CHICAGO – As we mark 2017’s National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, from September 24-30, libraries across the country are transforming lives through literacy services for adults and families. The correlation between literacy and income inequality, health outcomes and rates of incarceration, among other issues of social and economic justice, underscores how literacy intersects with equity, access, and inclusion.
Indeed, over four decades, education levels have a greater impact on earnings than any other demographic factor. Individuals with high school credentials earn roughly $10,000 more per year than those without. Furthermore, by 2018, 63 percent of all jobs in the U.S. will require more than a high school education, yet nearly half of the workforce has only a high school education or less and/or low English proficiency. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, those with low literacy skills are four times more likely to report “fair” or “poor” health. 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 address such disparities in equity, access and outcomes through their adult and family literacy services. Two such libraries are American Dream Literacy grant recipients Bemis Public Library and Queens Borough Public Library. At Bemis Public Library in Littleton, Colorado, beginner and intermediate English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes teach not only English vocabulary and grammar, but also job-search tools, interview skills, resume and cover letter writing and workplace etiquette. The majority of participants have expressed feeling more prepared to find employment and more confident in using English at work. As the students increasingly secure work, however, their schedules make it challenging to continue their ESOL education at the library, which offers weekday morning classes. In response, the library has partnered with their local YMCA to offer evening classes.
New York’s Queens Borough Public Library hosts one of the largest library-run adult literacy programs in the United States, serving more than 4,000 learners each year. The Adult Learner Program provides free services that integrate digital literacy, blended learning and individualized case management, through such offerings as ESOL, Adult Basic Education (ABE) and job skills training. After struggling to find work for a year, Alan discovered Queens Library’s Security Guard program—a discovery that transformed his life. Through ESOL classes contextualized for job readiness, Alan gained tools for his job search, new skills for his resume, his security guard license, and, ultimately, full-time employment.
In celebrating Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, we recognize the efforts of these and countless other libraries working throughout the year and throughout the country 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
About the American Dream Literacy Initiative
Administered by ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services and funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the American Dream Literacy Initiative is an adult literacy program based in public libraries throughout the U.S. To date, more than 185 libraries in Dollar General communities have initiated or expanded literacy services for adult English language learners. The grants allow libraries to augment their print and digital ESL collections; increase computer access and training; provide job training; hold ELL, GED, and citizenship classes; and raise the visibility of services for immigrant populations. www.ala.org/americandream