The workshop on Literacy initiatives has thus far been focused on sucessful programs and the history of how they got there. It is very interesting (and inspiring and frankly a little intimidating). A lot of the presenters are state librarians or work on that level and are discussing state wide programs. I keep reminding myself that it is okay to start small. I've taken pages and pages of notes and my hand is starting to cramp up. I would think about taking my laptop, but it can also be a bit of a distraction. Here are some of the highlights and I believe I have them all associated with the right people.
Susan Hildreth (PLA president and state librarian of California) talked about the new PLA service response that emphasizes literacy for teens and adults and family programs. It is separated out from early childhood literacy. Quite often it is easy to focus on early childhood literacy (as in the absolutely wonderful program Every Child Ready to Read) that these other components get missed. The way that PLA reshaped this service response seems a very good solution to this problem.
According to the National Association of Adult Literacy, 90 million adults (out of 221 million) are at basic or below basic literacy skills. 30 million of those are below basic level. At the basic level you can do some simple tasks like filling out a bank deposit slip, but not much more. Service is needed for adults whose reading level is below that required for entrance in adult educational activities.
Here's a controversial question posed by Gary Strong (UCLA librarian and former state librarian of California): Are libraries educational institutions? For many libraries this seems to be a tricky point. Are we here to provide books and access to information or are we also going to help people read those books and access that information in a more effective and more literate way? My personal opinion: While we can not and should not ever attempt to be schools, there is a place for some educational services such as literacy services in our libraries. This should be in supplement and partnership to those services provided by other agencies. However this is a tricky slippery slope. How much is too much? Is it really ever too much?
While so many people are interested in childhood literacy and early childhood literacy, Robert Wedgeworth (of ProLiteracy Worldwide) repeatedly pointed out that it is the educational level of the parent that most influences the child's literacy abilities. By offering literacy services to adults, we are increasing childhood literacy. This brings us to the idea of family literacy services and that we must (as several of the panel speakers pointed out) provide literacy programs for all ages and that these programs should work together. To paraphrase him (since I'm sure I didn't get an exact quote): No children's literacy program can be completely sucessful without a companion adult program.
I also really liked this: literacy is not just about knowledge, but it enables a better quality of life for your entire family. For example you can monitor your family's health and medications more effectively with a higher level of literacy.
Gary Strong also made an interesting point. Again to paraphrase: Libraries are not an island unto themselves - they can not solve every community problem by themselves. But they can be an amazing force to identify and help solve problems in partnerships. Which leads us to the next question: How do you place the library as a key player in the community?
There was a lot more, that was only the first panel. I only got through about half of my morning notes. I'll try to bring lots more later, but now it is time to head back to my afternoon session.