Libraries and Literacy

library and literacy
C: There are more kids coming.... My brother came in a couple of nights ago with another lady and she said, “My daughter's having a hard time with reading.” Her older girl's having a problem - the youngest one has no problem. So I gave her some of the little books [leveled readers] that you guys brought and she thought that was great. So I want to get her up her when there's no other kids around, and just let her go through the books and stuff.

B: My granddaughter's in Grade One and her teacher is more than a little concerned, about her reading capabilities and her attention span at reading. So, this [library] is going to come in very handy, very handy. I'll be up here, and my granddaughter can be reading.

- Evaluation comments, Winter Libraries Project

I'm still thinking about that last bit - "Literacy support as library work - or library support as literacy work?" (previous post).

I came to the type of literacy work I do now from a cooperative project between a family resource centre and a community-based adult literacy organization. The project was built around the frc book & toy lending library I staffed. It quickly expanded to include two other parent-support organizations. About the same time, we built a working relationship with our local public library. Taking heed of advice from our western cousins (Alberta and Sask.), we gathered these groups and connections into the Saint John Family Literacy Advisory Committee, and, well, off we went....

I don't want to do the whole history here: I only want to point out that, from the start, library work and literacy work have seemed intertwined.

It's not that way for everybody. Prof. Michael Kevane, political economist and friend of African libraries (link), authored a post titled Another argument for libraries... adult literacy campaigns do not do very much (Jan 2010) on the FAVL blog. "Yikes," he wrote, "nobody will ever accuse FAVL of being an expensive failure. Cheap failure, possibly." And then went on to cite from "Freed from Illiteracy? A Closer Look at Venezuela's Misión Robinson Literacy Campaign", Economic Development and Cultural Change, 57:1-30, October 2008.

Now, Prof. Keyane knows better than I that any papers coming out of Santiago de León de Caracas, Venezuela about past or present government activities are... problematic. There's a low level civil war going on involving a vast public relations front and boatloads of Yankee and Venezuelan oil dollars. Still, I don't begrudge him his headline - his crew just lost out on a funding award to the dogs. You remember the dogs I mean.

From Curbside: Beware of the Adults

I sat in an expensive room with other professionals, government representatives, business people and members of the university. Almost all nodded in appreciation when one speaker described a program wherein dogs were placed in the classroom to provide an audience for younger students who needed to practise reading aloud. The explanation for this extraordinary thing was that the children did better when they weren't nervous about - and, indeed, liked - the 'person' to whom they read.

No one outside the very small circle of my colleagues (we had shown up to receive an award) remarked then or after at the bleakness of this picture. Children so fear or dislike those human adults we employ in some schools that we must now bring dogs into the classroom to ensure students have a quiet, non-judgmental, audience - an audience that won't interrupt, won't chastise, won't mock, won't correct.

I don't know much about libraries in Africa. The Atlantic Provinces Library Association's Grow a Library Committee - CODE has 'adopted' the Solomon Mahlangu School library in Morogoro, Tanzania (see more here Partners in Libraries). I know that, because they made a donation on our behalf when we presented earlier this year. And, well, that's all I know.

For that matter, I don't know much about libraries and literacy in North America. Though I check in from time to time at literacyspace: literacy & library cightings, an aggregator run out of the Burbank Public Library, California, I can't say I've learned much.

Maybe all I really know is that when, last year, we responded to requests from residents in three neighbourhoods for help organizing neighbourhood libraries, it felt like literacy work - like the kind of literacy work we've been doing for a decade or more.

And now, one of those residents is becoming a source of reading support for her neighbours. "My brother came in a couple of nights ago with another lady and she said, 'My daughter's having a hard time with reading'... So I gave her some of the [leveled readers]... and she thought that was great. ”

We think that's great, too.

leveled readers

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