In 2000, 38% of the participants in federally funded adult programs were English language learners (U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education, 2001). Many such programs have waiting lists, and programs of all kinds are expanding to serve the needs of adult English language learners. Public libraries, historically active in their support for literacy, have been increasing resources and programs to meet the literacy needs of immigrant adults and their families (American Library Association Office for Literacy and Outreach Services [ALA/OLOS], 2001; Constantino, 1998).
This digest summarizes the history of public libraries and library literacy programs; describes current delivery models; and discusses initiatives in library literacy, profiling one successful public library program that serves adult English language learners and their families.
1. developing collections that support existing literacy programs and actively promoting the services of those programs;
2. partnering with existing literacy programs by providing space and referring patrons to program services; and
3. providing literacy programs either in their own buildings or nearby.
* In the 1980s, with the arrival of Vietnamese and Cuban refugees in Arlington County, ACPL added small collections of materials in Vietnamese, Spanish, and English for nonnative speakers. Today these collections have expanded to reflect the languages and cultures of all of Arlington's diverse neighborhoods.
* In the early 1990s, ACPL established connections with local agencies working with immigrants. The library launched an adult new readers' book discussion program with help from teachers in Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP). The discussion groups continue to meet at two locations. Funding is provided by the Southland Corporation and the Friends of Arlington County Public Library, a nonprofit local group that raises funds for the library system.
* In the mid 1990s, ACPL launched satellite collections and weekly story times at four of the county's Bilingual Outreach Centers. The Centers, located in apartment complexes with large immigrant populations, were established by the county to assist with adjustment to life in a new culture. The programs, collections, and services at the Centers acquaint immigrants with the services available through the library system. Initially funded with grants from the Virginia State Library, the U.S. Department of Education, Community Development Block Grants and Friends of the Library, the Outreach Centers' libraries are now funded by ACPL's operating budget.
* In the late 1990s, the library director convened a summit to examine services to the rapidly increasing immigrant community. Advisors ranged from the coordinator of the Queens Public Library New Americans Program to local community leaders. A work group was charged with developing an organized program of services for the immigrant community. One of its outcomes was a welcome brochure that explains library terms in clear, everyday English.
* In 2000, a "CyberCenter" computer learning lab was instituted at a library branch in a neighborhood with a large immigrant population. Grant funding provided computer equipment for the lab, staffed primarily by a coordinator and volunteers. In its first year of operation, CyberCenter served over 12,000 users. With funding from the Gates Foundation, a CyberCenter at the Central Library opened in June 2001.
* Young Adult Services' library staff work with the county schools. Two middle schools host library-sponsored discussion groups for immigrant learners. Staff make presentations to parent groups at schools with diverse populations and have hosted "family evenings" at the library for Spanish-language parent groups, where stories in Spanish and potluck dinners provide a festive atmosphere.
* ACPL staff reflect the community they serve. The library recruits, hires, and promotes staff from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Bilingual staff members wear badges printed (in the specific language) with "I speak Spanish," "I speak Amharic," "I speak Vietnamese," and so forth.
CONCLUSION Public libraries have changed throughout U.S. history to become increasingly inclusive of the communities they serve. The efforts of the American Library Association, granting institutions, and local libraries are helping to address the complex literacy needs of adult English language learners and their families. Arlington County Public Library's long-term plan of working with local partners and shifting available, stable resources to meet and sustain the needs of immigrant learners is a promising model for communities throughout the United States.
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U.S. Census Bureau. (2001). "Arlington County 2000 census demographic profile". Washington, DC: Author. http://www.co.arlington.va.us/census/arlington.pdf
U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (2001). "Adult education data and statistics". Washington, DC: Author. http://www.ed.gov/offices/OVAE/datahome.html