons in the community graduate from high school, you may find someone in your library stacks who is not able to read well (or at all) but who would like to learn. Why not refer them to a service to help them with reading (if that’s what they would like) and find a better way for them to access the information they need (i.e. books on tape/cd, video, dvd)? You could even help that person to use the accessible computer station too (JAWS software will read out anything on the screen and this will help adults who can not read print to navigate a larger number of available resources).
3. Develop partnerships with literacy organizations in your community.
Some of the challenges we face in implementing an adult literacy program include funding, library capacity (building space and accessibility, staff training and staff availability), also collections (we need appropriate materials at the right level – beginner readers are not beginner thinkers). I hope that public libraries and literacy organizations can start to work together to develop literacy programs for adults. Public libraries have a lot to offer that may enhance the programs which literacy programs offer including collections, staff who know the collections and community space. Community literacy organizations can help libraries to see ways which we need to change to be more accessible and friendly to those who have difficulty with written communication.