Magazine article American Libraries

Libraries, Literacy & Learning in the 21st Century

Magazine article American Libraries

Libraries, Literacy & Learning in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

When Andrew Carnegie set out to expand America's public library system, reading and writing were the basic literacy needs. The libraries he supported were built to help educate and prepare a generation of people, mostly new immigrants, to be productive citizens.

Today the ability to read and write is critical, and basic literacy skills extend far beyond what was needed 100 years, ago. Life in the 21st century demands that we have the ability to solve information problems, use many different media and understand cultural diversity. The phrase "21st century literacy" encompasses the array of complex skills people need to live, learn and work successfully in the digital age.

Today's technology-driven, information-rich society demands that lifelong learning become a way of life. Where better to learn new or refresh existing literacy skills than @ your library?

How librarians and library staff support 21st century literacy and individual learning may vary depending on the type of library and population served. But all libraries--public, school and academic--have a role to play in teaching these skills.

We hope that the resources in this 21st century literacy toolkit will serve to challenge, inspire and support your efforts as you rethink, retool and reinvent libraries and librarianship.


In the last century librarians harnessed technology and transformed library services. In the 21st century, librarians must accept the challenge of helping all people develop the literacy skills they need to succeed in an increasingly complex information environment. It is no longer enough for librarians to be resource providers. We must expand and embrace our essential role as teachers and facilitators of learning.

Suggested next steps:


* Engage staff, administrators and board members in defining the library's role as a 21st century literacy learning center and what is needed to make that happen.

* Make literacy in all forms for all ages and levels central to the mission of the library and its strategic plan.

* Institutionalize the library's commitment to literacy by dedicating staff and financial resources.

* Write position descriptions and job postings that reflect a vision and expectations for providing instructional services.

* Incorporate these expectations into performance reviews.

* Design and create library spaces to accomodate the library's instructional activities.

* Provide staff development opportunities to prepare staff at all levels for an expanded instructional role.

* Seek revenue sources to expand instructional programs, services and facilities.

* Include the library's role as a center for 21st century literacy in self-studies for re-accreditation.


* Learn more about education programs in the community and identify gaps that can be filled by library services from basic literacy to lifelong learning.

* Identify likely community partners and intersections between their goals and the library's ability to meet them.

* Network with other community education and literacy providers.

* Partner with other agencies and organizations to develop and promote the library as a learning center for diverse groups, such as seniors, immigrants and people with disabilities.

* Take a leadership position in an existing literacy coalition or establish a new literacy partnership in the community.

* Collaborate with public officials, the media, the business community, school administrators and trustees, faculty, students, parents and other stakeholders to develop a community-specific 21st century literacy initiative.

* Work with teachers/faculty to develop projects and curricula that position the library as central to teaching and learning.

* Promote community dialog on learning and literacy in the 21st century. …

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