Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

September 4, 1996

Public Library Literacy Programs Endangered

New Center for the Book Study Released

"Just as they have become an established force in literacy, public library literacy programs find themselves poised at the edge of a financial precipice. Earmarked federal funding for them has been cut. And there are very grave doubts that they will be able to compete for education or literacy funds provided through state block grants."

This statement is included in the executive summary of Even Anchors Need Lifelines: Public Libraries in Adult Literacy, a study by Gail Spangenberg of Spangenberg Learning Resources, just released by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

The report's recommendations and conclusions are based on detailed surveys and interviews with state librarians, literacy specialists in state libraries and elsewhere, and many others directly involved in library literacy programs.

The 144-page report, which contains 51 explanatory tables, distills more than 2,000 pages of raw data. An executive summary version of Even Anchors Need Lifelines is available from the Center for the Book, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4920, telephone (202) 707-5221. The full report and a 321-page data book will be available later in the year.

The report was sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, with additional funding provided by the National Institute for Literacy, Harold W. McGraw Jr., McGraw-Hill Companies, and the American Library Association. The Center for the Book was established in 1977 to stimulate public interest in books, reading, and libraries.

Author Gail Spangenberg is an experienced leader and policy analyst in the field of adult literacy. In the early 1980s, she helped establish the Business Council for Effective Literacy, and as its vice president and operating head from 1983 to 1993, she was responsible for development and management of the council's policies, publications, and other adult literacy programs and services.

In the report's executive summary, Ms. Spangenberg notes that: "The research underlying Even Anchors Need Lifelines makes one fact crystal clear: Though too little recognized and appreciated, public library adult literacy services are a vital part of the national adult literacy system, serving hundreds of thousands of adult Americans in thousands of programs across the country."

The report is organized into seven sections, each focused on a single area of research: The Public Library's Role; The Use & Limits of Technology; Planning; Finance & Funding; State Level Program Data; Local Programs: The Heart of the Matter; and Lifeblood Issues & Leadership. The conclusions and 19 recommendations are in the eighth section. In addition to acknowledgments, the appendices include the names and addresses of the 24 study advisers and nearly 200 study participants.

The 19 recommendations of Even Anchors Need Lifelines are:

  1. Earmarked funding in a significant dollar amount needs to be restored for library literacy programming--at the federal level, in state block grants, or both.
  2. The philanthropic community should offer immediate help. It would make a profound difference.
  3. Assuming that federal and/or state library literacy funding will be forthcoming, consideration should be given to officially designating state library agencies the lead state agencies for planning and developing local public library adult literary programming.
  4. A national planning alliance should be formed.
  5. State librarians should form an action group, perhaps within the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), to plan for their wider and more effective involvement in supporting and developing adult literacy services in their local public libraries.
  6. In parallel to the COSLA action group suggested above, state librarians should develop regular two-way channels of communication with local libraries offering adult literacy services.
  7. A national library literacy data collection system should be created.
  8. Existing journals and newsletters of literacy and library organizations should give regular coverage to library literacy programs for the purpose of making their role and accomplishments more widely recognized.
  9. The American Library Association, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, COSLA, the voluntary organizations, and other leading groups should issue official resolutions giving consistent and unequivocal attention to the important role of public libraries in providing adult literacy services.
  10. A project should be launched to develop and disseminate information to local library literacy programs about good models of library literacy service.
  11. As a national goal, the president, the administration, and Congress should commit to the wider use of technology in public libraries for the advancement of library literacy programs.
  12. An appropriate national organization, or a collaboration of several, should undertake a project to gather and disseminate the information local library literacy programs need about effective uses of technology for both program management and instruction.
  13. Although computers, the Internet, and distance learning technology have great appeal and potential, their wider implementation should be adopted only after the most careful consideration of the benefits--in terms of individual learning, program outcomes, economics of scale, and access.
  14. State and local public libraries should explore ways to expand space allocations for literacy programs or to find innovative space-sharing arrangements.
  15. A campaign of information and dissemination should be launched to increase understanding throughout the field and in the political arena about the important role of public libraries in adult literacy. The campaign could be sponsored by established literacy and library groups. (One part of these activities might be for the U.S. Department of Education or the National Institute for Literacy to organize discussions about this report at the regional, state, or local level. State education departments might be asked to join in. Another part could consist of panels and workshops incorporated into the regular conferences of such national groups as Literacy Volunteers of America, Laubach Literacy, and the American Library Association. State and regional meetings convened for and by the literacy and library fields would provide plenty of other opportunities.)
  16. At every level, explorations should be made into how the much-needed greater degree of collaboration and cooperation can be achieved.
  17. The U.S. Department of Education, the National Institute for Literacy, the National Coalition for Literacy, and others should join forces to impress upon Congress the immediacy of the need to restore funding for the valuable but endangered State Literacy Resource Centers--at the federal level, through state block grants, or both. (Although State Literacy Resource Centers are not the central focus of this study, they are a crucial resource for public libraries and for everyone working at the state level to advance adult literacy).
  18. The structure and legislated role of the State Literacy Resource Centers should be reviewed for the purpose of reconstituting them if necessary to guarantee their future visibility and effectiveness.
  19. The groups that would be formed and that are challenged to action by many of the above recommendations should shape a clearly articulated definition of the purpose and role of public library adult literacy programs, seek agreement for it through wide consultations with local groups, and use the validated definition in a single voice to advance the public library role in adult literacy.

The recommendation continues:

"This report contains the makings for that definition. But whatever definition is agreed on, four fundamental facts should stand at its core:

  • Outside literacy programs acquire access to the basic reading collections and many other valuable resources of the library because the library provides sponsorship and space. Most of these resources are generally minor items in a library's overall budget but they would be prohibitively expensive for small external programs on their own.
  • The library culture is a uniquely user-friendly environment for adult learners and offers a flexible climate in which programs can be customized to meet their needs.
  • Libraries are a fundamental cornerstone of knowledge and information. America and Americans gain in many concrete ways from the efforts of public libraries to help develop literate communities of users.
  • Most important, in providing basic literacy services to adults with the least skills--whether through their own tutoring or through the tutoring of the voluntary and community-based organization groups to which they provide a home--public libraries give educational access to the adults most in need of help, to people who either would not be served at all by schools and traditional adult basic education programs or could not be served by them effectively."

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PR 96-119
ISSN 0731-3527

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