Literacy Clearinghouse

The American Library Association’s Committee on Literacy defines literacy as “the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential."

ALA 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.

This site aims to bring together resources from across the American Library Associations' offices and divisions that promote literacy across the lifespan. 

Equity of Access and Literacy

Libraries have a long tradition of providing resources and services for individuals wanting to improve their reading and writing skills.  Basic, functional literacy is an essential skill for an individual’s personal, educational, and professional growth—it is also key to their full, beneficial use of the library’s services and programs. 

Literacy Across the Profession

Adult Literacy

Libraries have a long tradition of providing resources and services for adults wanting to improve their reading and writing skills.  Basic, functional literacy is an essential skill for an individual’s personal and professional growth—it is also key to their full, beneficial use of the library’s services and programs.  Adult literacy is still a concern in the United States and a key focus of libraries’ outreach efforts.

 

Adolescent Literacy

As they prepare to participate in society as critical, productive adults, adolescents are faced with the challenge of understanding, analyzing, and synthesizing a barrage of information. For 21st-century literacy, adolescents must be able to read and write in different modes and disciplines and to engage with a variety of print and digital materials, both effectively and responsibly. Libraries play a key role in helping adolescents navigate these dynamic challenges, and ALA is at the forefront of that work.

Created by YALSA, the Adolescent Literacy Wiki highlights principles for promoting literacy growth among adolescents, provides key statistics, and links to tools and resources for educators and funding sources.

The division offers a Social Networking Toolkit for librarians and library workers who work with teens, as well as an Advocacy Toolkit that provides practical steps, strategies, and statements for advocating for library services for teens.

For more on adolescent literacy, see YALSA’s collection of downloadable resources and YALSA Academy’s videos.

Digital Literacy

Like information literacy, digital literacy requires skills in locating and using information and in critical thinking. Beyond that, however, digital literacy involves knowing digital tools and using them in communicative, collaborative ways through social engagement.
Among the digital literacy resources Public Library Association (PLA) promotes at http://www.ala.org/pla/tools/digitalliteracy is their own adult literacy website for training and resource sharing, http://digitallearn.org/. The site offers tools for self-guided learning, a network of individuals sharing ideas, best practices, and resources around digital literacy, and a searchable database of free computer training.
 
ALA Washington Office's District Dispatch also has a collection of blog posts related to government policy and initiatives geared towards digital literacy at http://www.districtdispatch.org/category/digilit/

Early Childhood Literacy

For children ages zero to five, language and literacy development is crucial: The extent to which children develop early literacy skills is a determining factor not only in future literacy and academic achievement but in success in life.  ALA recognizes the role of libraries in early childhood literacy and of parents as first teachers; as such, the Association provides rich resources for promoting and facilitating early literacy. 

  • Early Literacy
  • For two decades, Books for Babies, an initiative of ALA’s United for Libraries, has provided parents of newborns with resources to engage in early literacy activities with their infants. The kits, available in English and Spanish, include a board book, an application for the child’s first library card, and informational brochures.
  • The importance of early literacy to success in life is well documented; statements and studies to that effect can be found in United for Libraries’ Power Guide for Successful Advocacy. (See page 27 in Appendix A.) More information on this subject is available at the division’s Early Literacy page.
  • The Babies Need Words Every Day: Talk, Read, Sing, Play public awareness campaign, launched by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), promotes the importance of parent and caregiver communication with babies. Free, customizable resources include posters with simple ideas for boosting children’s language and a book list brochure to support concept and language acquisition.

Family Literacy

Family literacy involves the literate activities families engage in at home and in the larger community. These interactive routines might include reading and writing together, playing an educational video game, or simply talking to infants and responding to the sounds they make. In January 2010, ALA and then President Dr. Camila Alire initiated the Family Literacy Focus to promote family literacy across diverse communities.

Information Literacy

As ALA defines it, information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." To be information literate, then, one needs skills not only in research but in critical thinking. The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has taken the lead in developing Information Literacy resources; chief among these resources are the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.

Library Collection Development and Technical Services 

Libraries promote literacy and learning across the lifespan through providing access to materials geared to help people from all walks of life. Through implementation of effective collection development policies, as well as classification and cataloging of library materials in accordance with descriptive standards such as Resource Description and Access, technical services and materials selection professionals ensure that patrons have access to quality resources that are relevant to their literacy needs. 

Since 1957, the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) and its members have served as leaders in the areas of materials acquisition, identification, cataloging, classification, and preservation. 

Through its Online Learning, ALCTS hosts a series of webinars and web courses that include digital literacy, such as on podcasts and the role that librarians can play. See the division’s YouTube channel for the complete archive of free webinars.

Literacy for English language learners

For immigrants seeking to learn English, libraries are often a first point of access to information and services. Recognizing that libraries are uniquely positioned as “safety nets” for English language learners (ELL), ALA has taken on the charge of providing resources—informational to financial—to assist libraries in serving their ELL populations.

ALA’s Offices for Diversity and Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS), in conjunction with ALA’s Office for Research and Statistics and Public Programs Office, offer a toolkit of resources, strategies, and replicable programs for serving English language learners at your library.

Funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and administered by ALA OLOS, the American Dream Starts @ your library program has provided one-time grants of $5,000 to $15,000 to more than 150 libraries since 2007. With this funding, libraries have been able to add or improve literacy services for adult English language learners and their families, including ESL collections, tutoring, and classes, computer access and training, and citizenship and GED classes.

 

ALA Divisions and Member Groups

·         ALA Committee on Literacy

·         Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)

·         American Association of School Librarians (AASL)

·         Public Library Association (PLA)

·         Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)

·         Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

·         Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS)

·         United for Libraries

Selected Literacy Policies and Statements

·         Policy 50.6.1 Literacy and State Library Agencies

·         Policy 50.5.2 Literacy and the Role of Libraries

·         2013 ALA Council Resolution Affirming ALA’s Commitment to Basic Literacy

·         21st Century Literacy

Contact and Questions

Questions?  Comments?  If you would like to share questions or comments on ALA’s resources for serving adult new and non-readers, please contact ALA’s Office for Literacy Services at 800.545.2433, ext. 4294, or olos@ala.org.