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Reading Literacy

Reading literacy is the ability to read, comprehend, and evaluate written information, as well as to be able to express one's own ideas adequately through writing.


Table of Contents

First Steps in Addressing Basic Reading Literacy Skills

Basic reading literacy skills are a prerequisite to being able to engage in e-government:

  • Can the patron read at a level appropriate to his age?
  • Can the patron write in both a comprehensible and grammatically correct manner?
  • Can the patron evaluate the information he is reading?

Depending upon the communities that your library is serving, you may find yourself working with a large number of patrons who need assistance in developing these skills.  If this is the case, and your library does not currently offer any programming in this area, you can begin to gather ideas for program development in this area by looking at:

Also, when you are providing assistance to foreign-born patrons, you will also need to evaluate the extent to which they can communicate through the written word in English. English Language Learners (ELL) populations have special literacy needs of which an increasing number of library communities (both large and small) need to be aware.  According to an analysis conducted by the ALA in 2007, the most successful library programs and services for non-English speakers were:

  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Language-specific materials and collections
  • Computer use and computer classes
  • Story time and special programs

American Library Association Toolkit

In thinking about how to improve the services that your library is providing to these populations, you may want to start with the ALA Toolkit (Serving Non-English Speakers in U.S. Public Libraries [pdf]).  The "Top 10 To-Dos" are also worth noting:

  1. Hire bilingual library staff. Recruit bilingual volunteers. Make directory of library staff members who speak other languages.
  2. Display “Welcome” signs, library activities and materials information in the languages spoken in your community.
  3. Smile, sincerely. You will be speaking the universal language of kindness.
  4. Assume no prior knowledge of libraries or lending policies.
  5. Provide library application forms and orientation materials in users’ native languages. If cost is prohibitive, provide a template that labels the key information items.
  6. Honor the choice of each individual: Ask whether a library user wants the library card application or flier in English or another language
  7. Learn how to retrieve foreign language materials and resources at your library — what search terms to use in your public access computer (i.e. SUBJECT: Chinese Language Materials)
  8. Know the holidays and festivals celebrated in your community. Create displays to acknowledge and commemorate these.
  9. Contact your state, local municipal and social service agencies; ask for information materials printed in other languages for public distribution. Locate online resources offering other language information, such as the Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, etc.
  10. Get to know the community newspaper editor or reporters of other language weeklies: They can provide free newspapers and translate and publish your program calendar in the paper’s community calendar.

Developing an ESL Program

If you are thinking about developing an ESL program in your library, remember that you don't need to reinvent the wheel -- check out the list compiled by ALA of examples of successful ELL programs and the American Dream curriculum (developed by the Athens-Clarke County Library of the Athens Regional Library System) to get a better idea of the different approaches that you can take.

Spotlight on Forsyth County Public Library

  • Location: Winston-Salem, NC
  • Type of Location: Suburb/Small City
  • Population: Approximately 355,000 residents as of the 2010 Census; Over 30,000 native Spanish speakers

As part of the library's dedicated outreach services to Spanish speakers, bilingual classes are offered for homework, reading, and computer help.