Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services

15Oct/13Off

On the Road with The American Dream Starts @ your library: Schaumburg Township District Library

by John Amundsen, OLOS Program Officer

The American Dream Starts @ your library blog header

Exclusive OLOS Columns Feature

On Friday, September 20th, the OLOS team had the honor of attending the third Naturalization Ceremony held at the Schaumburg Township District Library in Chicago's Northwest Suburbs.  STDL is a two-time recipient of The American Dream Starts @ your library, a grant initiative from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and ALA geared towards the improvement and promotion of library service to English language learners in areas served by Dollar General stores.  In 2013, ALA selected 44 public libraries in 21 states to receive one-time grants of $5,000 to $15,000 to add or expand literacy services for the adult English language learners in their communities. This funding will help libraries build their print and digital ESL collections, increase computer access and raise the visibility of library services for immigrant populations.

The newest American Dream libraries join a cohort of 100 previously funded programs in Dollar General communities. These American Dream libraries built easily replicable programs, developed coalition-building strategies and provided annotated lists of proven resources for libraries across the country serving adult English language learners.

During our visit, Michelle, Zina, and I saw first hand the amazing things that STDL is doing for English language learners in their communities. Here's a video outlining our visit, as well as an overview of all the ELL services STDL provides, with literacy coordinator Pat Barch.

The American Dream Starts @ your library(r) is made possible through generous funding from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. 

Books_DG_Litfinal

17May/12Off

Community Workshop Series: An academic library, public libraries, and library school collaboration

Ellie Boote (left) and Dani Brecher (right) – Coordinators of the Community Workshop Series

By Amanda Foster, Carolina Academic Library Associate

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Each Friday and Saturday morning, members of the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Carrboro communities make their way to their local public library to attend a computer or information literacy class put on by the Community Workshop Series (CWS). But before you think this is another case of traditional public library computer class offerings, keep reading to learn about the unique partnership that brought the CWS about.

The CWS was started in 2005 by a SILS graduate assistant working at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Undergraduate Library. Since 2006, UNC University Libraries has funded a graduate assistant whose responsibilities include organizing the CWS. Current UNC SILS student, Ellie Boote, is the Coordinator of Community Workshops. Each week, she schedules a volunteer instructor and floaters to staff around three classes per week. Classes are offered throughout the Research Triangle at the Carrboro Cybrary, Chapel Hill Public Library and the Durham County Southwest Regional Library. Last year, 255 members of the community attended a class.

One of the primary audiences of CWS classes is job-seekers wanting to build their computer skills. Classes on applications in the Microsoft Office Suite are the most popular for job-seekers, as are classes on resume writing and online job searching. Courses on online shopping, social networking, finding health information, and creating e-mail accounts are also popular.  Recently, the CWS began offering “Open Labs,” at some locations. Open Labs allow community members to bring their own projects to the library and receive help from a CWS volunteer.

Another primary audience for CWS classes is older adults wanting to learn more about computers because their children are using them. Dani Brecher, another SILS graduate student who will be the Coordinator of Community Workshops for the 2012-2013 academic year, says one of the more rewarding aspects of leading CWS classes is having participants come back later and say they’ve used their newly created e-mail accounts to send pictures and notes to out of state relatives.

Recently, the CWS has been reaching out to other organizations in the community. Boote has noted an increase in referrals from Parent University, with the goal of getting parents up to speed on current technology so they can help their children with their homework.

The workshops are staffed almost exclusively by student volunteers from UNC’s School of Information and Library Science and librarians from UNC University Libraries. In a way, the CWS serves the purposes of both the participants and the volunteers. Because the majority of CWS volunteers are current SILS students, they gain valuable instruction experience which will help them on the job market.

In 2007, the CWS won the ACRL Instruction Session Innovation Award. Since then the CWS has continued to be a unique example of collaboration between an academic library, public libraries, and students from a library school. CWS allows UNC Libraries to give back to the local community by offering computer and information literacy classes while also helping library school students gain much-needed instruction experience.

Would you like to learn more about CWS? Check out their website.

6Apr/12Off

Literacy for All! Brand new toolkit features tools and resources for serving adult new and non readers

By Dale P. Lipschultz, Ph.D., Literacy Officer, ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services

For the last year, ALA’s Committee on Literacy has been writing, editing, and revising a toolkit devoted to serving adult learners, titled "Literacy for All: Adult Literacy @ your library."  The purpose of the toolkit, simply stated, is ‘…to help you add, expand, and advocate for adult literacy services at your library.’ Our goal in compiling this resource is to provide tools, tips, resources, promising practices, and encouraging words to help even the most hesitant and financially challenged library reach out and serve the adult learners in their community.

Compiling the toolkit proved to be both deeply satisfying and deceptively complicated. I thought that identifying the resources and writing the text would been an easy task for the members of the Committee and its staff liaison (that would be me). After all, we’re all library literacy ‘mavens’ with years of practical, programmatic experience; we’re well grounded  in the multiple theories of literacy development across the lifespan; we have easy access to legions of dedicated colleagues working in libraries and providing literacy services, programs, and funding opportunities; and we frequently collaborate with national literacy organizations that share our vision and mission.

As it turned out, collecting the resources and writing the toolkit was much more difficult than I anticipated. In fact, the lengthy process made me question my own expertise and assumptions. Maybe I know – or think I know –too much about the issues, challenges, and implications of serving adult learners @ your library. Or maybe I’ve been away from the library literacy frontline a bit too long to fully appreciate the kind of determination, resources, and support it takes to make literacy an integral part of  library services.

The Committee was determined to feature a wide range of promising practices. With that in mind, I reached out to state libraries with a long history of supporting and promoting adult literacy on the local level.   I wanted examples of library literacy programs that were, in my words, ‘effective, low cost, and easily replicable’.  Cyndy Colletti, Literacy Manager, Illinois State Library Literacy Office, responded to my message in great detail and took me task in the nicest possible way. Cyndy wrote:

I want to gently differ with you.  Adult literacy programs, when effective, are not “low-cost, and easily replicable.”  I think it is necessary that we not mislead well-intentioned people to think that all adult learners will learn easily…It is in everyone’s interest that we all pull together on this issue and fully support the educational aspirations of adult learners.  Libraries that offer adult literacy programs are accomplishing that goal.  Libraries that work in close cooperation with literacy programs are also helping to accomplish that goal.

Cyndy’s cautionary, but encouraging, words reminded me just how difficult it is to be a literacy provider in the library and in the community. The new toolkit is a starting point…and a very good one…for libraries with literacy hopes and dreams. It is a compilation of tried and true resources that will help libraries serve adult learners. But there is room for improvement, expansion, and of course, discussion.

The toolkit is available as an eight page print edition, an easily-navigable Web edition or as a downloadable PDFfile. Printed copies of the toolkit are available in packages of 25 for ALA members. Orders for under 25 toolkits will be sent free of charge (please include ALA personal or organizational membership number); for orders of 25 and over, the charge is $.50/toolkit plus a $7 flat fee for shipping.  If you would like additional toolkits please contact Elliot Mandel, OLOS Program Coordinator, at emandel@ala.org.

19Jul/11Off

A Lifetime Literacy at the Library: Marking the Milestones from Infancy to Maturity

By: Dale P. Lipschultz, Ph.D.

Literacy Officer, ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services

Download the PowerPoint presentation from the program

For 90 minutes on the final full day of ALA’s 2011 Annual Conference ALA members immersed themselves in A Lifetime Literacy at the Library: marking the milestones from infancy to maturity. This session, sponsored by ALA’s Committee on Literacy, featured literacy initiatives from across the Association, across the country, and the city of New Orleans.

We know that literacy and a love of reading begins at birth and lasts a lifetime and that our libraries are essential partners in nurturing and supporting a lifelong love of literacy and learning. We also know that the ability to read has a significant impact on quality of life issues – for individuals and communities.

In spite of what we know and all the work we do to support literacy development and encourage a lifelong love of reading, we are a nation at risk. Dr. Robert Wedgeworth noted this during his Jean Coleman Library Outreach Lecture. Dr. Camila Alire, in her introduction to the Lifetime of Literacy program, used current educational statistics to illustrate the magnitude of this issue.

Data tells us:

  • 34% of 4th graders score below basic on standardized reading tests;
  • 30% of high school students leave school before graduation;
  • 90 million adults lack the literacy skills to read and comprehend the information in complex documents.

During the Lifetime of Literacy at the Library session, presenters showcased library literacy initiatives the addressed America’s literacy crisis. These library based initiatives:

  • help children start school ready to read
  • help children succeed and stay in school;
  • support intergenerational reading in ethnically diverse communities;
  • help adults improve their literacy skills to continue their education, get a better job, and contribute to their community.

At the conclusion of the program  Juliet Machie, chair of the ALA Committee on Literacy, issued a strong and passionate call to action.

Juliet said:

The reality is that in today’s knowledge driven, technology powered economy literacy is no longer optional – it is a lifeline. Adults (with limited literacy skills) don’t always come to our libraries even though we exist to provide access to knowledge and information.

My questions for you are:

  • What can we do about this?
  • How can we, as librarians and literacy advocates, insure that all Americans enjoy a lifetime of literacy?

We can take small steps; we can help one person; we can reach higher; we can work together!

27May/11Off

E-Readers and the Future of Reading: Notes from Florida

In early May, Dale Lipschultz, ALA’s Literacy Officer, led a discussion on e-readers and adult literacy at the Florida Literacy Coalition’s 2011 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The session, attended by a wide range of stakeholders including librarians, adult literacy teachers and tutors,  literacy program administrators, and non-profit professionals, examined the use of e-readers as a teaching and learning tool in adult literacy programs and sought attendees’ input and participation in the shaping of this emerging technology. This post features Dr. Lipschultz’s notes from the program.

The discussion evolved from research conducted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) in the summer and fall of 2010. The Carnegie Corporation convened a meeting of the leaders in e-reader technology to discuss current applications and focus attention on next steps in the development of new platforms and prototypes with the intention of influencing the future development of e-readers from the top.

Timeline: Genesis

  • October 2010, School Library Journal’s Leadership Summit: Carnegie Corporation presented preliminary research in an effort to solicit input from school librarians about the developing new and improving existing e-reader technologies and platforms .
  • January 2011, ALA’s Midwinter Meeting:  the Committee on Literacy’s Research to Practice discussion group focused on e-readers and the future of reading. More than 60 librarians, from libraries of all kinds, participated in this discussion. Participants included :
    • Pinellas County Schools: Pilot project funded by Amazon and the St. Petersburg Times
      • 1 Kindle for each student preloaded with textbooks and with access to additional books
      • Early positive anecdotal data
  • University of Washington
    • This study examines the complexity of using e-readers in an academic setting.
    • http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/college-students2019-use-of-kindle-dx-points-to-e-reader2019s-role-in-academia
    • April 2011: ALA’s Office for Information and Technology Policy (OITP) formed a digital literacy task force .
      • The Task Force’s charge emphasizes the general recognition among librarians and non-librarians alike that literacy skills now encompass the need to be fluent with a variety of technologies and applications .
        • The Task Force will conduct an environmental scan in order to identify and understand the types of digital literacy activities already in place, where there might be gaps, and ways to prepare ALA for the changing landscape of digital literacy.

What we know about e-readers

We’re hearing a great deal about e-readers – pros, cons, and questions. We’re hearing this from librarians and literacy providers, and most of all, from the media and the developers.

We know:

  • 4 million homes have e-readers
  • 57% of kids 9-17 are interested in e-readers. These kids said that they would be more likely to read for fun with an e-reader.
  • The sale of e-books outpaced the sale of print books.

Trends driving the adoption of e-reader technology

  • Abundance of resources on the web
  • Just in time – found learning
  • Learner collaboration
  • Cloud technology

The case for examining the future of reading and the introduction and impact of e-readers

  • The United States must remain competitive
  • Reading expectations are increasing
  • We have the tools for teaching reading – learning to read
  • We have not made progress teaching advanced literacy skills – reading to learn
  • There is false dichotomy between learning to read and reading to learn

Discussion Points

As I informed the session attendees, I don’t have many answers at this point in the discussion. In order to move the discussion forward I’ve identified some talking points and framed a series of questions.  My task is to collect information and suggestions and continue sharing and gathering information with broader and more diverse audiences.

Our first challenge is to expand the conversation about e-readers and education. We need researchers, educators, and e-reader developers to look beyond K-12 and higher education. The dialogue must include educational opportunities for new and non-readers, native English speakers and speakers of other languages, and adults with learning challenges. We also have to include learning and literacy instruction beyond the classroom and one-on-one  tutoring– in the library, in the community, and at home.

Here’s the big question – what’s the future of reading?

Questions for the audience:

  1. Can you envision or have you and your colleagues discussed using e-readers as an educational/instructional tool? The participants noted several programs in Florida that were piloting e-reader programs. These programs are still in the formative stage.
  2. What ‘special’ issues do you see when it comes to using e-readers with adult learners in class, with tutors, and during independent learning? Participants noted issues of cost and access to adult literacy resources, including textbooks and high/low reading collections.
  3. What are your biggest concerns?

Q: With these new technologies, literacy is being left at the wayside.

A: The basis for literacy is still reading and writing. ALA’s Committee on Literacy has discussed this issue frequently and in detail. According to the Committee, literacy is a house with many windows – information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy. The house of literacy has only one door and that is foundational literacy… the ability to read, write, and comprehend text.

What’s next?

  1. ALA’s Digital Literacy Task Force is meeting in June to discuss definitions, direction, and products
  2. USCAL, ProLiteracy’s Conference on Adult Literacy, is in Houston, Texas, November 2-5, 2011, ALA is presenting a session on e-readers.
  3. ALA is working with publishers regarding pricing of and access to e-readers.
4Jan/11Off

Making the Literacy Connection: a Call to Action

ALA Committee on Literacy chair Juliet I. Machie, deputy director of the Detroit Public Library, discusses the vital role that librarians  must play in combating illiteracy in their communities.

25Oct/10Off

Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries—Of All Kinds!

Dr. Loriene Roy, Professor
School of Information, University of Texas at Austin

There’s plenty of evidence nationally—and even internationally—that points to an awakening in interest and activity focusing on rural libraries, including those that serve Native and tribal communities. This evidence is seen in successful recent and planned gatherings. The Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) and the Association of Bookmobiles and Outreach Services (ABOS) held a joint conference in Denver from 13-16 October 2010. Four hundred and fifty individuals attended the conference, 80 percent of whom appeared to be joining the event for the first time. Over the past four years, ARSL has grown to include 500 members from 47 states and ARSL is making steps toward gaining status as a 503c nonprofit organization. Heavily attended conference workshops covered library boards, books by mail, customer service models, advocacy and public relations, technology, green vehicle technologies, and services for preschoolers, teens, immigrants, and refugees, and the un- or under- employed. As a keynote speaker, I was treated with small town kindness and attention and made many new friends and colleagues. Attendees now count the days until the 2011 ARSL conference in Frisco, Texas and the 2011 ABOS conference in Cleveland.

Among the ARSL-ABOS conference attendees were those interested in and involved with tribal librarians. Tribal and Native library issues are of special interest to two ALA committees. 

Like ARSL, ALA’s Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds Committee is young in age, having been officially established in 2005, but sincere in its commitment to advance issues and work toward the betterment of the libraries it represents. The eleven members of the Committee include representations appointed by the American Indian Library Association, the American Association of School Libraries, the Public Library Association, the OLOS (Office of Literacy and Outreach Services) Advisory Committee, and ALA’s Legislative Committee along with six members appointed by the ALA President. The Committee is currently involved with revising content on its website and in planning programs for the 2011 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Committee members invited librarians in rural area to commemorate Banned Books Week 2011 by reading Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Members are currently in discussion with WebJunction on promoting WebJunction resources, especially continuing education opportunities, to those working in rural libraries.

The other ALA unit involved with tribal libraries is the ALA OLOS Subcommittee on Library Services to Native Americans, chaired by the immediate past President of the American Indian Library Association (AILA), one of five ethnic library associations affiliated with ALA. AILA meets at each ALA Midwinter Meeting and ALA Annual Conference. 

Those interested in Native library issues may be members of other communities. Those working at tribal college librarians may participate in the annual Tribal College Librarians Professional Development Institute that has taken place, usually on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, over the past fifteen years. Tribal librarians in Arizona hold an annual meeting and those in Arizona have frequent meetings and participate in NALSIG, the Native American Libraries Special Interest Group of the New Mexico Library Association. The Oklahoma Library Association has a Tribal Libraries, Archives & American Indian Collections Ad Hoc Committee . The Alaska Library Association has an Alaska Native Issues Roundtable. Nationally, a National Archives, Libraries, and Museums organization is under consideration, building on national conferences held since 2003. Meanwhile, those involved in tribal information settings in Wisconsin have held their first of three years of Convening Culture Keepers and the Alaska State Library is hosting anAlaska Native Libraries, Archives, and Museums Summit in April 2011.

Outside of the United States the two most well known national indigenous library organizations are Te Ropu Whakahau (Maori in Libraries and Information Management) in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network (ATSILIRN) in Australia. Since 1999, indigenous librarians from around the world have met at the International Indigenous Librarians Forum (IILF); the next IILF will take place in April 2011 in Karaskjok, Norway. An international forum for discussing indigenous library issues is the Special Interest Group on Indigenous Matters  of the International Federation of Library Associations and Organizations (IFLA). Anyone can join the IFLA SIG; only the convener is required to be a personal member of IFLA and other members of the IFLA SIG need not be members of IFLA.

The IFLA SIG has formed several task forces that are addressing issues of interest to indigenous librarianship around the world. These deal with key issues (including definitions), an international outreach plan to locate and include other indigenous librarians, identification of key protocol documents, a task force to review IFLA documents, and a task force to explore the role of libraries and information settings in strengthening indigenous languages.

These organizations illustrate the wide ranging communities that are and can be impacted by rural, Native, and tribal libraries. Challenges exist as these libraries are typically underfunded and have needs for staff development and resources. As associations develop and more gatherings are organized, these needs will be broadcasted more widely. Those working in these settings will have opportunities to learn from others and to share their unique experiences with the greater library world.

Dr. Roy is the current chair of the ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds (RNTLOAK), and is a Past President of ALA (2007-2008).

16Mar/10Off

Promoting Wellness in Body and Mind

Libraries and Hospitals Join Forces For Children’s Literacy

Ellyn Ruhlmann, PR Coordinator

Waukegan Public Library

Waiting is never easy for a child. For a child in a hospital, though, it’s really a tough go. The looming surgery, the unfamiliar setting, even just the break in routine all pile on anxiety and make minutes seem like hours. Now, many libraries are partnering with hospitals to help ease that anxiety and hook these young captives on reading. The strategy sometimes offers a way to reach new patrons in literacy-challenged communities.

DJ Leonhardt helped forged one such partnership recently in Waukegan, Illinois. A literacy advocate, Leonhardt lobbies for her cause from two fronts, as board member of the Waukegan Public Library, and as an active member of the local Rotary Club—an organization dedicated to promoting literacy. She sees the school statistics, and they’re startling. The last Illinois District Report Card showed 31 percent of all kids enrolled in Waukegan public schools are “limited English-proficient.” Over 70 percent are Hispanic and fall into the low-income category.

“Books provide such a phenomenal breadth of entertainment and knowledge,” said Leonhardt. “It occurred to me that one way to reach families is through children entering the hospital.” She and fellow Rotarian, Richard Lee, WPL Executive Director, came up with a program called “Gift of Reading.” Funded by the Rotary Club, Gift of Reading provides a new, usually hardbound book to any patient age 18 and under entering the local hospital, Vista Medical Center.

Wedging those costs into the Rotary budget requires some ingenuity. Collection Management staff at the library negotiate special pricing on books that will appeal to each segment based on the hospital’s admission demographics. Their first shipment of more than a thousand books came in at only $1.95 each. Rotarians deliver the books, and the library maintains the collection at the hospital. Then, each child’s nurse chooses a book that best fits the patient’s age and interests, and presents it to the child. 

“We are honored to have our pediatric patients receive books from the Waukegan Public Library and the Waukegan Rotary Club throughout 2010,” said Barbara J. Martin, President and CEO of Vista Health System. “Reading is fundamental for children to explore and grow.” To top that off, it’s a potent stress-reducer. New research shows just six minutes of reading can lower stress levels by more than two-thirds. That makes a visit to the hospital an opportune time to kindle a child’s interest in books.

To keep that interest fanned after patients leave the hospital, the library equips each book with a WPL bookmark and a letter promoting the library’s Early Learning Center and Literacy Suite. There, visitors can sign up for free adult basic education and family literacy classes. Like many of the books provided, the letter offers its message in English and Spanish, reflecting the largely Latino makeup of the area. 

“We call our program Gift of Reading not only because we’re giving away books, but because reading in itself is a gift—a lifetime gift,” said Lee. “We hope, once these kids leave the hospital, they’ll have a new reason to visit the library.”

Now, he and Leonhardt are working to expand the program to provide a collection of free, new or gently used books in English and Spanish for the hospital waiting room. The collection will include adult and children’s books, and like the patient books, each will come stamped with a bookplate naming the literacy partners, and include the WPL letter and bookmark.

Gift of Reading isn’t a groundbreaking program. Hospitals and libraries countrywide have partnered on similar projects, such as the Children’s Literacy Program at the Children’s Hospital in Central California; Reach Out & Read at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia; Read to Me at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island, and many more. While not new, these partnerships are especially critical in high-need, low-resource areas like Waukegan—where one book can spark a lifetime difference. And outreach may be the only way to deliver it.

Source List

 DJ Leonhardt, Board Member of the Waukegan Public Library: djleonhardt@att.net or (847) 775-1899

Illinois District 60 Report Card, 2009: http://www.wps60.org/wpsd60/District.pdf 

Camille Brown, Director of Marketing and PR, Vista Health Systems: Camille_Browne@CHS.net or (847) 360-4354

Richard Lee, Executive Director of the Waukegan Public Library: richardlee@waukeganpl.info or (847) 623-2041, ext. 250

Waukegan Public Library: www.waukeganpl.org or (847) 623-2041

Waukegan Rotary Club: www.waukeganrotaryclub.org 

University of Sussex Study: www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html 

Children’s Literacy Program, Children’s Hospital in Central California: www.childrenscentralcal.org/Services/community/literacy/Pages/Default.aspx

Reach Out & Read, Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia: www.chop.edu/about/chop-in-the-community/reach-out-and-read.html 

Read to Me, Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island: http://bms.brown.edu/pediatrics/riaap/rtm.htm

2Oct/04Off

September Was Adult Literacy Awareness Month

By Lynne A. Price, Adult Literacy & ESL Coordinator, Benicia Public Library, Benicia, CA.

September is always a busy month! Children (and adults) are returning to school; teachers and professors prepare to see their charges again. In the midst of getting backpacks, pens, pencils, and back to school clothes is another special event – Literacy Awareness Month!

In 1986, the United States Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 358, designated September as Adult Literacy Awareness Month; they authorized and requested that the President of the United States issue a proclamation. On August 27, 1986, the late President Ronald Reagan did just that.

“I call on the American people and organizations of every kind to observe the month with activities to increase awareness of the problem of adult illiteracy and to encourage involvement in programs to help eliminate illiteracy and functional illiteracy among adults in our nation.”

In northern California, a coalition of adult literacy library programs known as BALit (Bay Area Literacy) provided a calendar of facts and activities designed to raise awareness in the cities and surrounding communities. I wish I could share how all programs celebrated, yet I’m proud to share what we did in our adult literacy program! I hope to provide literacy programs with ideas for future celebrations, and give you a chance to share your ideas as well.

In the city of Benicia, CA, Mayor Steve Messina issued a proclamation to the Adult Literacy & ESL Program, letting the community know that September 8th was Literacy Awareness Day in Benicia. At the Benicia Public Library, our staff – both library and adult literacy program staffs – worked together to create a special day for the public and the adult literacy program participants. We sent fliers to our volunteers, learners, tutors and donors; we notified the local paper, which helped publicly announce the special day, and invited everyone to participate in activities planned for the day.

As patrons entered the library on September 8th, they stepped into another world – “A Life Without Literacy”. The concept was to encourage people to think of what their life would be like without the gift of literacy. Main signage in the library was covered with signage of unreadable and unintelligible words. ALA READ posters were turned into banners, and decorated by adult literacy learners. The banners were hung throughout the library and contributed to the festive atmosphere. Facts on adult literacy and ideas (taken from the BALit calendar) on how to celebrate were placed on all reading tables and counters. Book Buddies were available to read to children throughout the day. Later in the evening, a Scavenger Hunt was held; the participants were primarily adult learners and tutors. Each participant had to write down their responses, ask questions of staffers, and learn how to navigate the library (not to mention meeting and learning more about the library staff). Winners of the Hunt were given gift certificates to Bookshop Benicia, our local bookstore.

The day ended with a computer raffle for adult learners enrolled in the program. Lupe, a relatively new learner with our program, won the Macintosh computer along with software and diskettes. I felt especially gratified that she won; her reading and comprehension skills are just above the second grade level, and she has 12 children (her eldest children encouraged her to come get help for her literacy skills).

Our planning for this special day paid off. The unreadable signage created the desired effect: patrons couldn’t read them. They had to ask for directions – they needed the help of others. Many immediately understood the impact literacy has in their lives, commenting to library staffers that this small experience had really made them consider how a life can significantly be altered when literacy is absent. Tutors and learners loved the involvement, and everyone felt the significance of the day.

The United Nations has declared 2003 – 2012 the Decade of Literacy, and the Adult Literacy & ESL Program at the Benicia Public Library will make sure to inform the community of the needs of those that continue to struggle with low reading, writing, comprehension and conversational skills. (For more information, go www.unesco.org.)

What did you do?  How did your program celebrate? Did you celebrate for a particular day, or for the entire month? What activities did you provide? Share your stories and experiences, and we’ll be sure to post them here!