Using the American Dream Literacy Initiative to connect with our patrons


By: Jessi Suire, Terrebonne Parish Main Library

September 23, 2018 | In 2017, Terrebonne Parish Library System was awarded the American Dream Literacy Initiative grant through the American Library Association. The year to follow was characterized by a growth in collection development and circulation of materials, positive outreach among community partners, and innovative new programs tailored towards the parish’s Hispanic community.

ALA’s American Dream Literacy Initiative grant has sparked the conversation in Terrebonne Parish on its perceptions towards adult literacy services. Devi Guerrero, Youth Services clerk, and I, Jessi Suire, the library’s Adult Services and American Dream project coordinator, used grant funds primarily to develop high-quality programs for adult language learners and their families.

One of the most rewarding programs has been Curso Basico de Ingles para toda la Familia, or Basic English for the Whole Family, hosted by Devi for several years until her departure from the library system in July 2018. This course includes guide reading, reading out loud with an emphasis on pronunciation, interactive exercises, and role-play conversations.

Better communication was lauded as the number one benefit by participating library patrons, which resulted in increased on-the-job productivity as well as more effective doctor visits and healthcare. Brigid Laborie, Reference librarian, continues to host the program through Devi’s vision with activities and lessons prompted by grant-funded materials.

During the grant cycle, Anne Hackett of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services visited Devi’s ESL students for a special presentation on the naturalization process. This was perhaps my personal favorite out of all of the “Conectando” programs. Our speaker Anne Hackett was incredibly engaging and shared so much wonderful insight with ESL patrons.

Not only did Ms. Hackett offer advice on citizenship services, but she also provided a friendly, safe space to ease the fear so often accompanied by United States immigrants. She brought informative materials to supplement the library’s current citizenship corner as well as little American flags that she handed out while asking questions similar to those on the test.

While Anne Hackett’s visit was beautiful as it was eye-opening, it was not the only program that made “Conectando” a success. Other programs included Historias para Toda, a bilingual book discussion based on the works of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Tiempos de Cuentos, a Spanish story time, and Fiesta de las Américas, an all-ages celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture.

Grant funds allowed our library to increase its Spanish collection tenfold, which resulted in higher circulation as well as programs like Tiempos de Cuentos, made possible by the use of bilingual board books. The library also strengthened its community presence by partnering with local supermarkets, bakeries, and restaurants who donated food for Fiesta de las Américas.

As a library system, we strive to evolve with the needs of our people. Through this literacy initiative provided by the American Library Association, we have grown tremendously in our capacity for programming and have subsequently developed a deeper understanding of an underserved community that we hope to continue to be a voice for in the coming years.