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Making Your Library Literacy-Ready
Dale Lipschultz, Literacy Officer
Office for Literacy and Outreach Services
American Library Association


  1. What does "literacy ready" mean?

    The term literacy-set was used in the late 1970's by Don Holdaway to describe a stage of children's early literacy development. Holdaway observed that children who have early experiences and interactions with books, print, and supportive adults come to school ready to learn how to read. In other words, they are "literacy set".

    We assume that most schools are also literacy-ready. That is, they are prepared to teach children how to read. They have the tools and the teachers.

    I think that we can also assume that libraries are literacy-ready. Libraries certainly have the books. Libraries also have librarians.

    Librarians are uniquely qualified to guide adults and children of all ages and stages toward and through the reading process.

    Librarians know the depth and breadth of the library's collection.

    Librarians not only knows what's in the library, but they know the paths that lead to finding just the right book or poem or resource.

    But it takes more than a library, a staff of librarians, and a collection of books to move from being literacy-ready to offering programs and services for adult learners.

  2. What does "literacy ready" look like @ your library?

    See list at the end of this document.

  3. Listening to learners

    Tony eloquently shared his experiences and observations.

    Tony told us what made him come to the library literacy program.

    Tony and his wife were proud grandparents.

    He wanted to be able to read to his grandbabies.

    Tony went to the library and enrolled in the literacy program.

    Tony also told us what made him stay in the program.

    He gave full credit to the literacy program director.

    Sharon welcomed him into the program, worked to find him a good tutor, supported his efforts, and helped him succeed.

    Tony also made new friends that will be friends for life. His classmates have supported each other through hard times and triumphs. They all know the pleasure and power of reading. They also know the struggle.

    Tony told us that his youngest grandbaby, clearly the apple of his eye, always wants Tony to read to him. Tony is very pleased and proud to be able to do so.

    Tony responded to questions from the audience. He answered each question with strength, honesty, and humor.

    The room was filled to overflowing. People were standing in the hall and listening.

    Tony received a round of applause.

    Once more, I realized the power of listening to learners.

  4. Lessons learned

    At the end of the session, Tony told us that adult learners "come to the library ready to learn".

    I wanted to ask the participants, "Are libraries ready to teach? Are libraries literacy-ready?"

    Can you and your library answer that question.


Making Your Library Literacy-Ready


According to the participants:

  1. The library has a literacy program with dedicated staff.

  2. The library has facilities to meet the needs of a literacy program.

  3. The library has a literacy department.

  4. Library staff receives training about adult literacy, adult learners, and library literacy.

  5. The library has a book collection for adult learners, tutors, and teachers.

  6. The library also has a collection of video and audio instructional and educational materials.

  7. The library has resources and educational materials in native languages to support reading and literacy development ofESOL adults and their children.

  8. The library has an outreach program that informs adult non and new readers (and other underserved populations) about the range of library services available at the main and branch libraries.

  9. The literacy program has visibility in the community.

  10. The library collaborates and networks with other literacy providers and social service agencies in the community.

  11. The library is "user-friendly". The library staff is cordial, willing to help, and takes the initiative to provide help and support.

  12. The library director supports the literacy program.

  13. The literacy program is integrated into the library.

  14. The library staff understands and is responsive to the "needs" of adult learners.

  15. The library supports the literacy program with funding and fundraising activities.

  16. The library has a bookmobile to reach adult learners in rural and remote areas.

  17. The library literacy program offers direct small group instruction for adult learners.

  18. The literacy program staff is qualified and consistent.

  19. The library offers a mentorship program for adult learners.

  20. The library receives media support that showcase their literacy services and programs.

  21. The library has signage that is appropriate for adult learners and others.

  22. The library has developed multiple ways for adult learners to locate the literacy program.

  23. The library has the resources and technology to meet the needs of adult learners.

  24. The library and the community understand that libraries are not just for readers.

  25. The literacy program has an assessment plan that measures learner progress and library usage.

  26. The library has adult learners as spokespeople, mentors, tutors, and staff.

  27. Literacy students interact regularly with library staff and patrons.

  28. The library has greeters at the door!

  29. The library finds an alternative to the word literacy!


We assume that schools are literacy-ready. They are prepared to teach children how to read. They have the tools and the teachers. We can also assume that libraries are literacy- ready. Libraries have the books. Libraries also have librarians. But it takes more than a library, a staff of librarians, and a collection of books to move from being literacy-ready to offering programs and services for adult learners.

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