CHICAGO — As we mark 2016’s National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, from Sept. 26 through Oct. 1, libraries across the country are transforming lives through literacy services for adults and families. The increasing demand for services underscores the intersection of literacy with access and equity. In its ties to income inequality, health outcomes, housing access, and rates of incarceration, literacy is an issue of social and economic justice.
In the U.S., more than 30 million adults struggle with basic literacy. Adults who lack a high school diploma are more than twice as likely as those with higher levels of education to be unemployed, working a low-wage job, and living in poverty. At the same time, individuals with high school credentials earn roughly $10,000 more per year than those without. Over four decades, education levels have a greater impact on earnings than any other demographic factor. The impact of low literacy is evident across generations as well: A mother’s education level is the number one determinant of her children’s future academic success.
Libraries are helping to bridge these gaps through their adult and family literacy services. At Sioux Center Public Library, adult literacy staff has leveraged community partnerships to expand access and services for adult learners. Members of the rural community were eager to take the Spanish GED, but the library lacked the staffing to offer classes. Over the course of a year, Bilingual Services Director Ruth Mahaffy advocated for a partnership with Northwest Iowa Community College, which is 30 miles from Sioux Center—a prohibitive distance for prospective participants. The College agreed to bring the classes to the community if the library could guarantee five students. Twenty-four people signed up. The College now offers classes 30 hours per week at the library, double the number initially offered, and the library recruits the most students for the College.
At Azusa City Library in California, adult literacy staff established Health Literacy Learning, a partnership among the library, the Azusa Neighborhood Wellness Center, and the Azusa Pacific University. The program is grounded in the belief that literacy is “a catalyst to transform lives.” And indeed, through these twice-a-week sessions over eight weeks, participants develop skills in English language learning while also gaining literacy in health-related topics such as nutrition, exercise, and disease prevention. Nursing students answer participants’ questions, monitor participants’ blood pressure, and track exercise through pedometers given to each participant.
In celebrating Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, we recognize the efforts of these and countless other libraries working year round in the service of literacy for adults and their families.
About the American Library Association Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services
The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, providing association information, news, events, and advocacy resources for members, librarians, and library users. The Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services supports equity and inclusion as fundamental values of the association. Initiatives undertaken by the office help ensure the inclusion of diverse perspectives within the library profession and advocate for equitable access to library services for all. www.ala.org/diversity