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


Do We Have the Will to Help Guide the Digital Natives?

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

Dale Lipschultz, Literacy Officer for the American Library Association, was a panelist in the “Targeted Public Engagement Campaigns” session at the Learning from Hollywood Forum. She is also helping to guide our Action Teams as they work to turn their collective energy into collaborative projects.
I came to the Forum with an open mind tempered by a healthy dose of skepticism. As a pragmatic Midwesterner, I wondered if it was reasonable to learn anything relevant from Hollywood. After all, I know literacy across the lifespan. In fact, I’ve made a rather long career of working in “non-school” settings – libraries, museums, after school programs. I understand the magnitude of the issues and challenges that we as educators, innovators, and occasional optimists face.
Our current educational crisis is not new, but it is reaching epic proportions. We’ve long been a nation at risk for educational failure. We know the statistics — maybe too well. The daunting numbers roll off my tongue every time I make the case of investing more in libraries, literacy, and education. It’s easy to talk about the fourth grade reading crisis, the high school dropout rate, and adult illiteracy numbers so large they shake me to my core and keep me up at night. I know what’s been tried, what’s worked, and what’s fallen by the wayside in the name of progress and ideology.
I also know that the devastating cuts in education funding are deepening this crisis in elementary and secondary education. On the state and local level, under education is now a political and economic strategy. One cost cutting strategy is shortening the school day. These decisions place children already at risk for academic failure on the very brink of slipping through the cracks.
The number of hours children spend outside of the classroom presents both a challenge and an opportunity for educators and innovators. We need to focus on and make the most of this out-of-school time — the ways kids use the time; how communities can develop innovative, coordinated, and scalable learning activities; how the Academy and the philanthropic community can encourage, facilitate, and promote these efforts. And how, in the end, we can inspire a new generation of teachers, learners, and innovators.
I thought about what engagement and participation would look like for libraries. Libraries — public and school — are a critical element in any initiative that addresses 21st century learning, children, after school time, and innovation. Libraries have long served as homework help centers and resource centers. Now the need is greater, the call for action is louder, and the stakes substantially higher. Libraries are the heart of the community serving as community centers and technology hubs, providing access to resources, and offering multiple opportunities for learning, teaching, collaboration, and innovation.
Today’s kids are digital natives — they’re eager to learn, innovate, create, and share. They’re looking to us for direction and strategic guidance. The Forum is a starting point. Our task, as educators and innovators, is to work together, think creatively, and build new systems for educating America’s youth. We have this opportunity, we have the minds, we have the tools, and we have the support. The question is — do we have the will?
Dale Lipschultz is the Literacy Officer in the American Library Association’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. As Literacy Officer, Dale focuses on building ALA’s capacity in adult literacy by working with the Association’s offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., supporting the literacy efforts of public, school, and academic libraries, and collaborating with national partners. Currently, she is the project director for The American Dream Starts @ your library, funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Prior to coming to ALA, Dr. Lipschultz played a leadership role in the founding and development of several Chicago-based literacy initiatives serving children and families. In 1989-1990, she worked as a researcher and teacher in the former Soviet Union. The Velham Project, a grassroots diplomatic and educational initiative funded by the Carnegie Foundation, used first generation computer games and early telecommunications to create a network of computer-based activities for after-school centers in the United States and Moscow.  She has a M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Child Development from the Erikson Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
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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!