ALA Family Literacy Focus

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Creating Family Literacy Focus Initiatives

Family literacy programming has a long history in public libraries. Family literacy @ your  library probably started when a children’s librarian carefully selected a familiar storybook, gathered children and parents in a semi-circle, held the book so everyone could see the pictures, assumed her best storybook reading voice, and read the book from beginning to end. The children were drawn in by the words and images, the parents treasured the peace and quiet, and the librarian knew that she was reaching, engaging, and teaching her  youngest patrons and their parents.

Family literacy, as a national movement, emerged in the late 1980’s in response to the 1983 release of  the seminal report A Nation at Risk (, National Commission on Excellence in Education).  The report noted that the best predictor of a child’s success in school was the mother’s level of education (i.e. grade level completed).  Educators and policy makers agreed that the best way to help children succeed in school was to improve the parents’  literacy level.  An even better idea was to make school success a family issue. As family literacy programs sprang up across the country a national, four component model emerged. This new model included children’s literacy activities from play to print, adult literacy instruction (1:1 tutoring or small group instruction), family time where parents and children learned and played together, and finally, parenting classes.

In January 2010, ALA and ALA 2009-2010 President Dr. Camila Alire launched the Family Literacy Focus, an initiative to encourage and inspire families in ethnically diverse communities to read and learn together. ALA’s five Ethnic Affiliates received funding to develop sustainable and replicable library-based family literacy programs that emphasize oral and written traditions and promote reading, writing, and storytelling.

The ethnic affiliates are the American Indian Library Association ( AILA), the Asian/Pacific Americans Library Association ( APALA), the Black Caucus of the American Library Association ( BCALA), the Chinese-American Library Association ( CALA), and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking ( REFORMA).

In June 2010, at ALA’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., the five Ethnic Affiliates showcased their projects and shared their products. The Affiliates built websites with project resources, program models, and family stories; developed manuals, toolkits, bibliographies, and interactive databases; created press releases, and bilingual print and digital brochures; designed posters, banners, book bags, pens, and notebooks. 

Since the program was launched the following are some of the events and achievements of these programs have produced:

The Initiatives

Dai Dai Xiang Chuan (Bridging Generations, A Bag at a Time)

Chinese-American Library Association

CALACALA’s FLF project, Dai Dai Xiang Chuan – Bridging Generations, a Bag at a Time --  is designed to improve intergenerational literacy, cultural awareness, and life skills for immigrant families and families with adopted children from China and Chinese speaking countries. Public libraries in Cleveland, San Francisco and Indiana and the Miami (Ohio) University Library participated in the project. Each library created  five themed bags based on the interests, needs, and resources of their community.
Dai Dai Xiang Chuan is a pun on generation and bags – while the words are written differently in Chinese, they are pronounced the same. All of the themed bags focused on traditional Chinese activities and celebrations including holidays and festivals, cooking, exercise, health, and the arts. The bags included books, DVDs, recipes, flash cards, and craft materials and instructions.
Families participated in story time, dragon boat racing, model building, and other cooking and craft activities.  Dai Dai Xiang Chuan also included a Showcase Day where participating families shared their favorite Dai Dai literacy.



Noche de Cuentos

REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking


As part of the FLF initiative, REFORMA awarded five NOCHE DE CUENTOS mini-grants to honor their oral tradition, bring generations together,  and build strong literacy skills. 

  • Half Moon Bay Branch, San Mateo (CA) County Public Library helped fifth graders create and share family storybook albums on Noche de Cuentos. 

National National City (CA) Public Library and the Libros Chapter of REFORMA, San Diego hosted three Noche de Cuentos evenings featuring storytelling performances and music and dancing, and  an intergenerational literacy activity .

Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) Library (CML) hosted two well-attended events, a storytelling performance and an informal storytelling evening where participants told their own stories.

Salinas (CA) Public Library invited abuelitas (grandmothers) to tell their life stories. Their oral life histories will be published and the book will be available at the library as a public record of the event. 

REFORMA’s central Texas chapter, El Corazon de Tejas and the Mexican American Cultural Center hosted community-wide events featuring local writers and speakers.



Reading is Grand!

Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA)

Reading is Grand!

BCALA’s  “Reading is Grand” focused on the grandparent-grandchild relationship.  Increasingly, African American grandparents are responsible for raising and educating their grandchildren. 

The “Reading is Grand” kickoff event was held at the Whitney Young Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The afternoon event featured  author , historian and  storyteller Irene Smalls.  Ms. Smalls shared her own lively family stories and read from her books, My Pop Pop and Me; My Nana and Me.  Following the reading, grandparents shared their family memories with the younger generation. Grandparents and grandchildren worked together on a journal especially for their family stories. Each participating grand-family received a book to add to their home library. 






Talk Story

A joint project with the American Indian Library Association and the Asian/Pacific Librarians Association

Talk Story


AILA and APALA pooled their FLF funds to develop Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture. Talk story is a Hawaiian term referring to an informal style of conversation where a person shares a story while others corroborate or add to it as it is being told.

The AILA/APALA initiative is designed for families in Native or Asian Pacific communities, but can be adapted for any ethnic group. Participating libraries included the Carson Public Library, Carson, Calif.; Lincoln Public Libraries, Lincoln Neb.; Queens Library, Flushing N.Y.; Tuzzy Consortium Library, Barrow, Alaska; and the Laguna Public Library, Laguna, N.M.

AILA/APALA’s  Talk Story’s focuses on a celebratory literacy event at the library with a structured storytime and followed by informal storytelling. Storytimes include a theme, recommended books, and craft activities. AILA and APALA created bibliographies of quality children’s and young adult books written by Asian American or American Indian/Alaskan Native authors. The program stressed the importance of reading to children and included tips for choosing and reading books.


Additional Information

     The American Dream Starts @ your library
     Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services

Visit the ODLOS   Intersections blog for stories from the field.


For more information, please contact the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services; (800) 545-2433, ext. 4294,
or email