Literacy is more than libraries. Creating a literacy environment

Erin Barlow, Director
Gnadenhutten Public Library

 It can be easy to forget that there are a lot of people out there who don’t frequent the library.  As much as we’d like to we just can’t reach some people.  We can tempt them with food, programming, free DVD’s and music downloads, but it just may not work.  Here in Tuscarawas County, like many counties throughout the country; the literacy rate statistics are astonishing low.  About five years ago some educators and local literacy advocates came together and formed the Tuscarawas County Literacy Coalition, which is a non-profit organization that helps promote literacy through the county. 


The Tuscarawas County Literacy Coalition has taken the time to go to where the people are, rather than wait for them to wander into the libraries or schools.  Some times that means providing cookbooks at the local Farmers Market or creating a story time at the mall, but it all promotes a better standard of living for the area.  It also brings people together who may not normally interact.  For example the TCLC supports a grassroots reading movement called “One Book, One Community” that encourages all residents to read the same book then attend events or discussions.  While not every book selection appeals to everyone they are still part of the event because they are part of the community. 


 Literacy is not simply about reading books, but also about understanding what is going on around you.  Communities need to address financial literacy, medical literacy, technological literacy and cultural literacy in order to prosper.  That’s a lot of work, but with a group of dedicated people becomes less daunting.  

ImageOne of the Literacy Coalitions greatest events and main fundraiser of the year is the local Celebrity Spelling Bee.  This was the third year that “celebrities”, with the help of their “coaches” (4th grade students from a local school) competed for the top honor and it brought out a diverse crowd of people who may or may not be library patrons, but who walked away thinking about literacy in some way.  Getting the community involved is the fastest way to get your name out there. 


I know it’s not easy to get out of the library and into the community.  With all of the budget cuts and staff reductions it can be hard enough to get out from behind our desks, but every once in a while it might be eye opening to try.  Who knows what opportunities might arise.



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