Literacy: a problem, a program

“Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.”- National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)

The U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics put the number of adult below-basic literacy at 22%. 22. Almost a quarter of this country, according to their study, “possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills”.

This is a problem, folks. If you cannot read then you cannot graduate from high school (though that is debatable, as I have encountered plenty of people who were just passed through the system because teachers and administrators didn’t want to “deal with them” anymore), you cannot (likely) get a solid job, you cannot teach your child to read/graduate/get a good job, etc. Illiteracy in this developed country that we live in is a problem.

     I met a wonderful Parks and Recreation employee in my county last year, and we have been bouncing ideas off each other ever since. She runs a group for teens called THRIVE: Teens Harvesting Responsibility in Volunteer Experiences. The group of middle school students meets once a week to discuss an issue in the community, then one Saturday a month they meet for a “work day” to actually work on the issue. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. They learn, research, then serve. Previous community service topics include animal shelters and hunger. A topic my friend is currently working on the curriculum for is literacy. That is what got me thinking about ways that teens can promote literacy in the library. Here are some ideas:

1. Meet with the local literacy council to learn about the local issues, of which there may be a very specific need. In Loudoun County, for example, the Literacy Council accepts book donations that get delivered to the county shelters. The Sweet Dreams program every Thursday night has adult volunteers teach adults how to properly read aloud to their children. This enhances the parent-child relationship, and encourages reading for both parties. While teens are not permitted to participate in this program (must be over 18), they can solicit for book donations, and can pack book bags of reading materials for the adults to take to the shelter.

2. Set up a table in the lobby (or other well-traveled area of the library) with literature on the topic and make posters informing people about the issue of illiteracy in their community. Discuss the issue with interested library patrons.

3. Teens can host a read-in to raise awareness of illiteracy in their community. This should be done in conjunction with the aforementioned informational table so that library patrons know why that group of teens is sitting in the middle of the lobby reading silently to themselves. Teens can take turns reading silently to themselves and discussing the issue with interested library patrons.

4. Host a book drive, and all books collected can go to the family shelters and food banks. Books can be distributed to families at no cost.

What kind of literacy awareness programs have you hosted in your library?

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