ALA Responds to National Adult Litracy Study

Contact: Larra Clark

ALA Media Relations Manager


For Immediate Release

December 15, 2005

ALA responds to national adult literacy study

(CHICAGO) The American Library Association (ALA) today welcomed the first report on U.S. adult literacy in 10 years. “A First Look at the Literacy of America's Adults in the 21st Century,” from the National Center for Education Statistics, found that 30 million adults in America have below basic literacy skills, including 7 million who are considered to be nonliterate in English.

While literacy scores for most Americans have increased or stayed the same since the last study in 1992, scores for “prose” and “document” literacy for Hispanics has declined. Prose literacy includes the skills needed to understand continuous text, such as newspaper articles. Document literacy is the ability to understand the content and structure of documents such as prescription drug labels. Quantitative literacy involves using numbers in text, such as computing and comparing the cost per ounce of food items.

“These numbers remain too high,” said ALA President-Elect Leslie Burger. “They represent just one of many reasons every community in America needs a public library. Libraries are the one institution that provides support for literacy before children enter kindergarten, throughout the school-age years and beyond retirement. Investing in literacy is an investment in our nation’s future, and investing in libraries supports lifelong learning for all.”

With more than 16,500 public libraries around the country, libraries are well positioned to reach people of all ages and education levels. Ninety-four percent of public libraries serving more than 5,000 people provide some kind of literacy services. Seventy-five percent of public libraries partner with other agencies and organizations in their community to provide effective adult literacy services.

“They offered me a job in management. I was scared. There was no way to tell them that I couldn’t read and write – I knew I’d get fired,” said Enrique Ramirez, a new reader thanks to California Library Literacy Services (CLLS). “I found out about a nearby literacy program at the library. They hooked me up with a tutor. Learning to read gave me a second chance at life!”

The full NCES report can be found online at

Twenty-first century literacy is one of ALA’s five key action areas. To learn more or schedule an interview with a national spokesperson, please contact Larra Clark at 312-280-5043 or