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