Literacy & Reading

[last update 22 September 2003]


An information-intensive society has made a broad range of "literacies" critical - ranging from basic reading to information literacy to computer, media, civic and other literacies.  Basic literacy - the ability to read - remains the critical foundation.  Basic literacy includes emergent literacy, adult literacy, English-as-a-Second-Language, family literacy and related issues.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS: 21st Century Literacy, Equity of Access, Library Services/Development/Technology
RELATED ISSUES:  Digital Divide, Freedom to Read & Freedom of Expression, Library Outreach, Information Literacy


ALAction 2005:  The American Library Association assists and promotes libraries in helping children and adults develop the skills they need - the ability to read and use computers - understanding that the ability to seek and effectively utilize information resources is essential in a global information society.  (Key Action Area statement)


  • Increasing importance of libraries as literacy providers in their communities
  • Increasing need for libraries to provide literacy services to adults from other countries


  • ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services/ Literacy Committee, OLOS Advisory Committee, Literacy Assembly
  • Young Adult Library Services Association
  • American Association of School Librarians
  • Association for Library Services to Children


  • National Coalition for Literacy
  • National Institute for Literacy
  • Verizon Reads


  • 1902 - Andrew Carnegie provided a $100,000 endowment for "the preparation and publication of reading lists, indexes and bibliographical aids." That endowment, still supporting such lists, is now the Carnegie-Whitney Endowment.
  • 1924 - The ALA Commission on the Library and Adult Education was appointed.  Their  report - Libraries and Adult Education - was published in 1926.
  • 1936 - The [ALA] Library Extension Board and Committee on Planning released The Equal Chance: Books Help to Make It.
  • 1952 - ALA established an Office for Adult Education, with Ford Foundation funding.
  • 1952 - YASD (now YALSA) began publication of Significant Adult Books for Teens and Interesting Books.
  • 1954 - Adult Education Activities in Public Libraries by Helen H. Lyman was published.
  • 1959 - At the request of NEA, YASD (now YALSA) developed Outstanding Fiction, a list of outstanding books for college-bound high school students. A list of outstanding biographies was produced the following year, also at NEA's request.  Two additional lists - on theatre and nonfiction - were produced.
  • 1969 - The Coordinating Committee on Library Service to the Disadvantaged (est. 1968) published Library Service to the Disadvantaged; A Study Based on Responses to Questionnaires from Public Libraries Serving Populations of Over 15,000.
  • 1970s - ALA published a series of books by Helen Huguenor Lyman:  Library Materials in Service to the New Reader (1973), Reading and the Adult New Reader (1976) and Literacy and the Nation's Libraries (1977).
  • 1972 - The ALA Office for Library Service to the Disadvantaged (OLSD) was established, with a standing Advisory Committee.  The name was later changed to Office for Library for Library Outreach Services and then to Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS).
  • 1975 - An ALA project on literacy was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.  The project would result in Literacy and the Nation's Libraries (Helen H. Lyman).
  • 1978 - OLSD (now OLOS) implemented the Literacy Training Project - to instruct 200 librarians and trustees in the teaching of reading and the development of library literacy programs.
  • 1983 - ALA, working with 11 other organizations, formed the Coalition for Literacy.
  • 1984 - A national public awareness campaign on literacy was launched (produced by the Advertising Council), to focus attention on the "hidden" problem of illiterate adults and to recruit volunteer tutors.
  • 1989 - The ALA Literacy Assembly was established and charged "to establish a focal point within ALA that will emphasize the Association's continuing commitment to literacy...."
  • 1989 - ALA and Bell Atlantic launched "A Partnership to Fight Illiteracy," a family literacy project "to improve the basic reading skills of hundreds of parents and children, create a network of trained family literacy providers, and encourage the development of similar, community-based programs nationwide."
  • 1993 - ALA (OLOS) received two grants for literacy projects extending through 1994:  the ALA Cargill Partners for Family Literacy project (Read All About It ...Together) and the Viburnum Foundation rural library family literacy project.
  • 1994 - ALA and Bell Atlantic co-sponsored a traveling literacy exhibit: "Read to someone you love.  Literacy begins at home." It opened at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
  • 1994 - Booklinks, a companion publication to Booklist, was begun, focusing on connecting books, libraries and classrooms.
  • 1995 - The Office for Library Outreach Services became the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services.
  • 1997 -- The ALA/Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund Initiative - Literacy in Libraries Across America (LILAA) - led to development of a broad ALA strategic plan for improving Association support for libraries addressing literacy issues.
  • 1998 - ALA began funding a Literacy Officer position, within OLOS.
  • 1998 - YALSA and ALA PIO launch Teen Read Week, an adolescent literacy initiative focused on getting teens to read "for the fun of it."
  • 2000 - ALA Council established the Literacy Committee.
  • 2000 - PLA worked with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to disseminate the National Reading Report, which provided research-based findings concerning reading development in the U.S., and to develop model public library programs incorporating the research.
  • 2001 - PLA developed a model program for parents and caregivers, a unique 3-workshop structure for the distinctive phases of a young child's emergent literacy: pretalkers, talkers and prereaders.  ALSC and PLA worked together to pilot and test an evaluation method in public libraries designed to test whether parents incorporated needed skill-building activities into their time with the preschool children and to document library effectiveness as early literacy providers.
  • 2001 - ALA joined with Verizon, the National Center for Family Literacy, the National Institute for Literacy, and Reading is Fundamental to form to Verizon Literacy Network, an online network to provide continuous access to a broad range of critical resources for the promotion of literacy.
  • 2001 - launched at the ALA Annual Conference, promoting literacy coalitions in library communities.


Issue Summaries

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