The Role of Literacy in Public Libraries

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Promotion of literacy for all segments of society has been part of the role of modern public libraries since they began to appear in the mid-1800s. This bibliography presents a short history and introduction to the role of public libraries around the world in encouraging the spread of literacy, as well as a comprehensive list of resources that can be used to understand more about this vital topic. Also included is a timeline of the development of literacy programs in U.S. public libraries, and a list of U.S. and international literacy organizations.


Wadholm 1 Public Libraries and Lifelong Learning: The Role of Public Libraries in Literacy Educationby Grace Wadholm Researched and written for a course at the School of Library and Information Science Indiana University, Bloomington

Abstract Promotion of literacy for all segments of society has been part of the role of modern public libraries since they began to appear in the mid-1800s. This bibliography presents a short history and introduction to the role of public libraries around the world in encouraging the spread of literacy, as well as a comprehensive list of resources that can be used to understand more about this vital topic. Also included is a timeline of the development of literacy programs in U.S. public libraries, and a list of U.S. and international literacy organizations. Introduction The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) defined literacy as using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve ones goals, and to develop ones knowledge and potential (Fitzgibbons 1999, p 2). UNESCOs statement on literacy describes it as reaching into all parts of an individuals life, because it is the means to accessing all types of information, to meet vital needs and to enable full participation in society (Nassimbeni 2004). Zapata (1994) states the act of reading and writing is an expression of democracy, (p. 124) as well as the means for individuals to fully express and develop their creativity. Historically, the definition of literacy has shifted from a persons ability to write his or her name to encompassing a range of functional skills in using information, including prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy (Eyre 2004, Fitzgibbons 1999, NCES 2003, Salter 1991). Though it is important to remember that many cultures have unique definitions of literacy and practices for sharing and exchanging knowledge, not least of which are oral cultures (Taylor 1997), it is clear that for much of the world, the ability to read, write and comprehend written information is essential. It influences a persons ability to access the information around them and to expand upon and interact creatively with this information. This interaction enables them to develop personally and to participate in the social development of their community, society and culture.

Wadholm 2 Modern public libraries have played a part in promoting literacy and education since they were first established in the 1800s. Public libraries in the U.S. and Britain were formed in the wake of the spread of public literacy, with the belief that education should be for all people and should be freely available (Black 1996, Kelly 1966, McCook 2004). In the United States, libraries have been involved in teaching English to immigrants since the turn of the twentieth century (Marcum and Stone 1991), have held storytimes and provided reading services to children since the same time period (Albright 2009, Greene 1996), and have been involved in literacy services directly related to teaching and promoting literacy since the 1960s (Fitzgibbons 1999). Today, library literacy services extend to all patron groups, collaborate with many types of literacy organization, and are leaders in providing and creating literacy materials for new and learning readers (Decandido 2001, Fitzgibbons 1999, Krolak 2005, McLoughlin 2004). This bibliography looks at the characteristics and functions of library literacy programs, both in the U.S. and throughout the world, and what further developments are needed to make library literacy programs more effective. Because for libraries, our vast resources are virtually worthless to citizens who are unable to read and write or who possess limited literacy skills (Salter 1991, p xvi). Public Library Literacy Programs Research on reading and literacy The connection between reading and literacy has been researched extensively. Neuman has been involved in several studies researching the link between access to books and early and childhood literacy. She traced the connection between parents and caregiver interaction and early literacy skills in both Books Make a Difference (2009) and Children Engaged in Storybook Reading (1996). In the first, she found that access to books and the presence of an engaged caregiver increased preschoolers interest in books, but that continued access to books, such as those available at the public library, is necessary for long-term impact. She discovered in the second that parent interaction in storybook reading is effective in increasing preschoolers early literacy skills, even if parents have low reading proficiency. The benefits of library resources and committed librarians were researched in Save the Librarians (2004) and Knowledge Gap (2006). In the first, Neuman and Celano described the influences of librarians and library collections on childrens reading levels and their interest in books. In the second, Neuman found that access to

Wadholm 3 better resources in libraries is not enough to overcome the knowledge gap that exists between low and middle-income communities, and proportionally more resources are needed in at-risk areas to compensate. Celano and Neuman also evaluated the role of summer reading programs on childrens literacy levels (2001), and found that libraries had a positive impact on students knowledge of books and interest in reading. Other research has found positive connections between access to reading materials and literacy skills and attitudes. Krashen (2009) advocated the benefits of high-interest reading materials and the value of self-selected reading as a method of reading instruction. Iaquinta (2006) researched the effectiveness of guided reading, in which independent reading skills are promoted through small reading groups. Minkel (2002) reported positive results from the Its Never to Early program, in which Maryland public libraries provided book collections and training to childcare providers to increase their knowledge of early literacy skills and teaching techniques and to provide children with more access to books. Finally, Constantino (1998) presents a range of studies that show a clear link between reading levels and access to reading materials, both in English and native languages. Her findings also reflect the need to ensure minority patrons understand the purpose of the library and how to access library resources. The role of public libraries in literacy education Libraries have several characteristics that make them ideal locations for literacy services. They provide free access to a variety of resources, are often centrally located in a community, and are open at convenient times. Libraries are also seen as a hospitable and unstructured alternative to formal education settings, such as community colleges (Gibbs 1990, Heeks 2000, Krolak 2005). Though libraries provide many types of literacy services, three primary roles for libraries are in the areas of: 1) Collection development; 2) Services and resources; and 3) Literacy programming. These three roles are applicable across cultural boundaries, being identified in research around the world (Fitzgibbons 2000, Gibbs 1990, Krolak 2005, MacCann 1989, Thomas 1993). Wilcox, Johnson and Zweizig identified these roles Libraries: Partners in Adult Literacy (1990), a study on activities in U.S. library adult literacy programs. The IFLA Section on Literacy and Reading also recommended these primary areas for library literacy involvement in Coles (2001) article describing IFLAs international involvement in literacy. Within these roles are a range of activities, possibilities, and challenges for libraries in creating literacy programs.

Wadholm 4 Collection Development Library collections are used in many ways to promote literacy activities. Libraries provide print and audiovisual materials for both learners in the library and in outreach to community organizations, especially daycare sites. Libraries provide access to computer and Internet tools, bridging the information gap by providing free access to information technology. Libraries can also provide new materials for learners to use. These materials can be produced by the libraries, created by learners, or created in partnership with publishers when a need for resources is recognized. These materials can make up for a lack of suitable resources, provide materials in native languages, and provide materials of local interest to learners (Beder 1991, Coleman 1986, Constantino 1998, Wilcox et. al. 1990, Krolak 2005, Zapata 1993). Internationally, the creation of materials by libraries is an important service, because often the supply of native language materials or materials suitable for new learners is inadequate (Coleman 1981, Jones 1991, Krolak 2005, Okiy 2003, Thomas 1993). Several researchers also note the importance of removing any obstacle to learners in accessing the collection, such as fines or lending fees (Constantino 1998, Zapata 1993). Services and Resources Services that libraries can provide for local or national literacy programs or community literacy advocacy groups span many areas. Libraries can provide space for literacy programs; library staff for training volunteers or teaching literacy classes; advocacy and publicity support; library funds to support the program; office supplies and similar materials; and information and referral services to help potential learners or volunteers become involved in the programs (Coleman 1986, Wilcox et. al. 1990, Zapata 1993). Libraries can collaborate with many different groups and organizations within a community. They can work with the local school system to provide homework assistance, reading instruction, and collections; with daycares, Headstarts, or other childcare sights to provide training and resources; with local community colleges to provide resources for adult literacy programs; with local literacy training programs (such as Literacy Volunteers of America) to provide space and training resources; and with media organizations, business institutions, and community literacy advocacy groups to raise awareness of illiteracy within the community and to local governing officials. Often, libraries must seek out collaboration activities themselves and be proactive in their involvement in community literacy efforts (Cole 2001, Coleman 1986,

Wadholm 5 DeCandido 2001, Krolak 2005, Wilcox et. al. 1990). Collaboration can be powerful, as seen in the Pennsylvania One Book program, in which libraries annually collaborate with museums, publishers, community organizations and education centers to raise awareness of the importance of storybook reading and early literacy through storytimes, workshops, training, and resources, all centered on one picture book (Pannebaker 2008). Internationally, IFLA encourages libraries strongly to reach out in collaboration, because often libraries are overlooked as important literacy resources (IFLA 1999). Literacy Programming Celano (2005) lists three primary sections of the population that are targeted in public library literacy programs: preschool and elementary children, adults (over age 16) with poor literacy, and people learning English as a second language (ESL). Services to preschool and elementary children are further separated into early literacy programming, programs for school and homework support, and young adult library programming. Research into the importance of early literacy has recently helped to reinforce the value of library programming to babies and preschoolers. U.S. initiatives based on this research led to the organization of the Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library workshop series, a program created by the PLA and ALSC in partnership with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to disseminate information on early literacy research to parents and caregivers (Ghoting 2005). Martinez (2008) reports on many ways that libraries provide early literacy services, including newsletters, outreach visits, bookmobile services and teacher and caregiver training. Summer reading programs are one of the most effective programs in public libraries for promoting literacy and reading to school age children and youth. Neuman and Celano (2001) reviewed the positive impact of summer library programs on childens reading levels. Walter and Markey (1997) found that parents play a vital role in childrens involvement in summer reading programs. Gaming is playing a role in literacy promotion to young adults, taking advantage of the literacy aspects of computer and board games and the appeal of these activities to youth ( Adult literacy programs incorporate many different teaching techniques and approaches. Often, libraries try to meet the needs of the learners in order to help them incorporate literacy into their daily lives. Beder (1990) highlights the importance of adaptability and appealing to the individual needs of adult learners. DeCandido (2001) provides a range of case studies that

Wadholm 6 present different styles and approaches to adult literacy programs, many of which focus on empowering the learner to be a part of the teaching process. McCook and Barber (2002) review the many issues and factors, especially government legislation and funding, that influence how adult literacy program are organized in libraries. Recently, family literacy programs have gained momentum as a way to incorporate the whole family in literacy learning. Monsour and Talan (1993) point out the benefits of family literacy in addressing the problem of generational illiteracy. Totten (2009) created a guide for family literacy programs that introduces the many benefits of these types of programs, including empowering parents to teach their children, providing opportunities for ESL learning, and incorporating early literacy research into literacy training for adults. ESL library programs in the United States have been conducted since the early 1900s (Marcum and Stone 1991). Libraries have found it important to create training that is relevant and meaningful to learners, often incorporating conversation groups, themes related to learners native cultures, and family literacy elements that help learners make literacy a part of their home environment (Monsour and Talan 1993, Strong 2001, Totten 2009). Issues to consider in library literacy programs The organization of library literacy programs and services must take into account many different issues. Some of the primary concerns and areas for further development mentioned in literature include training, evaluation, funding, and learner recruitement and persistence. Also important is the issue of national collaboration and guidance for local library programs, a role the ALA has been actively filling for many years. Training Training within library literacy programs must take place for both volunteer tutors and library staff. The Queens Publ...


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