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


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.


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.


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!


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.


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).