Establishing an Adult Literacy Program in Your Library
by: Blythe Schubert, Director
Kate Love Simpson Morgan County Library
Amidst the trauma of budget cuts in late June and early July, this small library director tried to further expand library services by partnering with the M&M (Malta and McConnelsville) Rotary Club to provide adult literacy tutoring at the library.
Somehow, focusing a positive change in library programming seemed to relieved the stress of our very uncertain future.
Our local ABLE [Adult Basic & Literacy Education] program (of which I was once a part) provides classes for adults who seek help with literacy, are studying for their high school equivalency or GED exams, or need help with nursing and other college admission tests.
I know from my own ABLE days that occasionally an adult comes to these classes with more basic needs; either unable to read at all or with a small sight vocabulary. These brave adults need one-on-one tutoring to overcome a lifetime of reading failure. Finding time in a GED class to teach phonics and other word recognition skills is at best difficult, at worst impossible.
I called our county ABLE program instructor. She contacted our regional ABLE coordinator, who was delighted to know about our interest in establishing adult literacy tutoring. In our 7-county region, Morgan County is the only county without an Adult Literacy Council.
Okay. We have a need. We have the beginnings of a team. Next, we needed training sessions and materials for potential tutors and students. I had envisioned computer software to provide structure and practice for motivated adults with support material for tutors.
As a former teacher, I knew that the fascination and prestige of working on a computer could provide adult students with a non-threatening, work-at-your-own-pace method of learning. However, other adults and tutors are more comfortable with workbooks, paper, and pencil. Rotarians and other volunteer tutors would need some instruction and structure if they were to be successful in helping adults to read.
I called people in the academic world. Late June and July is not a good time to seek advice from educators. They’re on vacation. I explored our library data bases. I googled “adult literacy” and discovered a huge, wide ranging series of hits, many unrelated to our goals.
One source seemed to fit our needs, but the cost was over $5,000 for three computer stations. In my research, I did find out that the program was available at the Ohio University Literacy Center. Before investing any money, I wanted to try this computer application.
I then contacted the Ohio Library Council thinking that other libraries have searched for these materials. I emailed Missy Lodge and received a reply from Jan Haines. She spent some time looking for resources and assured me that she too was having problems contacting ABLE regional centers and finding information. However, Jan persevered and found some excellent adult literacy sites.
On July 14 the Rotary grant application was submitted. I continued my search for material for use in the library.
The Mid-East Career and Technology Adult Education Center Coordinator, Charney Fitz returned my call on our progress with the grant. I related my long search for adult literacy materials to purchase and my desire to travel to Athens to sample the Ohio University’s resources.
Ms. Fitz then informed me that the Adult Basic and Literacy Education Center in Zanesville had many resources that we could borrow for use in our library for adult literacy. In addition, she would also provide training at no cost for literacy tutors!
In lieu of this news, Rotary funds could now be used to provide refreshments and lunch for the planning and training sessions. The library sites could then offer safe places for adults to meet.
With all of my research, I was trying to reinvent the wheel, but the resources I sought were readily available. Vacation schedules and summer staffing had frustrated my attempts to contact the ABLE experts.
My advice to other small libraries contemplating adult literacy materials is this:
Contact your ABLE program coordinators and rely on them for training, materials, and advice.
In this reality of decreased resources and increased needs, communication, the sharing of resources, and trained volunteers may be our only avenue to adding meaningful programs for our communities.