ERIC Identifier: ED459629
Publication Date: 2001-09-00
Author: McMurrer, Eileen - Terrill, Lynda
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Library Literacy Programs for English Language Learners. ERIC
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.
HISTORY OF LIBRARY LITERACY PROGRAMS
As early as 1629,
Puritans bound for Salem, Massachusetts, included a collection of books in their
cargo; in 1655, colonist Robert Keayne willed money for the founding of a public
library in Boston (Shera, 1965). While many early libraries resided in
universities, later industrialist philanthropists, such as Enoch Pratt and
Andrew Carnegie, endowed public libraries and stipulated that local governments
also provide financial support for local community libraries. Pratt's credo, "My
library shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color,"
resonates among libraries today (Schuchat, 1985, p. 7). In the 1960s, the
federal War on Poverty Program increased funding to help support literacy
programs (Comings & Cuban, 2000). Individual states and communities have
continued to fund projects to reach increasingly diverse local populations. From
1988 to 1995, for example, the California State Library funded the Partnerships
for Change Program, which involved 26 community libraries that analyzed and
restructured programs and policies to better serve their culturally diverse
communities (California State Library & Library of California, 2001).
In 1999, the Library Research Center at the
University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana conducted a survey that found that
90% of the 1,067 libraries surveyed provide literacy services in one or more of
three forms (Comings & Cuban, 2000):
developing collections that support existing literacy programs and actively
promoting the services of those programs;
partnering with existing literacy programs by providing space and referring
patrons to program services; and
providing literacy programs either in their own buildings or nearby.
The American Library Association (ALA)
Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) supports a nationwide effort to
enhance the literacy services of local libraries to "encourage opportunities for
maximum intellectual participation for underserved populations" (ALA/OLOS,
1998). Since 1999, OLOS has sponsored a Diversity Fair at the annual ALA
conference. Broward County, Florida, publishes a quarterly Welcome Home
Newsletter in six languages that covers topics of interest to new immigrants.
Broward and Miami-Dade counties collaborate on the Pan African Bookfest and
Cultural Conference, which focuses on topics of concern to people of African
descent. The Storm Lake (Iowa) Public Library's Book Bridges Program includes
local Hispanic and Asian leaders and organizations as partners in this town of
9,000. (ALA/OLOS, 2000) Since 1996, the Library Literacy Initiative funded by
the Lila Wallace- Reader's Digest Fund (2001) has provided support for public
libraries to improve literacy services for adults, including those learning
English. For example, the Queens Borough Public Library has served thousands of
adults in its literacy programs. In one program at the Steinway Adult Learning
Center, immigrants from more than 60 countries meet at the center to converse or
to use computers.
PROFILE OF A PUBLIC LIBRARY PROGRAM: ARLINGTON COUNTY,
Arlington County, Virginia, is an ethnically diverse community of
189,453 whose residents speak over 60 languages (Arlington Public Schools, 2001;
U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). In 20 years, Arlington County Public Library's (ACPL)
services to new immigrants have grown from a small collection of materials to an
integrated county-wide system. Following is a chronology of how, through the
development of programs, one community has been able to meet the needs of its
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.
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.
American Library Association Office for Literacy
and Outreach Services. (1998). "About OLOS: Mission statement". Chicago: Author.
American Library Association Office for Literacy and Outreach Services.
(2000, June). "The American Library Association Office for Literacy and Outreach
Services (OLOS) 3rd Annual Diversity Fair". Chicago: Author.
Arlington Public Schools. (2001)."Student demographics". Arlington, VA:
California State Library & Library of California. (2001, March).
Partnerships for change expands original program. "Connection". [Web newsletter]
Comings, J. T., & Cuban, S. (2000). "So I made up my mind: Introducing a
study of adult learner persistence in library literacy programs". New York:
Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds. http://www.mdrc.org/Reports2000/MDRCLibLit.pdf
Constantino, R. (Ed.). (1998). "Literacy, access, and libraries among the
language minority population". Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. (2001). Libraries and literacy: A natural
partnership. "Focus: Adult Literacy". New York: Author.
Schuchat, T. (1985). "The library book". Seattle, WA: Madrona Press.
Shera, J. H. (1965). "Foundations of the public library: The origins of the
public library movement in New England 1629-1855". North Haven, CT: Shoe String
U.S. Census Bureau. (2001). "Arlington County 2000 census demographic
profile". Washington, DC: Author.
U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education.
(2001). "Adult education data and statistics". Washington, DC: Author.