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


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.

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