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Public Libraries and Lifelong Learning:

The Role of Public Libraries in Literacy Education

Grace Wadholm

Researched and written for a course at the School of Library and Information Science
Indiana University, Bloomington

Promotion of literacy for all segments of society has been part of the role of modern
public libraries since they began to appear in the mid-1800’s. This bibliography presents a short
history and introduction to the role of public libraries around the world in encouraging the spread
of literacy, as well as a comprehensive list of resources that can be used to understand more
about this vital topic. Also included is a timeline of the development of literacy programs in U.S.
public libraries, and a list of U.S. and international literacy organizations.
The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) defined literacy as “using printed and
written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s
knowledge and potential” (Fitzgibbons 1999, p 2). UNESCO’s statement on literacy describes it
as reaching into all parts of an individual’s life, because it is the means to accessing all types of
information, to meet vital needs and to enable full participation in society (Nassimbeni 2004).
Zapata (1994) states “the act of reading and writing is an expression of democracy,” (p. 124) as
well as the means for individuals to fully express and develop their creativity. Historically, the
definition of literacy has shifted from a person’s ability to write his or her name to encompassing
a range of functional skills in using information, including prose literacy, document literacy, and
quantitative literacy (Eyre 2004, Fitzgibbons 1999, NCES 2003, Salter 1991). Though it is
important to remember that many cultures have unique definitions of literacy and practices for
sharing and exchanging knowledge, not least of which are oral cultures (Taylor 1997), it is clear
that for much of the world, the ability to read, write and comprehend written information is
essential. It influences a person’s ability to access the information around them and to expand
upon and interact creatively with this information. This interaction enables them to develop
personally and to participate in the social development of their community, society and culture.
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Modern public libraries have played a part in promoting literacy and education since they
were first established in the 1800’s. Public libraries in the U.S. and Britain were formed in the
wake of the spread of public literacy, with the belief that education should be for all people and
should be freely available (Black 1996, Kelly 1966, McCook 2004). In the United States,
libraries have been involved in teaching English to immigrants since the turn of the twentieth
century (Marcum and Stone 1991), have held storytimes and provided reading services to
children since the same time period (Albright 2009, Greene 1996), and have been involved in
literacy services directly related to teaching and promoting literacy since the 1960’s (Fitzgibbons
1999). Today, library literacy services extend to all patron groups, collaborate with many types
of literacy organization, and are leaders in providing and creating literacy materials for new and
learning readers (Decandido 2001, Fitzgibbons 1999, Krolak 2005, McLoughlin 2004). This
bibliography looks at the characteristics and functions of library literacy programs, both in the
U.S. and throughout the world, and what further developments are needed to make library
literacy programs more effective. Because for libraries, “our vast resources are virtually
worthless to citizens who are unable to read and write or who possess limited literacy skills”
(Salter 1991, p xvi).

Public Library Literacy Programs

Research on reading and literacy

The connection between reading and literacy has been researched extensively. Neuman
has been involved in several studies researching the link between access to books and early and
childhood literacy. She traced the connection between parents and caregiver interaction and early
literacy skills in both Books Make a Difference (2009) and Children Engaged in Storybook
Reading (1996). In the first, she found that access to books and the presence of an engaged
caregiver increased preschoolers interest in books, but that continued access to books, such as
those available at the public library, is necessary for long-term impact. She discovered in the
second that parent interaction in storybook reading is effective in increasing preschooler’s early
literacy skills, even if parents have low reading proficiency. The benefits of library resources and
committed librarians were researched in Save the Librarians (2004) and Knowledge Gap (2006).
In the first, Neuman and Celano described the influences of librarians and library collections on
children’s reading levels and their interest in books. In the second, Neuman found that access to
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better resources in libraries is not enough to overcome the knowledge gap that exists between
low and middle-income communities, and proportionally more resources are needed in at-risk
areas to compensate. Celano and Neuman also evaluated the role of summer reading programs
on children’s literacy levels (2001), and found that libraries had a positive impact on student’s
knowledge of books and interest in reading. Other research has found positive connections
between access to reading materials and literacy skills and attitudes. Krashen (2009) advocated
the benefits of high-interest reading materials and the value of self-selected reading as a method
of reading instruction. Iaquinta (2006) researched the effectiveness of guided reading, in which
independent reading skills are promoted through small reading groups. Minkel (2002) reported
positive results from the “It’s Never to Early” program, in which Maryland public libraries
provided book collections and training to childcare providers to increase their knowledge of
early literacy skills and teaching techniques and to provide children with more access to books.
Finally, Constantino (1998) presents a range of studies that show a clear link between reading
levels and access to reading materials, both in English and native languages. Her findings also
reflect the need to ensure minority patrons understand the purpose of the library and how to
access library resources.

The role of public libraries in literacy education

Libraries have several characteristics that make them ideal locations for literacy services.
They provide free access to a variety of resources, are often centrally located in a community,
and are open at convenient times. Libraries are also seen as a hospitable and unstructured
alternative to formal education settings, such as community colleges (Gibbs 1990, Heeks 2000,
Krolak 2005). Though libraries provide many types of literacy services, three primary roles for
libraries are in the areas of: 1) Collection development; 2) Services and resources; and 3)
Literacy programming. These three roles are applicable across cultural boundaries, being
identified in research around the world (Fitzgibbons 2000, Gibbs 1990, Krolak 2005, MacCann
1989, Thomas 1993). Wilcox, Johnson and Zweizig identified these roles Libraries: Partners in
Adult Literacy (1990), a study on activities in U.S. library adult literacy programs. The IFLA
Section on Literacy and Reading also recommended these primary areas for library literacy
involvement in Cole’s (2001) article describing IFLA’s international involvement in literacy.
Within these roles are a range of activities, possibilities, and challenges for libraries in creating
literacy programs.
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Collection Development
Library collections are used in many ways to promote literacy activities. Libraries
provide print and audiovisual materials for both learners in the library and in outreach to
community organizations, especially daycare sites. Libraries provide access to computer and
Internet tools, bridging the information gap by providing free access to information technology.
Libraries can also provide new materials for learners to use. These materials can be produced by
the libraries, created by learners, or created in partnership with publishers when a need for
resources is recognized. These materials can make up for a lack of suitable resources, provide
materials in native languages, and provide materials of local interest to learners (Beder 1991,
Coleman 1986, Constantino 1998, Wilcox et. al. 1990, Krolak 2005, Zapata 1993).
Internationally, the creation of materials by libraries is an important service, because often the
supply of native language materials or materials suitable for new learners is inadequate
(Coleman 1981, Jones 1991, Krolak 2005, Okiy 2003, Thomas 1993). Several researchers also
note the importance of removing any obstacle to learners in accessing the collection, such as
fines or lending fees (Constantino 1998, Zapata 1993).

Services and Resources

Services that libraries can provide for local or national literacy programs or community
literacy advocacy groups span many areas. Libraries can provide space for literacy programs;
library staff for training volunteers or teaching literacy classes; advocacy and publicity support;
library funds to support the program; office supplies and similar materials; and information and
referral services to help potential learners or volunteers become involved in the programs
(Coleman 1986, Wilcox et. al. 1990, Zapata 1993).
Libraries can collaborate with many different groups and organizations within a
community. They can work with the local school system to provide homework assistance,
reading instruction, and collections; with daycares, Headstarts, or other childcare sights to
provide training and resources; with local community colleges to provide resources for adult
literacy programs; with local literacy training programs (such as Literacy Volunteers of America)
to provide space and training resources; and with media organizations, business institutions, and
community literacy advocacy groups to raise awareness of illiteracy within the community and
to local governing officials. Often, libraries must seek out collaboration activities themselves and
be proactive in their involvement in community literacy efforts (Cole 2001, Coleman 1986,
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DeCandido 2001, Krolak 2005, Wilcox et. al. 1990). Collaboration can be powerful, as seen in
the Pennsylvania “One Book” program, in which libraries annually collaborate with museums,
publishers, community organizations and education centers to raise awareness of the importance
of storybook reading and early literacy through storytimes, workshops, training, and resources,
all centered on one picture book (Pannebaker 2008). Internationally, IFLA encourages libraries
strongly to reach out in collaboration, because often libraries are overlooked as important literacy
resources (IFLA 1999).
Literacy Programming
Celano (2005) lists three primary sections of the population that are targeted in public
library literacy programs: preschool and elementary children, adults (over age 16) with poor
literacy, and people learning English as a second language (ESL).
Services to preschool and elementary children are further separated into early literacy
programming, programs for school and homework support, and young adult library
programming. Research into the importance of early literacy has recently helped to reinforce the
value of library programming to babies and preschoolers. U.S. initiatives based on this research
led to the organization of the Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library workshop series, a
program created by the PLA and ALSC in partnership with the National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development to disseminate information on early literacy research to parents and
caregivers (Ghoting 2005). Martinez (2008) reports on many ways that libraries provide early
literacy services, including newsletters, outreach visits, bookmobile services and teacher and
caregiver training. Summer reading programs are one of the most effective programs in public
libraries for promoting literacy and reading to school age children and youth. Neuman and
Celano (2001) reviewed the positive impact of summer library programs on childen’s reading
levels. Walter and Markey (1997) found that parents play a vital role in children’s involvement
in summer reading programs. Gaming is playing a role in literacy promotion to young adults,
taking advantage of the literacy aspects of computer and board games and the appeal of these
activities to youth (http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2009/02/23/librariesliteracygaminggrant/).
Adult literacy programs incorporate many different teaching techniques and approaches.
Often, libraries try to meet the needs of the learners in order to help them incorporate literacy
into their daily lives. Beder (1990) highlights the importance of adaptability and appealing to the
individual needs of adult learners. DeCandido (2001) provides a range of case studies that
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present different styles and approaches to adult literacy programs, many of which focus on
empowering the learner to be a part of the teaching process. McCook and Barber (2002) review
the many issues and factors, especially government legislation and funding, that influence how
adult literacy program are organized in libraries. Recently, family literacy programs have gained
momentum as a way to incorporate the whole family in literacy learning. Monsour and Talan
(1993) point out the benefits of family literacy in addressing the problem of generational
illiteracy. Totten (2009) created a guide for family literacy programs that introduces the many
benefits of these types of programs, including empowering parents to teach their children,
providing opportunities for ESL learning, and incorporating early literacy research into literacy
training for adults.
ESL library programs in the United States have been conducted since the early 1900’s
(Marcum and Stone 1991). Libraries have found it important to create training that is relevant
and meaningful to learners, often incorporating conversation groups, themes related to learner’s
native cultures, and family literacy elements that help learners make literacy a part of their home
environment (Monsour and Talan 1993, Strong 2001, Totten 2009).

Issues to consider in library literacy programs

The organization of library literacy programs and services must take into account many
different issues. Some of the primary concerns and areas for further development mentioned in
literature include training, evaluation, funding, and learner recruitement and persistence. Also
important is the issue of national collaboration and guidance for local library programs, a role the
ALA has been actively filling for many years.

Training within library literacy programs must take place for both volunteer tutors and
library staff. The Queens Public Library literacy programs are an excellent example of intensive
training programs that emphasize teaching methods and learner needs (Strong 2001). DeCandido
(2001) describes several programs that utilize learners as consultants for the literacy programs, a
situation that requires special training and support for individuals as they take on new roles and
responsibilities. Several authors also mention the importance of providing literacy training within
library schools, in literacy teaching methods and in the needs of child and adult learners
(DeCandido 2001, McCook 2002, IFLA 1999).
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The need for improved methods for evaluating library literacy programs is mentioned
throughout the literature (DeCandido 2001, IFLA 1999, Krolak 2005, Martinez 2008). Wilcox
(1990) found that better evaluation is critical for further development of library literacy
programs, so libraries can identify needs, set goals, and evaluate learning outcomes of literacy

Funding for library programs can come from many different sources, including national
grant programs and government legislation. In the U.S., this has most recently included LSTA
grants, the Lila-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, and the Verizon Literacy Network (Fitzgibbons
1999, IMLS 2009, McCook 2004). However, it is vital for libraries to commit library resources
and funds to literacy programs so they will be sustainable past the grant funding period
(DeCandido 2001).

Learner recruitment and persistence

Attracting and maintaining literacy learners is a challenge. Several authors mention the
importance of publicity of literacy services, which can be done through the media, collaboration
with businesses and school systems, to community governing boards, or simply (and sometimes
most effectively) through word of mouth (Cole 2001, Coleman 1981, Laughlin 2003,
McLoughlin 2004, Wilcox et.al. 1990). Beder (1990) emphasizes the need to meet local needs
and to adapt to learner’s individual needs as a way to attract learners and keep them in literacy
programming. DeCandido (2001) found that a caring, supportive environment is key to learner

The role of ALA

Coleman (1986) reviewed the role of the ALA in adult literacy education up to its
creation of the Coalition for Literacy in 1981. The Coalition, one of the most ambitious and
effective collaborative efforts in ALA’s history, was a major media campaign to raise awareness
of literacy and provide opportunities for people to volunteer or find help with literacy problems.
ALA has been involved in literacy and education since it first began. The timeline appendixed to
this bibliography shows the development of ALA’s Office of Literacy and Outreach Services, the
main branch of the ALA dedicated to providing guidance and advocacy for library literacy
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programs. ALA and its branches, including the PLA, YALSA, and ALSC, have participated in
research, surveys, grant programs and government conferences to help establish the role and
value of libraries in promoting literacy education (Fitzgibbons 1999, McCook 2004, Salter
1991). Recently, the OLOS conducted a study on services to the poor and found that libraries
desired further guidance and direction on defining and developing services to reach out to this
user group (Gieskes 2009).

Library literacy programs around the world

The scope of international programs

In reviewing international library literacy programs, it is important to recognize the scope
of literacy programs in different parts of the world. In more developed areas, such as Britain,
Europe, and Australia, the history and current shape of literacy programs closely resemble those
of the U.S. In developing areas such as Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia, literacy
programs face unique challenges and have structures compatible with local cultures.
McLoughlin and Morris (2004) conducted a study of U.K. public libraries and the role
they play in adult literacy provision, finding that libraries focused on promoting the value and
enjoyment of reading. Similarly, a study by Heeks (2000) of literacy activities in U.K. children’s
library services found that most librarians believed the main role of libraries was in supporting
reading development and promoting the desire to read. Bramley (1991) provides a useful
description of the history of U.K. public library literacy programs.
Gibbs (1990) and Eyre (2004) both researched the role of libraries in literacy promotion
in Australia. Focusing primarily on activities in the Victoria Public Library system, Gibbs
described activities in Australian libraries that reflected the goals of UNESCO’s International
Year of Literacy (IYL) program, including services to preschoolers and adult non-readers. He
found that libraries took an interventionist approach to literacy promotion, providing collections,
spaces, and direct infrastructure support to community literacy programs. Eyre reflected on
UNESCO’s Decade of Literacy campaign and reviewed literacy surveys and programs in the
U.S., U.K. and Australia. He suggested that libraries in Australia could play a bigger role in
literacy movements and provided several examples for how they could do so.
In many areas around the world, libraries take the form of community centers that reflect
the needs and interests of the local culture. Neuman and Nafizuddin (2008) evaluated the impact
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of community library centers in Nepal, which are owned, managed and run by their local
community. The centers promoted literacy outreach activities, economic entrepreneurship and
community development. Varatorn (2005) described community children’s libraries developed
throughout the Khon Kaen Province in Taiwan, with goals of promoting the value of storytelling
and acting as an educational resource for parents and caregivers in the communities. Jones
(1991) described libraries in the Pacific Islands and suggested they should incorporate the needs
of patrons with low literacy skills by providing appropriate materials and space for community
activities. Nassimbeni (2008) presented case studies of two South African library literacy
programs. She found that learners wanted to improve their literacy in order to gain employment
and improve their lives, but that they were reluctant to use library resources because they did not
understand how they were relevant to their daily needs. Okiy (2003) reviewed rural public
libraries in Nigeria and challenged that they needed to better reflect the interests of the local
communities. Finally, Baffour-Awuah (2001) describes the Village Reading Room (VRR)
project of Botswana, which extended public library services into rural areas through community
reading collections, which become valuable resources for community life and access to books.

Issues in international library literacy programs

The IFLA Working Group (1999) final report presents a range of issues that present a
challenge to library literacy programs in developing countries. First, libraries in developing
countries are identified primarily as resources for school children, making adults reluctant to take
advantage of their services. Baffour-Awuah (2001) found that adults were reluctant to use VRR’s
when they were located in local school rooms, requiring the program to construct separate,
dedicated buildings for adult learners. Second, in developing countries, there is often a lack of
reading materials on the level of learners or in native languages. Thomas (1993) encourages the
creation of indigenous materials to balance imported materials that may not be in the native
language and may not reflect the interests of the local culture. Third, there are limited
opportunities for training library or literacy staff. This is a problem noted throughout the world,
but felt more strongly in areas where there are few library schools. Fourth, libraries are often not
recognized as a resource for literacy education or as a piece in national literacy plans. IFLA
encourages libraries to promote and advocate the value of libraries in literacy education. Finally,
literacy programs may not take into account the needs and characteristics of the local
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communities. Jones (1991) and Okiy (2003), mentioned above, both describe the importance of
reaching out to the local culture.

The impact of international organizations

IFLA and UNESCO both play important roles in promoting and encouraging library
literacy programs around the world. UNESCO has advocated the role of libraries in education
since its early education efforts after WWII, when it began creating model library projects to
show how libraries could promote lifelong education. Maurois (1961) published a pamphlet
describing the importance of libraries in this role and highlighting the work of these model
libraries. UNESCO’s Public Library Manifesto, first adopted in 1949 and updated in 1972 and
1994, declares literacy as a key mission of public libraries. Libraries around the world, several
mentioned above (Eyre 2004, Gibbs 1990), strive to achieve UNESCO’s literacy goals. Most
recently, UNESCO declared 2002-2012 to be the Decade of Literacy, with a goal of providing
Education for All people. Hassner (1999) described the work of several libraries to act as model
libraries, fulfilling the Public Library Manifesto and the Education for All mandate. Krolak
(2005) wrote an article describing the role libraries could play in creating literate environments
and in promoting a desire for lifelong reading around the world.
IFLA acts as an intermediary between libraries around the world and UNESCO’s literacy
goals. The international federation of libraries decided in the late 1980’s to form a working group
to explore IFLA’s role in literacy promotion. The final report of the working group was
published in 1999. In the report, IFLA described the roles that libraries should play in literacy
promotion, listed challenges for literacy programs in developing countries, and gave six
recommendations for actions IFLA should take. These centered on IFLA becoming an
organizing resource for libraries in the development of literacy programs, advocating to national
and international groups for the role of libraries, developing guidelines and continuing research
into library literacy programs, and funding a Literacy Officer to oversee these projects. In 2003,
IFLA compiled a set of guidelines based on the working group’s report, giving suggestions for
eight key areas in library literacy activities. Today, the IFLA Section on Literacy and Reading
holds sub-conferences during annual IFLA conferences to discuss developments in literacy
programs, provides reading suggestions and research on its websites, and is conducting research
in cooperation with international literacy groups to evaluate how libraries can play a further role
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in promoting literacy (IFLA Developing 2007, IFLA Memorandum 2005,


The role of libraries in literacy education is complex, reaches around the world and
throughout cultures, and is continually changing with the latest research and legislation. The
following bibliography presents just a small portion of reading that can be done on this important
subject. More information and resources can be found in Fitzgibbons (1999), Salter (1991),
McCook and Barber (2002), and Krolak (2005).
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Public Library Literacy Programs: Bibliography

History of Literacy Programs in Public Libraries

Public library history

Black, A. (1996). A new history of the English public library. London: Leicester University

Recent scholarship on library history that traces the development of English public
libraries from 1850-1914, with a fresh look at the social and intellectual changes that
brought about the development of public libraries. On literacy, Black discusses the
influence of social changes such as the rising working class, universal education, and
utilitarianist philosophy on the spread of popular literacy, which contributed to the
development of public libraries.

Kelly, T. (1966). Early public libraries. London: The Library Association.

A history of public libraries in Britain, up to the 19th century. In 1850, the Public Library
Act was passed, funding free public libraries for the first time with public monies. On
literacy, influences such as the spread of universal education, cheap literature, and the
industrial revolution are described as encouraging the spread of popular literacy. Popular
education through the diffusion of literature is noted as one reason for the Public Library
Act and the establishment of public libraries in Britain.

Maurois, A. (1961). Public libraries and their mission. Paris: Unesco.

A pamphlet published by UNESCO expounding the core mission of public libraries

around the world, focusing especially on the importance of libraries in lifelong education.

McCook, K.P. (2004). Introduction to public librarianship. New York: Neal-Schuman

Publishers, Inc.

An introduction to public librarianship, which includes a discussion of the history of

public libraries, separated into events before 1918 and up to today. Discusses the
importance of education in the establishment of the library institution, as well as
legislation that provided funding and direction for library organizations. The sections on
Youth Services and Adult Services address the topic of education services, including
basic literacy and information literacy. A chapter on global libraries discusses the role of
IFLA and UNESCO in the missions of libraries around the world, especially the
importance of education initiatives.
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The development of literacy in public libraries

Albright, M., Delecki, K., and Hinkle, S. (2009). The evolution of early literacy: a history of best
practices in storytimes. Children and Libraries: 7(1): 13-18.

Traces the development of library story hours from their beginnings in the 1940’s and
1950’s to today. Connects aspects of early library storytimes, such as rhyming books,
parent involvement, and emphasis on story hour as a learning activity, to modern library
story hour practices. Research has begun to show the importance of early literacy skills
and how they have been and can further be incorporated into story hours. Discusses the
librarian as a “literacy coach,” and ways libraries can make story hours more inclusive in
areas such as attendance numbers, hours available, and languages offered.

Coleman, J.E. (1986). ALA’s role in adult and literacy education. Library Trends 35(2): 207-

A review of ALA’s activities from the 1920’s to the 1980’s related to adult and literacy
education programs. Beginning with the 1924 ALA Commission on Library and Adult
Education, ALA’s involvement in literacy promotion is traced through the development
of the OLSD (now OLOS) and the “outreach” focus of the 1960’s, up to the formation of
the Coalition for Literacy in 1981. The author reflects on the impact of the Coalition’s
work up to that point, and looks forward past the Coalition to future literacy initiatives.
These include the PLUS program, a partnership between ABC and PBS for literacy
awareness, and the LSCA state grant program that would provide funding for library
literacy programs.

Fitzgibbons, S. (2000). Libraries and literacy: A preliminary survey of the literature. Conference
Proceeding, 66th IFLA Council and General Conference, Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August.

Survey of literature up to 1998 related to literacy and the role of libraries in literacy
education and promotion. Introductory essay presents a short history of literacy and the
library’s role in promoting literacy. Also gives a summary of national programs and
projects, literacy centers, international agencies, reading or literacy campaigns,
evaluation reports and guidelines for conducting literacy programs. Special effort is made
to present an international scope of information, though many of the resources relate to
the U.S. and Canada.

Lora, P. (1990). Libraries and literacy in America 1985-2000. Public Libraries 29(6): 354-359.

A look back at the impact of Kozol’s “Illiterate America” on public awareness of the
problem of illiteracy, including the response by the media in the Project Literacy US
(PLUS) national literacy campaign. The articles then looks ahead to the year 2000 and
presents ideas for how libraries can promote literacy and help educate the workforce of
the future.
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McCook, K.P. and Barber, P. (2002). Chronology of milestones for libraries and adult lifelong
learning and literacy. ED458888. Retrieved April 12, 2010 from

Chronology of major events in the history of adult literacy programs in libraries, from
1924-2001. Includes information for reports related to major events and a bibliography of
works used to construct the timeline, which also presents an excellent list of materials to
read on this subject.

Walter, V.A. (2000). Children and libraries: Getting it right. Chicago: American Library

Discusses library services to children and how libraries can improve their mission. On
literacy, highlights the long history of dedication to the “child as reader.” Issues
discussed include the place of literacy in the Public Library Association’s basic services,
the changing school system, emerging trends in library services (with a discussion of
emergent literacy and services to the infant and toddler), and the literacy activities that
take place in children’s services.

Zapata, M.E. (1994). The role of public libraries in literacy education. Libri 44(2): 123-129.
Discusses the role of the public library in literacy education, particularly in light of the
new concept of “social development.” Defines and determines illiteracy as a problem of
unequal access to knowledge, resources, and wealth, and defines literacy in terms relating
to social development. Proposes two roles of public libraries: as an institutional ally and
as a unit of service to the public, in all demographics. Concludes that public libraries are
an active expression of democracy and the universal right to education, referring to
UNESCO’s “Education for All” campaign.

Libraries and Literacy in the United States

The public library and its role in promoting literacy

Celano, D. and Neuman, S. (2001). The role of public libraries in children’s literacy
development: An evaluation report. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Department of

Evaluation report of summer reading and preschool programs in Pennsylvania public

libraries, including a literature review of the role of libraries in literacy promotion. The
data was gathered from surveys of libraries’ summer reading and preschool programs, as
well as observation of children’s involvement and types of programs offered. Also
includes a preliminary study comparing reading levels of children attending either a day
camp or library reading program, and how library programs may have encouraged those
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DeCandido, G., ed. (2001). Literacy & libraries: Learning from case studies. Chicago: American
Library Association.

Presents case studies examing library literacy programs in thirteen model programs
funded by the Lila-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund. Aspects considered are the impact of
literacy programs on learners, features and goals of the selected programs, the integration
of technology into literacy programs, and the history and future of literacy services in
public libraries and ALA. Throughout, results from a survey report prepared for the grant
program highlight and complement the case studies.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). (2009). A Catalyst for change: LSTA grants
to states program activities and the transformation of library services to the public.
Washington, DC: IMLS. Retrieved March 28, 2010 from

Summary Report for the LSTA Grant Program for the years 2003- 2006, as well as state-
by-state program overview and goals for 2008-2012. Literacy programs are included
under the “Human Capital Development” strategy group. The section summarizing
“Literacy and Reading Development” programs lists the range of skills library staff may
be expected to use in developing literacy programs, as well as what types of library
literacy initiatives are included in the category. Four library programs are described.

MacCann, D. (1989). Social responsibility in librarianship: Essays on equality. Jefferson, NC:

McFarland & Company, Inc.

Discusses social obligations of libraries to provide literacy education, in the three arenas
of prevention, functional literacy, and aliteracy. Provides a list of guidelines for libraries
in planning literacy education programs.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2003). National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
Accessed April 22, 2010 from http://nces.ed.gov/naal/literacytypes.asp.

Presents results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, a continuation of
the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey, also by the NCES. Results compiled so far
have found no change in prose and document literacy levels, but that quantitative literacy
skills have improved.

Schamber, L. (1991). The role of libraries in literacy education. Emergency Librarian, 19(2): 34-

Information on federal and state legislation and support for library literacy programs.
Reports on results from the 1990 Alexandriam forum on library literacy programs.
Library leaders set legislative priorities to recommend at the 1991 White House
Conference on Library and Information Services, including the need to promote libraries
as an “educational agency” and to define the scope of illiteracy. Also includes a summary
of what types of library literacy outreach programs existed at the time.
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Salter, J.L. and Charles, A. (1991). Literacy and the library. Englewood, CO: Libraries
Unlimited, Inc.

Comprehensive guide to literacy programs within libraries. Provides a useful introduction

to definitions and causes of illiteracy, the history of literacy outreach by U.S. libraries,
and theories of education relevant to libraries in shaping literacy instruction. Also offers
thorough advice and guidelines for the many issues libraries must consider in shaping
literacy programs, such as collection building, outreach, collaboration, and training.

Library literacy programs for the general population

Constantino, R. (1998). Literacy, access and libraries among the language minority. Lanham,
MD: Scarecrow Press.

Series of research studies and articles on the topic of minority populations in the U.S. and
their access to and use of library materials. The introduction presents the theme: that
access to reading materials, in English or a native language, can improve literacy
development and attitudes toward reading. For public libraries, a concern is that service
and outreach to minority populations is limited, and patrons do not know about,
understand, or have access to the materials and resources at the library.

Gieskes, L. (2009). Why librarians matter to poor people. Public Library Quarterly, 28(1), 49-

Report, conducted by the OLOS, on a survey to ALA members about services to “poor”
patrons. Found there was little consensus on the meaning of “poor,” and librarians
desired guidance from the ALA or other national organization on what services are
recommended for outreach to economically disadvantaged patrons.

Programs for children

Bernadowski, C. (2008). Aren’t we all teachers of literacy? Library Media Connection, 27(2),

Short article about the role of school media specialists as promoters of literacy and the
ways they encourage literacy and good reading habits in students.

Ghoting, S. and Martin-Diaz, P. (2005). Early literacy storytimes @ your library: Partnering
with caregivers for success. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.

Manual for incorporating research on early literacy skills into traditional library
storytimes. Part one explains research on brain and language development. Part two
provides sample storytimes to illustrate how the research can be integrated into storytime
outlines, with an early literacy skills highlighted in each. Part three suggests ways to
Wadholm 17

assess the programs and further promote early literacy skills throughout library services.
Several appendices offer more resources and ideas for making early literacy research a
part of library storytimes.

Greene, E. (1996). Storytelling: Art and technique. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

In her classic storyteller’s handbook, Greene discusses the value and importance of
storytelling to the literacy and language development of children. Aspects include helping
children learn narrative skills, develop a sensitivity to language, learn comprehension
skills through interaction with the story, and gain vocabulary and background knowledge
as they hear rich language and tales from around the world.

Huffman, C. and Rua, R.J. (2008). Measuring the effectiveness of homework centers in libraries.
Children and Libraries, 6(3), 25-29.

Reports on methods of evaluation for a homework help program at an Ohio public

library. Intake and exit surveys were used to gather data from parents on their children’s
reading progress and reactions to the program. The author found the data useful for
reporting goals and outcomes, discovering participant needs, and communicating with
prospective funding sources.

Laughlin, S. (2003). Evaluation: Every child ready to read @ your library pilot project. 1-79.

Report from a 2002/2003 evaluation of the Public Library Association’s “Every Child
Ready to Read” program. Fourteen libraries conducted both the short and extended
literacy program scripts and reported data on outcomes for parents, caregivers, the
library, and the community. Main findings were that for parents, there were gains in
frequency of sharing books and visiting the library, especially among teen mothers. For
caregivers, the greatest impact was the recognition of the library as a resource for
collaboration and information on early literacy research. Communities looked favorably
on the library as a collaborator in early literacy outreach. Libraries found that personal
publicity was best, and made changes to their collection, physical spaces, and strategic
goals to focus on the importance of early literacy research in their children’s
programming and outreach.

Lehnen, R. and Cairo, C. (2006). Serving summer reading needs: Twenty years at the
Indianapolis-Marion County public library. Children and Libraries: The Journal of the
Association for Library Service to Children, 4(2): 29-34.

A review of the IMCPL performance indicator system for measuring the results and
impacts of their summer reading programs. A long term evaluation, conducted since
1984, the system studies how well the library reaches program goals, such as serving
families in poverty, achieving gender and age equity, and being cost-effective.
Wadholm 18

Martinez, G. (2008). Public libraries: Community organizations making outreach efforts to help
young children succeed in school. School Community Journal 18(1): 93-104.

Results of a study on how twenty-six Maryland public libraries provided early literacy
services through outreach efforts, with a focus on their involvement in home, school and
community partnerships. Found that libraries provided newsletters; outreach visits to
schools, community events, hospitals, and daycare sites; bookmobile services; and
teacher and caregivers training. Further needs included more staff and hours to invest in
services, better evaluation of programs, and identification of more potential outreach

Minkel, W. (2002). It’s never too early. School Library Journal, 48(7): 38-42.

Reports on “It’s Never too Early,” a Maryland public library language-development

program, aimed at incorporating recent early literacy research into children’s library
programming. Outreach efforts include visits to and supplying materials for childcare
centers, Headstart centers, and newborn and infant support groups. Especially highlighted
were the various training efforts for children’s librarians across the state, on topics
including incorporating early literacy skills into storytimes and modeling teaching
techniques for parents and caregivers.

Neuman, S. (2006). The knowledge gap: Implications of leveling the playing field for low-
income and middle-income children. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(2): 176-201.

Study examining the differences in libraries between low and middle income
communities, to determine the impact of upgrades made to thirty-two Philadelphia
libraries. Researchers studied how children spent time in the library, activities of
preschoolers in their special area, general reading activities, and computer use just after
and one year after the renovations. The main finding was that though low-income
libraries were used quantitatively more in low-income areas, the qualititative use of
library activities was at a lower level (by grade and age) than middle-income
neighborhoods. Recommends that more resources, above and beyond equal resources,
should be invested in at-risk areas to close the knowledge gap that begins in children’s
earliest years.

Neuman, S. and Celano, D. (2004). Save the libraries! Educational Leadership, 61(6): 82-85.

Benefits of “excellent librarians” to low-income children, including four primary

characteristics. Though children in low-income areas are more likely to benefit more
from books and resources, they are the ones with a lower quality of resources. Libraries
are facing increasing budgets cuts and computers are being chosen over books and staff.
Technology can increase the literacy gap.
Wadholm 19

Pannebaker, S. (2008). One book, every young child: Pennsylvania literacy initiative enters third
year. Children and Libraries, 6(2): 36-40.

Reports on the Pennsylvania “One Book” program, a collaborative program that

promotes one picture book per year in an effort to increase awareness of the importance
of storybook reading and engaging children in stories to build early literacy skills.
Partners include libraries, museums, publishers, community organizations and education
centers. Main goal is to provide parents, caregivers and daycares with the books, ideas
and instructional guidance they need to encourage and engage children in reading.

Thiang, A. (2008). Alter ego: An interactive public library literacy program for disadvantaged
children. Aplis, 21(3), 104-106.

After observing that children needed help with English literacy, a public branch library
created a program to provide services for local migrant and refugee 10-12 year olds. The
program included book readings, craft activities, and computer literacy training; primary
goals were aimed at building the children’s reading confidence and giving them a sense
of community and ownership in the library. The program helped to curb behavioral
problems and gave children a chance to build literacy skills.

Walter, V.A. and Markey, P.S. (1997). Parent perceptions of a summer reading program.
Journal of Youth Services in Libraries; 11(1): 49-65.

Study evaluating parent’s perception of Los Angeles County summer reading programs.
Found high parent interest and involvement, and that education and rich experiences were
the highest appeal. Most children were encouraged to participate by their parents. The
researchers found that libraries need to improve communication with parents about how
the programs worked. Also highlights a subsequent 1996 campaign aimed at motivating
parents to bring their children to the library.

Programs for adults

Beder, H. (1991). Adult literacy: Issues for policy and practice. Malabar, FL: Krieger.

Discusses issues in adult literacy that shape policy and practices in the field. In the
introduction, Beder discusses the definitions and standards of literacy, types of adult
education provision and methods, the details and significance of the Adult Education Act,
and questions to consider in shaping adult literacy education programs.

McCook, K.P. and Barber, P. (2002). Public policy as a factor influencing adult lifelong
learning, adult literacy, and public libraries. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 42(1):

Written just after the 2000 National Literacy Summit, this article looks at the issue of
adult literacy and addresses the role of libraries in adult education. Includes the history of
Wadholm 20

education and libraries, major government policies and programs influencing library
programs, and a critique of current library school training in the area of adult education.

Spangnenberg, G. (1996). Even anchors need lifelines: Public libraries in adult literacy. New
York: Spangenberg Learning Resources.

Results from a study, sponsored by The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress,
evaluating adult literacy programs in U.S. libraries. Main findings are that more funding
and collaboration is needed at both the local and state library levels, as well as more
specific definitions of the role of local library literacy programs. More effort could have
been made in interpreting the highly detailed data tables for the reader.

Strong, G. Reading … still cool? Libraries, literacy and leadership. 2001 Jean E. Coleman
Library Outreach Lecture. Accessed April 12, 2010 from

In his 2001 address, Strong discussed the many ways libraries can reach out and provide
literacy opportunities for their communities. As director of the Queens Borough (N.Y.)
Public Library, he described the literacy programs in this library system, including Adult
Learning Centers and Reading Rooms, ESOL classes, intensive tutor training, and strong
collaboration efforts.

Wilcox, R., Johnson, J.B., and Zweizig, D. (1990). Libraries: Partners in adult literacy.
Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Results from a study of library involvement in literacy education, including four types of
library institutions. Studies the relationship of community and institution factors to the
level of library involvement in literacy. Fifty-two specific activities related to literacy
were studied. Found that public libraries have the widest and more developed programs,
and that state libraries are an important source of information and support for library
literacy programs. College and state institution libraries have limited, but growing
involvement. Predicts that in the future, effective literacy involvement may depend on
both remediation and prevention services.

Family literacy programs

Monsour, M. and Talan, C. (1993). Library-based family literacy projects. Chicago: American
Library Association.

Introduction to family literacy programs in libraries, with case studies of twelve libraries’
efforts. Includes a discussion of the definition of family literacy programs, their
components, and why libraries are effective as literacy program providers.
Wadholm 21

Petruzzi, T. and M. F. Burns. (2007). A literacy center where? A public library finds space to
provide family learning activities. Public Library Quarterly, 25(1?): 191-197. (FD)

Report on a family learning center in an Ohio library, which is a collaboration between

the library, the local school system, a local college, and the local literacy council.
Services include reading instruction, tutoring, and library programming for the whole

Totten, K. (2009). Family literacy storytimes: Readymade storytimes suitable for the whole
family. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

A guide for libraries in conducting family literacy storytimes. Discusses the importance
of family literacy programs and why libraries are effective as centers for these programs.
Gives many details and suggestion for conducting family literacy storytimes, such as
meeting the needs of both adult and child learners, creating a comfortable and safe
learning atmosphere, and incorporating early literacy skills and modeling demonstrations
into the storytimes. Note especially the appendix of links to national, state, and local
organizations that support family literacy, which includes excellent description and
advice for contacting and collaborating with these organizations.

Libraries and Literacy Programs Around the World

The public library and its role in promoting literacy

Cole, J. Y. (2001). Literacy, libraries and IFLA: Recent developments and a look at the future.
IFLA Journal 27(2): 87-90.

A review of IFLA’s Section on Reading plans for involvement with the “literacy issue.”
Reviews the historical development of IFLA’s involvement in literacy, in particular the
efforts of the IFLA Literacy Working Group. Suggests how libraries can become
involved in literacy today and the possibilities of IFLA’s work in the future. Grassroot
efforts are emphasized.

Eyre, G. (2004). Toward a literate Australia: The role of public libraries in supporting reading.
Aplis 17(4), 186-192.

Discusses UNESCO’s “Decade of Literacy” campaign and the many reasons literacy is a
vital skill in today’s increasingly technology based society. Presents results from several
literacy surveys, including the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and surveys in
the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Also describes literacy programs in these countries, and
suggests that libraries can play an even bigger role in the literacy movements, outlining
several roles they could perform.
Wadholm 22

Gibbs, R. (1990). Libraries and literacy: The role of Australian public libraries. APLIS 3(3), 123-

Describes an “interventionist” approach for public library literacy programs, wherein

libraries provide collections, spaces, and direct infrastructure support to community
literacy programs. Highlights activities in Australian public libraries, in particular the
Victoria Public Library literacy program, as a reflection of the “International Year of
Literacy” (IYL) goals and mandates.

Thomas, B. (1993). Guidelines for public libraries promoting literacy. Paris: UNESCO.
Available online at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0009/000955/095502eb.pdf.

As a result of several IFLA conferences on public libraries and literacy, and on the work
being done to promote UNESCO’s IYL, this manual was created to provide guidelines
for libraries seeking to implement literacy programs. Topics addressed include the
definition of literacy and illiteracy concepts; the role of public libraries in literacy; issues
related to collection development, programs, and literacy material publication; and
facilitation of patrons with literacy needs. Presents efforts made around the world,
compiled from papers presented at the 1989 “Public Libraries against Illiteracy” IFLA
satellite meeting, as well as the IYL objectives and the 1972 Public Library Manifesto.

Hassner, K. (1999) The model library project: a way to implement the Unesco public library
manifesto. IFLA Journal 25(3): 143-7.

Description of work being done by the UNESCO Model Library Network (UNET),
specifically within the Sweden-Ljusdal Municipal Library system. UNET is a
collaboration of libraries dedicated to implementing UNESCO’s vision in the Public
Library Manifesto (PLM). The article suggests the PLM be adopted internationally so all
libraries may realize its vision.

IFLA. (2007). Developing cultures of literacy: an international research project. Retrieved April
11, 2010 from http://archive.ifla.org/VII/s33/project/DevelopingCulturesLiteracyRep.pdf.

Preliminary report on a project researching common factors that develop and sustain a
culture of literacy in a community or country. Nine factors were identified and validated
by survey respondents from around the world. However, since the survey was
administered only in English, further research will widen the survey sample to include
non-English speaking participants. One important finding was that technology and the
Internet are shifting the way people define and use literacy. This project is a collaboration
between IFLA, the International Reading Association (IRA), and the Center for Applied
Linguistics (CAL).
Wadholm 23

IFLA. (1999). IFLA literacy working group final report. Retrieved April 1, 2010 from

In this final IFLA Literacy Working Group report, the committee reviews the various
issues of promoting literacy programs in libraries. The three main areas of library literacy
work are considered, including collections and resources, instructional programs, and
support services. Also, the main issues that prevent developing countries from
establishing literacy programs are listed. Results from a survey of library literacy
programs are presented. Final recommendations propose that IFLA become an organizing
center for libraries in development of literacy programs, and begin to fund a Literacy
Officer to coordinate these activities.

IFLA. (2003). Guidelines for library-based literacy programs. Retrieved April 8, 2010 from

Guidelines compiled by the IFLA Reading Section for libraries seeking to begin a
literacy program, or for libraries to use in evaluating existing programs. Presents
suggestions and advice in answer to eight key questions about library literacy activities
and services.

IFLA. (2005). Memorandum of understanding between IFLA, International Reading Association

(IRA), and International Board Books for Young People (IBBY). Retrieved April 11, 2010
from http://archive.ifla.org/VII/s33/annual/Memorandum-IFLA_IRA_IBBY.pdf.

A statement of cooperation between three world leaders in literacy and libraries. The
intent is to coordinate resources and efforts between the three organizations in order to
further the promotion of literacy around the world. Currently, they are conducting a
research project on how public and school libraries in Africa can be enhanced to support
literacy and improve access to materials.

Krolak, L. (2005). The role of libraries in the creation of literate environments. Retrieved
February 10, 2010 from http://www.ifla.org/files/literacy-and-

A UNESCO report on the role libraries can play in promoting literacy worldwide, which
is a primary goal in the UNESCO “Education for All” campaign. Stresses that people
must have a desire to continue reading, beyond initial literacy training, which can be
facilitated by materials available through libraries and similar resource centers. Presents
policy recommendations to enable this role of libraries.

Laugesen, A. (2008). An inalienable right to read: Unesco's promotion of a universal culture of

reading and public libraries and its involvement in Africa, 1948-1968. English in Africa,
35(1), 67-88.

Realistic evaluation of UNESCO’s education efforts in Nigeria in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Focus is on the Enugu model library project and whether it managed to overcome the
Wadholm 24

social and ethnic tensions which were a barrier to efforts at creating a stable, democratic
Nigerian national. The author posits that effort such as this, e.g. developmental programs
by international organizations, should be judged by their historical contexts, and that
UNESCO’s education mandate was part of a larger Anglo-American democratic ideal.
Libraries, which UNESCO highlighted as centers for promoting literacy, were a means to
sustain UNESCO’s education efforts and provide justification for further education

Murison, W. J. (1988). The public library: Its origins, purpose and significance. London:

A history of the British public library, up to the 1980’s. Described the involvement of
libraries in the promotion of literacy, through cooperation with literacy movements in the
1970’s, but also encourages an increased involvement by libraries in literacy education
since the effectiveness of libraries is “dependent on the ability to read” (p. 142).

Thomas, L. C. (1993). World literacy and the role of libraries. IFLA Journal 19(2): 162-169.

In response to UNESCO’s International Year of Literacy, ALA and IFLA advocated the
role of libraries in literacy education. This paper highlights the value of all types of
libraries, but in particular public or community libraries, in literacy promotion. In
particular, Thomas addresses their role in education programs, community awareness,
learner motivation, supplying materials, collaboration efforts, and publicity for the
literacy cause. She also discusses the importance of early and family literacy programs,
and the role libraries can play in reaching parents, especially mothers.

Train, B. (2004). Library-based literacy programs: The Reading Section’s major activities.
Conference Proceedings, 70th IFLA Council and General Conference, Buenos Aires,
Argentina, 22-27 August.

Based on a presentation given at the 2004 IFLA conference, describes the work of the
IFLA Reading section, and how it relates to the work of IFLA and to the wider library
profession. Presents the eight “Guidelines for Library-Literacy Programs,” and how they
were put into action by “Quick Reads,” a literacy program based in Essex county in

Unesco. (2007). Unesco: Public Library Manifesto. Retrieved 15 March, 2010 from

The 2007 update to the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto. Literacy is specifically
included in public library mission statement number twelve: “supporting and
participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, and initiating such
activities if necessary.”
Wadholm 25

Wedgeworth, R. (2004). The literacy challenge. IFLA Journal, 30(1): 14-18.

Presentation by Robert Wedgeworth, former IFLA President and current President and
CEO of Proliteracy Worldwide, the organization created when Laubach International and
Volunteers of America joined forces. He emphasizes the importance of literacy in our
increasingly complex, technology-driven world, and the power it has to changes lives and
communities. The roles that libraries can play in promoting literacy are many, because of
their resources and professional background, but greater vision, commitment, training
and collaboration is needed. He concludes with five sets of actions libraries can take to
“embrace a culture of literacy” (p. 18).

Library literacy programs for the general population

Coleman, P.M. (1981). Whose problem?: The public library and the disadvantaged. London :
Association of Assistant Librarians.

A short work published in Great Britain, this work includes a chapter discussing the
importance of library services directed to people with literacy problems. Topics
addressed include how libraries can provide outreach to this group, cooperation with
local organizations, and the importance of training for both library staff and tutors.

Neuman, S. and Nafizuddin, K. (2008). When I give, I own: Building literacy through READ
community libraries in Nepal. Reading Teacher, 61(7), 513-522.

Overview of the READ community library development program in Nepal, which since
1991 has established 41 community library centers in rural and urbal areas. The libraries
are owned, managed and run by their local communities. Discusses access to literacy,
outreach activities, economic productivity, and social development impacts of the
program. A fascinating look at an alternative method for linking literacy development to
social empowerment, through the establishing of library centers.

Okiy, R.B. (2003). Information for rural development: Challenge for Nigerian rural public
libraries. Library Review, 52(3-4): 126-31.
Reviews the current state of rural public libraries in Nigeria, and challenges that they
should be rethought and restructured to better reflect their local communities. Emphasizes
especially the creation of low-literacy materials for local people on subjects such as rural
occupations and government information. The conclusion states that the majority of rural
dwellers are illiterate, and that public libraries are able to provide adequate literacy and
education services for them, if they are made available and accessible to the people.

Spencer, F.G. (2007). A special librarian creates a special library. Information Outlook, 11(5):

Profile of Jane Meyers, a children’s librarian who created an NGO to raise money and
materials to build a public-access library and reading center in Zambia, targeting children
Wadholm 26

affected by HIV/AIDS. One mission is to build literacy, as most children have very little
access to books.

Programs for children

Baffour-Awuah, M. (2001). Village Reading Rooms: Book Outreach in Botswana. School

Libraries Worldwide 7(2): 65-71. Available online at http://www.iasl-

Describes the Botswana Village Reading Rooms (VRR) project, a rural extension of the
Botswana Public Library service. The program works jointly with the national Literacy
Programme to provide community reading collections to sustain the literacy skills of
adult learners. The article discusses the process of providing space for the VRR’s in the
communities, staffing decisions, training of Reading Assistants, and evaluations of the
services. Found that communities have taken ownership of the VRR’s, which are a
valuable resource for community life and access to books.

Heeks, P. (2000). A place for children: Public libraries as a major force in children's reading.
London: Library Association.

Results from a research project in the U.K. to study the nature and impact of children’s
services in public libraries, with an emphasis on how those services support reading
development. Major findings were that libraries provide a variety of services and that
librarians have a strong commitment to promoting a desire to read. However, most
librarians viewed the actual acquisition of reading skills as the responsibility of the
education system, not the library.

Room to Read. About us: Room to Read. Retrieved October 15, 2009 from

The Room to Read NGO has established more than 7,000 libraries in developing
countries since 2000. They work with local directors and educators to establish children’s
libraries in “communities where poverty, ethnicity, or other social and cultural barriers
put children at a significant educational disadvantage.” Their focus is on providing
reading materials and literacy opportunities to children through building school houses
and library reading rooms. They also develop and publish children’s books written by
local authors and illustrators in languages native to the communities. They are currently
working to expand their work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Smith, H. (2007). The power of books. American Libraries, 38(5): 42-44.

A librarian’s account of her trip to the Brazilian Amazon as part of a missionary team,
and her experiences in sharing a simple lift-the-flap story, “Peekaboo Panda,” with
children in villages along the river. She found that story reaches beyond all boundaries.
Wadholm 27

Tiemensma, L. (2009). Visual literacy: to comics or not to comics? Promoting literacy using
comics. Conference Proceeding, 75th IFLA Council and General Conference, Milan, Italy,
23-27 August.

Describes the benefits of comics in helping children to learn and to enjoy reading. The
history and characteristics of comics are explained. The author suggests comics promote:
positive attitudes and motivation, print awareness, narrative skills, vocabulary
development and second language learning. Comics are an appealing and engaging
medium that may help inspire reluctant readers and teach children the joy of reading.

Varatorn, S. (2005). Literacy through child activities: Community children’s libraries and the
story-book projects. Conference Proceedings, 71st IFLA Council and General
Conference, Oslo, Norway, 14-18 August.

Describes a children-and-family library and story-book project organized by the Tai

Wisdom Association (TWA), in the Khon Kaen Province of Taiwan. Major goals for the
project are to increase awareness of the importance of early childhood reading and
literacy, to promote the value of storytelling, and to be an educational resource for
parents and caregivers in the community. One interesting feature is the library’s park
service, an area of gardens and trees for parents and children to enjoy as they read and

Programs for adults

Bramley, G. (1991). Adult literacy, basic skills and libraries. London: Library Association

Reviews the history of adult literacy and library programs. Discusses the development of
the definition of literacy, major causes of illiteracy, and educational methods used in
literacy programs. The history of library literacy programs for both the U.K. and the U.S.
are outlined, including major legislation, literacy initiatives and programs initiated by
each country’s major library associations.

Fochtman, P. (2007). Brazil: Is this nation of non-readers the land of opportunity? Publishing
Research Quarterly, 23(4), 254-261.

A review of the opportunity for the publishing market in Brazil, in light of education
reform efforts and an ambitious literacy program funded by Brazil’s President Lula de
Silva. Libraries are mentioned several times, as receiving financing through the literacy
initiatives and as an important part of the effort to improve Brazil’s literacy rates to meet
the needs of the nation’s economic potential.
Wadholm 28

Jones, A. (1991). Libraries as centres for community literacy. Information Development 7(2): 86-

The author suggests that libraries, especially in the Pacific Islands, often cater more to
literate and educated patrons, but it is important to make libraries accessible to all
members of a community. She gives ideas for how libraries can promote adult literacy by
providing appropriate materials that are relevant, useful and appealing to learners and
new readers. Also, libraries can provide space and other resources for community

McLoughlin, C. and Morris, A. (2004). UK public libraries: Roles in adult literacy provision.
Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 36(1): 37-46.

Study of eight U.K. public libraries and the characteristics of their adult literacy
programs. Found that a “reader development” approach, which focused on encouraging
the enjoyment of reading and attention to patron’s interests, was a successful method.
Important factors to consider in the programs included staffing needs, sustainability
options, marketing and recruiting techniques, and ways to provide and promote literacy
collections. Provides a list of recommendations for best practices in organizing adult
literacy programs.

Nassimbeni, M. (2008). Adult education in two public libraries in Cape Town: a case study.
South African Journal of Library and Information Science, 74(1), 83-92.

Presents results of two case studies of adult library literacy programs in Cape Town,
South Africa. Includes an excellent literature review of definitions of literacy, and
characteristics of adult education and library literacy programs in South Africa. Found
that learners sought to improve their lives through literacy programs, but library
programs have a lack of funding, learners do not utilize library resources, and better
evaluation of programs is needed.

Literacy Theory

Bartlett, L. (2008). Literacy’s verb: Exploring what literacy is and what literacy does.
International Journal of Educational Development, 28(6): 737-753.
Examines the nature of the impact literacy has on the lives of individuals, through a
consideration of claims made by developmental discourses of literacy that attainment of
literacy “skills” will lead to social or political changes. After a 24-month ethnographic
study of literacy learners in Brazil, the author concludes that the context and type of
literacy programs play a major part in any change that occurs, as well as the student’s
own social and cultural context, and the way they apply literacy abilities to their lives.
Wadholm 29

Iaquinta, A. (2006). Guided reading: A research-based response to the challenges of early

reading instruction. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(6): 413-418.

Presents a description of “guided reading,” a literacy instruction method used with all
ages that allows for balanced, dynamic development of reading skills. Flexible, small
groups of students are led by an instructor through reading and discussing texts, in order
to build independent reading and comprehension skills.

Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5): 18-25.

A persuasive article on the value of self-selected reading as a method of reading

instruction. Review studies related to the impact of self-selected reading programs and
access to libraries as a factor in high reading skills. Also review several alternate types of
reading instruction, including several non-reading programs and a range of phonics-based
instruction methods. Two methods for promoting reading are suggested: narrow reading
(extensive reading on one topic), and self-selected reading (wide reading on self-selected
topics). Examples of alternative reading instruction could have been chosen more
objectively, but the value of high-interest reading materials is clearly defined.

National Research Council. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children.

Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Report of the National Research Council on a review of research in early reading

development, in order to construct an overall picture of how children learn to read,
predictors of reading difficulty, and what interventions and education methods can be
employed to overcome reading problems. Part one presents an introduction to literacy
and reading development. Part two discusses predictors of reading difficulties and
method for detection. Part three presents prevention and intervention strategies, including
a discussion about training parents and the benefits of family literacy programs.

National Research Council. (1999). Starting out right: A guide to promoting children’s reading
success. Burns, S.M., Griffin, P., Snow, C., eds. Washington, DC: National Academy
Guide from the NRC on how parents, caregivers and educators can promote reading
development in children. Begins with an introduction to basic early reading skills and
how children begin to learn to use text. Two chapters present literacy skill areas and
activities for children by age level, with activity ideas, examples, case studies and books
lists for parents, caregivers and educators to use in working with children as they learn to
read. The final chapter discusses risk factors and intervention strategies for children who
are at risk or who fall behind.
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National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to
read, an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and
its implications for reading instruction. Rockville, MD: NICHD Clearninghouse.

Report of the National Reading Panel on a review of research on teaching children to

read, in order to determine the most important skills and best instructional methods for
teaching children to become independent readers. Findings are presented for the topics of
Alphabetics, Fluency, Comprehension, Teacher Education, and Computer Technology.
Though few concrete suggestions were made for applying findings to classroom
instruction, the panel offered findings for each topic on research methods and approaches
that have been successful in improving children’s reading ability.

Neuman, S. (1999). Books make a difference: A study of access to literacy. Reading Research
Quarterly 34(3): 286-311.

Research report on the “Books Aloud” program, which provided a large number of
Philadelphia daycare sites with books, training and advice about promoting stories to
children. Evaluated the impact of these resources on children’s early literacy skills.
Found that proximity of reading materials increases children’s interest in and use of
books, but that it is also vital to have encouraging and engaged caregivers to guide their
reading. There was no long-term improvement in early literacy skills, suggesting that
longer-term and more intensive training and interventions are needed.

Neuman, S. (1996). Children engaging in storybook reading: The influence of access to print
resources, opportunity, and parental interaction. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,
11(4): 495-513.

Study evaluating the effect of parent-child interaction during storybook reading on

literacy developments, and how the interaction is influenced by the type of text (from
predicable to narrative-based) and level of parent reading proficiency. Finds that with
better access to books and guidance in how to engage in conversation around a story, all
parents had a positive effect on children’s emergent literacy skills. In particular, children
of parents with lower reading proficiency showed higher gains in emergent literacy skills.

Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the brain. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Presents research based on a national conference on early brain development held in

1996, which was the basis for the “I Am Your Child” campaign. Important findings
include the remarkable rate of brain development in the first years of life, the importance
of prevention and intervention for children at risk of developmental problems, and the
need to encourage and equip parents, caregivers, and the community to promote
children’s learning.
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Taylor, D. (1997). Many families, many literacies: An international declaration of principles.

Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Trade.

Presents a variety of viewpoints and perspectives from around the world on the issue of
family literacy, including its definition and approaches to understanding the many types
of literacies. Includes an article by Sandra Feinberg describing parent/child family
literacy workshops in libraries, titled “Learning through Play at the Public Library.”

Wasik, B. (2004). Handbook of family literacy. Mahway, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates, 2004.

Research into the history, current practices, and future of family literacy programs.
Chapter 1 introduces the development of family literacy programs in the U.S. including
discussion of primary concepts (such as “family” and “family literacy”) and primary
issues impacting the field (including poverty, education theories and changing
demographics). Chapter 2 traces the history of family literacy programs in England.
Libraries are mentioned several times through the handbook, in relation to their role in
supporting family literacy programs.

Whitehurst, G.J. and Lonigan, C.J. (1998). Child development and emergent literacy. Child
Development, 69(3): 848-872.

A review of emergent literacy research, including an overview of its basic skills and
assumptions. Presents research on the core components of emergent literacy, the impact
of home and school environments on emergent literacy skills, and the results of several
emergent literacy intervention programs. Dialogic reading, which has become an
important part of current early literacy library programs, is discussed. Concludes with
areas for further research on this topic and public policy implications for establishing
intervention programs.
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Timeline of U.S. Library Literacy Programs

1833: First public library founded in the United States in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

1890’s: Libraries begin to offer services for English as a Second Language learners.

1896: First children’s rooms at the Pratt Institute in Brooklen and Providence Public Library in
Rhode Island. Some of the first library story hours also began at this time at the Pratt

1897: First library summer reading programs.

1900: ALA forms a special division for children’s libraries.

1900-1920’s: The Carnegie foundation provides funds to the ALA for the creation of reading
lists. Also, the foundation provides endowments to open public libraries throughout the
U.S. (and the world) with the aim of providing lifelong education for the public.

1924: The Carnegie foundation funds an ALA study of adult education, resulting in the ALA
publication, Libraries and Adult Education, which included teaching of reading as a
component of library adult education programs.
ALA establishes the Commission on Library and Adult Education.

1926: ALA establishes the Board on Library and Adult Education, which is renamed in1937 to
the Adult Education Board. Lasts until 1955.

1941: ALA division for children and young people formed, now the ALSC.

1946: The Public Library Division of the ALA establishes the Adult Education Section

1949: ALA, in association with the Social Science Research Council, conducts the Public
Library Inquiry. The report returns discouraging news about the impact of libraries on
public education, but libraries respond by raising efforts to reach non-users and the

1951: Ford Foundation grant awarded to ALA, which results in a series of adult education
projects, including a study of programs. The results are published in Helen Lyman’s Adult
Education Activities in Public Libraries.

1952: ALA creates the Office of Adult Education with further Ford Foundation funding.

1956: The Library Services Act is passed. This act sets the stage for funding of libraries in
unserved areas, especially rural communities. This act is amended in 1964 to become the
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Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA), which will become a major source of
library literacy funding for many years.

1957: ALA forms the Adult Services Division.

1960’s: “Outreach” to the disadvantaged and the underserved is a major focus of library service.

1964-1967: A series of education and economic development legislation begins to provide

funding for libraries to establish literacy programs. Most significant are:
• the Economic Opportunity Act, under which libraries qualify for grants for adult
• Title IIB of the Higher Education Act, titled the Library Research and Demonstration
Program, which provided over a million dollars of funding to library literacy projects.
• Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Adult Basic Education Act, both of which
provide funding for library education projects

1964: ALA study on adult literacy programs, financed by the J. Morris Jones-World Book
Encyclopedia-ALA Goals Committee.

1968: ALA forms the Coordinating Committee on Library Service to the Disadvantaged, which
is promoted in 1970 to the Office for Library Services to the Disadvantaged (OLSD). In
1978, the name is changed to the Office for Library Outreach Services.

1970’s: “Information and referral” are a major focus of library services.

1970: The Library Services Program, established under amendments to the LSCA Act, is an
important source of funding for library literacy efforts.

1970: The Adult Performance Level study, conducted by the U.S. Office of Education,
establishes the meaning of “functional literacy,” leading to increased focus on literacy
campaigns and advocacy.

1975: A project by PLA and OLSD to create a handbook for libraries on literacy activities results
in Helen Lyman’s Literacy and the Nation’s Libraries.

1977: The Center for the Book in the Library Congress is established.

1978-1979: The OLOS Literacy Training Project conducts three workshops across the country to
train librarians in establishing literacy programs, identifying community needs and
collaborating with literacy providers (one workshop was held in Bloomington, IN).

1979: First White House Conference on Library and Information Services. One resolution is for
increased library efforts in literacy education.
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1981: ALA forms the National Coalition for Literacy with 11 other literacy, education, and
media organizations. This is a major media campaign to raise awareness of literacy and
provide opportunities for people to volunteer or find help with literacy problems.

1984: LSCA is amended to become the Library Literacy Program (LSP), providing more money
to state and public library literacy programs.

1986: U.S. Department of Education commissions a study on library literacy programs from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Librarianship. Results in a planning manual
on organizing library literacy programs.
Congress appropriates $5 million for library literacy.
Project Literacy US, a collaboration between PBS and ABC to raise awareness of literacy,
is launched.

1989: ALA convenes the Literacy Assembly.

The Bell-Atlantic/ALA Literacy Project: A Partnership to Fight Illiteracy.

1990’s: Family literacy programs are more prominent in libraries, thanks to grants from Bell
Atlantic, the Viburnum Foundation, and Cargill, Inc.

1991: Second White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. One focus is on
library and information services for literacy.
The National Literacy Act is passed, creating the National Institute for Literacy.

1993: National Adult Literacy Survey, sponsored by the National Center for Educational
Statistics (NCES). This study established definitions and ranges of literacy that were used
in subsequent literacy surveys, such as the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS,
conducted between 1994 and 1999).

1995: ALA’s OLOS changes its name to Office For Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS),
from the Office for Library Outreach Services. The new name reflects a stronger focus on
literacy services.

1995: The Lila-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund finances the “Literacy in Libraries Across
America” (LILAA) project, which provided grants to libraries across the country to further
develop their literacy programs. Also, funds were provided for a Literacy Officer in

1996: The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) is passed. This act is part of the
Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), which shifts funding for library and museum
services (including the Library Services Program) from the Department of Education to
the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The importance of libraries to
lifelong learning is still emphasized.
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1998: The Reading Excellence Act and Workforce Investment Act provide opportunities for
library literacy program grants.

1998: ALA adopts literacy as one of their five key action areas.

1998: ALA funds a full-time Literacy Officer in the OLOS.

2000: First National Literacy Summit sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy, which
brings together organizations concerned with adult literacy.
ALA establishes the Literacy Committee.
The PLA and ALSC work with the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development to organize Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library. This program uses
library workshops to disseminate information on early literacy research to parents and

2001: ALA establishes the Standing Committee on Literacy

BuildLiteracy.org is established. This is ALA’s online resource for collaboration and
resources for library literacy programs

2001: The Verizon Literacy Network is formed. This foundation provides grants and
collaboration opportunities for libraries. Most recently, they funded ALA’s Libraries,
Literacy & Gaming program, which just awarded grants for gaming literacy initiatives in
public libraries.

2003: The MLSA is reauthorized with increased funding allotments, but with a shifted focus to
technology-related projects.

2003: National Assessment of Adult Literacy Survey, sponsored by the NCES second national
study of literacy levels in the U.S. Findings are still being made available, but have found
little difference in prose and document literacy, and improvements in quantitative literacy.

2009: First annual national library literacy summit (webcast around the nation), titled Literacy
for ALL: Libraries, Literacy and Advocacy.
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Literacy Organizations and Programs

Adult Literacy Resource Institute (http://sabes.org/boston/)
America’s Literacy Directory (http://literacydirectory.org/)
ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services
Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy (www.barbarabushfoundation.com)
Book Bank (http://www.thebbf.org/about.html)
Books Aloud (http://www.library.phila.gov/libserv/booksaloud.htm)
Books for Kids (http://www.booksforkids.org/)
Born Learning (www.bornlearning.org)
BuildLiteracy.org (www.buildliteracy.org)
EvenStart Association (www.eventstart.org)
English as a Second Language in the USA (www.eslinusa.com)
Every Child a Reader and Writer (http://www.insidewritingworkshop.org/about/)
Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library
First Book (http://www.firstbook.org/)
International Literacy Institute at Upenn (http://www.literacy.org/)
Library of Congress Center for the Book (http://www.read.gov/cfb)
Literacy Assistance Center (www.lacnyc.org)
National Center for Family Literacy (www.famlit.org)
National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance (http://www.thencbla.org/)
National Coalition for Literacy (http://www.national-coalition-literacy.org/)
National Institute for Literacy (www.nifl.gov)
National Literacy Coalition (http://www.nationalliteracycoalition.org/index.aspx)
National Reading Panel (http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/)
Reach Out and Read (http://www.reachoutandread.org/)
Reading is Fundamental (http://www.rif.org/)
Room to Read (http://www.roomtoread.org/)
Read Across America (http://www.nea.org/readacross)
USA Learns! (www.usalearns.org)

CODE (http://www.codecan.org/en/code)
LiteracyBC (http://www.literacybc.ca/)
National Adult Literacy Database (http://www.nald.ca/index.htm)
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Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (http://www.rhdcc-

Book Start (http://www.bookstart.org.uk/Home)
Framework for the Future
National Young Reader’s Programme (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/nyrp)
Reading for Life (http://www.readingforlife.org.uk/ )
People’s Network (http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/)
World Book Day (U.K. and Ireland) (http://www.worldbookday.com/)

IFLA Section on Literacy and Reading (http://www.ifla.org/en/literacy-and-reading)
International Reading Association (http://www.reading.org/General/Default.aspx)
International Literacy Day (http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/literacy/)
Proliteracy Worldwide (http://www.proliteracy.org)
UNESCO’s Education for All program (http://www.unesco.org/en/efa/)
UNESCO’s LIFE campaign: Literacy Initiative for Empowerment
UNESCO’s Decade of Literacy program (http://www.unesco.org/en/literacy/why-the-