Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Beyond Four Walls: Adult Literacy Services in Queensland Public Libraries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Beyond Four Walls: Adult Literacy Services in Queensland Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Fifteen years on from the 1988 International Literacy Year many public libraries in Queensland have come a long way in the level and depth of adult literacy services they provide. Many library services offer programs that 'work in the context of people's lives in the community', and this has meant that more staff are venturing beyond the four walls of the library. This paper describes the role of the State Library of Queensland in offering adult literacy services statewide, and showcases a number of libraries providing services and programs to rural and remote, Indigenous, and metropolitan communities. Although resource constraints apply, the main limitation for libraries and their communities in providing adult literacy services are negative attitudes to a need in all communities, a need which is often hidden

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Nearly 15 years on from the 1988 International Literacy Year, 2003-2012 is the United Nations Literacy Decade. Many libraries in Queensland have come a long way since 1988 in the adult literacy services they provide. They do strive to make the programs they offer meet Margaret Whitlam's injunction to them, that

   Literacy programs need to work in the context of
   people's lives in the community and libraries can
   contribute as access and support centres in the learning
   process (1)

Or as Brisbane Libraries' manager Jennifer Cram asserted in 1988

   If we wish to support literacy through public libraries
   we must make sure that the message those libraries
   deliver to the community is not 'Come join us in
   literacy' but rather the more neutral and accepting
   'Come join us in the library'. (2)

Lifelong learning, information, computer, family and community literacy all lead to many promotional activities and services. They present literacy opportunities for life. This paper is not, therefore, limited to library adult literacy programs. It includes community programs covering all of these literacies to demonstrate the breadth of the approach being taken by libraries.

To promote such diverse programs library staff have been reaching out beyond the four walls of their libraries for some time. Whilst libraries have become increasingly seen as spaces that welcome, and engage with, their communities, the reality is that libraries do not confine their activities to the four walls of the building itself.

There will always be resource, space, money, time, and staff constraints on how libraries can improve people's lives. However the main limitation for libraries and their communities in developing and managing adult literacy services is negative attitudes. For example, at library staff development sessions, it may be that adult literacy issues do not affect 'their' library users, and that the information being offered is not needed. Statements include 'We don't have those people in our libraries', or 'They may be there in our community, but they don't use the library' or 'We don't know of anyone with this problem in our community'.

Yet the disturbing reality is that there is a high probability that all libraries and their communities do have 'those' people with adult literacy issues. Adult Learning Australia has reported that 46 per cent of Australians do not have adequate literacy and numeracy skills to function in a sophisticated society. (3)

This is a problem affecting all communities, and it is often hidden. The clues may already be there within the library, for example

** assistance sought in filling out forms

** choosing materials off shelves

** accessing the catalogue

** concern expressed by a parent about how to cope in helping their child learn to read

It is never easy for anyone to admit to having a literacy concern, at any age. This is even more so in a small country town, where it can be perceived that by admitting to needing help, everyone will find out, and a label or stigma will be attached to that person. …

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