All Access: Adult Education and Digital Literacy for Workforce Development in Public Libraries

By Boden, Katherine; Tashjian, Karisa | Computers in Libraries, December 2015 | Go to article overview

All Access: Adult Education and Digital Literacy for Workforce Development in Public Libraries


Boden, Katherine, Tashjian, Karisa, Computers in Libraries


Informal, user-centered learning is critical to helping adults attain educational credentials, develop workforce skills, and access workforce services....

In November 2013, a collaboration between libraries and adult education, assistive technology, digital literacy, and workforce development organizations came to fruition when a 2-year, $500,000 National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) was given. From this, Adult Lifelong Learning (ALL) Access was born.

ALL Access is aimed at leveraging libraries by integrating adult education and workforce services to meet the diverse needs of adult patrons. ALL Access engages partners from various kinds of institutions in order to target the needs of underserved populations. These include adults with disabilities, low literacy, low digital literacy, and low English literacy. In anticipation of, and alignment with, the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)--legislation that recognizes the potential for libraries in workforce and education systems--pilot programs were implemented at two urban Rhode Island libraries: the Providence Public Library and the Cranston Public Library.

At the time ALL Access was conceived, Rhode Island had the highest statewide unemployment rate in the nation, averaging 8.4% from October 2013 through September 2014 (U.S. Department of Labor 2015). The state also had the highest Hispanic unemployment rate in the country: 20.3% in the 3Q of 2014 (Wilson 2014). Additionally, 13% of the state's total adult population lacks a high school credential, while 4% of adults do not speak English well, if at all. Of that 4%, 65% have no high school credentials. Many members of these populations struggle to access job training or other services due to literacy or education requirements, digital literacy issues, or in accessibility of services. In addition, Rhode Island's adult education providers have long waiting lists, and the implementation of a rigorous new computer-based GED process in 2014 has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of students earning a GED. Informal, user-centered learning is critical to helping adults attain educational credentials, develop workforce skills, and access workforce services, which is where ALL Access comes into play.

ALL Access has four goals:

1. Overcome barriers to access to education and workforce services for all adults

2. Develop, expand, and improve statewide resources for adult online learning and workforce development

3. Establish effective models to deliver and support education and workforce services for adults in the libraries

4. Build a data-driven case for libraries' role in providing adult education and workforce services

Over the past 2 years, ALL Access has partnered with adult education providers, disability services, and workforce development agencies to develop, test, and implement user-centered programs in both participating libraries.

Planning

The initiative has evolved under the direction of a core team of librarians and literacy experts, as well as a steering committee of civic leaders. In addition, each of the participating libraries had its own team leader who was responsible for disseminating information and collaborating with library staffers to implement the program's services.

In order to stay organized, the core team set up a web-based project management tool for sharing information and documentation. A branding aesthetic was designed, providing a consistent ALL Access look for outreach materials and social media marketing. Finally, a mission statement was developed, and guiding principles were determined in order to frame the next 2 years and all the program's activities.

The core team met twice a month. During the initial meetings, the original ALL Access project plan was reviewed to identify challenges/opportunities, resources, stakeholders, and the broader context. …

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