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How Supporting Adult Literacy in Public Libraries Changes Lives
Posted by Jennifer Paulding on March 30, 2017 in categoryStories from the Field
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Adult Literacy Through Libraries

A public library—with its collections of books, journals, magazines, films, recordings, and other print and digital resources—is a community’s core source of reference, engagement, and learning. It is a user-friendly place of opportunity to organize and collaborate. 

With safe and welcoming environments, it is important for public libraries nationwide to continuously offer adult literacy programs. Success stories, like that of Nyla Henry, an adult learner from the Carlsbad City Library Learning Center, inspired ProLiteracy to partner with the American Library Association (ALA) to help libraries implement adult literacy initiatives.

Nyla’s Adult Literacy Journey

Nyla Henry is a native English speaker who has been in our program for about 7 years. When Nyla’s employer discovered that she could not read, she was afraid of losing everything. Instead, he referred her to our literacy program at Carlsbad City Library.  

When she was in school, she was passed along. Nyla was a pleasant student—a “teacher’s pet”—and showed skill in art, in addition to having sisters who did her homework for her. Her lack of skills wasn’t discovered until high school when she couldn’t pass the proficiency test. She was placed in special education where she memorized the answers to the test in order to graduate. After high school, she lived her life like so many learners do—in the shadows—avoiding social activities and parties where she could be discovered, and taking jobs like dishwashing and cleaning that didn’t require reading and writing. She fed her children frozen TV dinners because they had pictures on the box to show what was inside.  


Now, after having worked with volunteer tutors, not only have her skills increased, but her confidence has blossomed! She has had so many accomplishments—too many to list here—including graduating from a leadership institute for adult learners, facilitating that same institute a year later, writing letters for a writing challenge, speaking at various county-wide events, and developing and presenting a conference workshop on goal-setting. One of her most significant achievements is helping her grandchildren read by writing, illustrating, and publishing her own children’s books!  

Carrie Scott
Community Outreach Supervisor
Carlsbad City Library Learning Center, Carlsbad, CA

The Initiative to Build Adult Literacy through Libraries

Together, ProLiteracy and ALA developed a free online course to help public libraries nationwide integrate adult literacy policies and offer services. There are 36 million adults in the United States who lack adequate literacy and basic skills. With the help of our public libraries, we can tackle this staggering number and provide adults with low literacy more access to necessary instruction. 

With the award of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant, ProLiteracy and the ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services united to launch this course to advance the work outlined in the 2013 Adult Literacy through Libraries: An Action Agenda. The course’s 10 interactive modules guide libraries through how to reach adult learners in their communities. Staff can choose which modules they wish to take based on their library’s needs. Modules include:

  • Information about building and promoting collections of print and digital materials that meet the readability needs, goals, and interests of adults with limited literacy
  • Increased access to technology to better serve adults with limited literacy or English language skills
  • Recommendations on how libraries can collaborate and form strategic partnerships with other community stakeholders to support adult literacy 

Register for and learn more about the course here. 





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