Libraries and Literacy: A Tradition Greets a New Century

Article excerpt

MEETING THE LITERACY NEEDS OF ADULTS REMAINS CENTRAL DESPITE NEW MEDIA AND ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY

What factors are linked to successful library literacy programs? Literature, case studies, and research suggest a number of important ingredients. These success indicators can serve as milestones or benchmarks in literacy program development.

The essential element of success is the integration of literacy efforts into the overall library operations. This "institutionalization" of literacy into the fabric of the library helps to assure its relevance in the community and the Information Age. Among the indicators of success are the following program and library features.

* The library has a philosophy of outreach to the community, recognizing that not all residents can access or make full use of library resources.

* There is a strong link between literacy services and other adult services in the library. The literacy program is seen as part of the overall adult services effort and as a natural outgrowth of other library services.

* The literacy component is part of the library's overall mission.

* A clear rationale for the library's involvement in adult literacy is shared by staff, administration, and community decision makers.

* The presence of the literacy program affects the entire library, resulting in changes in policy and service delivery.

* Literacy services are part of the overall library planning effort and are reflected in a written plan of operation.

* Program decisions are based on knowledge of the community, existing literacy services, and current and potential stakeholders.

* Literacy collections match tutor and student needs and are linked to community literacy efforts.

* The literacy program has a strong collaborative community network, which brings a new set of contacts and leads to co-referral between the library and other organizations and agencies.

* Local funds contribute to the operation of the literacy program. Although outside funding provides for improvements and expansion, it carries with it the expectation that activities will continue once the funding period is over.

* Careful attention is given to linking tutors and instructors to library services and resources.

* Learners are involved in program design, activities, and decision-making.

* Learners are using library resources independent of their tutors or instructors.

* Evaluation and documentation of program outcomes are an integral part of the library's literacy efforts.

* The literacy program has moved beyond individual ownership to ownership by the library.

* The library regularly tells the story of its literacy role in the community.

Library involvement in adult literacy traces its roots to the beginning of this century. It is not a new concept for libraries or an unusual aspect of library service. Helping adults improve their literacy skills is a fundamental theme in the library community's commitment to equal access to information.

During the last 30 years, publishing and research about library literacy efforts have shown a variety of approaches to achieving a literate adult population. These efforts have led to two key roles for libraries: services in support of local literacy efforts and direct instruction of adults.

What is the nature of these two roles for libraries in literacy? In the support role, the library offers a range of services that mesh with other adult services: referral to literacy instructional services, collecting and dispensing information about literacy, building and circulating adult literacy materials in print and nonprint formats, providing a site for tutoring and classes, and working collaboratively with local literacy providers.

The direct instruction role, however, is a more proactive response to the need for literacy services. …