Saturday, July 29, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Why Literacy is Important or Adult Literacy is so 1990s

Today's Successful Saturday will focus on Adult Literacy. I have posted a couple of times on the importance of Adult Literacy. This will document how my community changed its perception in 18 months.

When I first worked at my library, many patrons would come up and ask if we had a literacy program. After multiple inquiries in just a few weeks of working there I discovered that we had a literacy program several years ago that was volunteer run. It failed due to lack of support, no new blood, and volunteers just getting tired. The problem still existed, but no one was there to solve it. I always wanted to find a way to restart the program, but never received support from administration. Once I became the administration, I wanted it to be my first goal. The local United Way helped pave the way by releasing a report that states Adult Literacy would be one of their major goals in their strategic plan. This goal was one of three. When domestic violence and services to seniors came up, hoards of people came from everywhere and took up the challenge, but when Adult literacy came up, only the sound of crickets were heard.

Finally, a handful of people met with the United Way to discuss ways to combat Adult Illiteracy. Most of the people and organizations were actually early literacy experts or family literacy, no adult literacy people. What was shocking about our discussion was the fact that Adult Literacy was not funded or supported any longer. Family Literacy and Early Literacy were the big buzzwords. Adult Literacy hasn't been funded since the 1990s and is not a good path to go down. After some research, I found that many Federal Adult Literacy Programs were getting cut as part of No Child Left Behind. I got the general impression that Adult Literacy wasn't cool anymore.

It is difficult in a library when you have so many patrons grasping for any way to find help. We had some old videotapes for Adult Literacy- hooked on phonics type things. I found it embarrassing that a library that is supposed to introduce people to the joy of reading couldn't help an adult who need to learn how to read.

The United Way did a study of the entire county. I felt that this was really a cause of the people, but it would still be difficult for me to cram it down everyone's throat. This is another reason we did our own strategic plan. Again, with people from the community, they came to the conclusion that the library's number one priority should be Adult Literacy. The plan provided attention for the problem and spread the word about what we were doing. Other agencies began to contact us about their needs for Adult Literacy programs. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy came out with a study the summer after our Strategic Plan that stated 19% of our adults could not read at level 1. They could not read instructions on a can, fill out a job application, or read a simple story to a child. With the help of the United Way, these stats, and the help from a host of community members, we formed the Adult Literacy Task Force.

The Task Force meetings hashed out all the things we had discussed before. It will be a hard project. We won't necessarily get support from above or necessarily from funders. It will be difficult to reach the students since we can't advertise and can only do word of mouth marketing. It will also be difficult to hang onto tutors. It was one of the problems with the previous literacy councils. A tutor coordinator would be supposed to work 20 hours, but would really work 40 or more. There was a really strong aversion to doing something that burned out so many people before.

In the end, we decided that we needed to hire a coordinator. They needed to be a people person and highly dedicated. Eventually, they will probably need some sort of vehicle or bookmobile since transportation is a problem in our community. Very big needs here.

After getting shot down in trying to hire a grant person, I decided to reorganize staff so that a staff member would be the tutor coordinator. They would also need to be a master tutor trainer since we are far away from any volunteer literacy program. After inquiring into several programs, we decided on the Literacy Volunteers of Tucson. They trained our librarian for a small fee. She also received further training online at the Verizon Literacy Campus. One year after we finished our strategic plan, we had our first big project, we were ready to accept tutors to train for our Adult Literacy Tutoring Program.

The kicker is that our librarian completed the training right before the library's annual report was due. After the report to City Council, the big banner on the paper was “Literacy Concerns Library”. I touched on this last week so I won't rehash it, but afterward we received several calls from people wanting to be tutors. We ended up with seven tutors. After some further contact, we received four students.

It gets better. We then received a grant from the Library Services and Technology Act providing us with a Literacy Mobile. This will allow the tutor to go into the community and provide assistance remotely. Again, this was covered on the front page of the local paper. The editor to the local paper even wrote an editorial on the importance of Adult Literacy. We announced the program to other organizations. We then received calls from the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs to provide talks on literacy since it will be one of their initiatives. In the end we received an amazing amount of political, monetary, and people support for our program. A year before this, it was said that Adult Literacy wasn't the way to go, but with some hard work, determination, and luck, we were able to change the perception of the entire community. After giving several talks to groups, we are raising the awareness of this need and how it affects the community on an economic level. If you have a business in town and can't hire workers that can comprehend instructions, you have poor production and accidents on the job. The need is definitely sinking in.

Last week, a gentleman came in and asked about the program. Our librarian came and talked to him, then sat down in a room and did his assessment. It was nice to feel that now, people can come to us and get help. The best part was happened yesterday. I was on the reference desk and I could hear a literacy tutor session. I could hear the student identifying her alphabet, “A...B...C..” and then reading some words from flash cards. It was a great moment.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Flickr keeps book on libraries

Great mention about libraries who use Flickr from Cnet Central. A great job from Library Stuff for the work on his blog providing attention to libraries everywhere and the different ways they provided services.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Library district vital to growing community

One article and one opinion piece from the Eastern Arizona Courier. Great way to advertise the library is to get away from the "just books idea". Every library has some sort of activity, even Summer Reading Programs exist in volunteer libraries. It is important to focus on all the library does. These are great examples.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Successful Saturdays: “Will we need libraries in the future?” or How I learned to stop worrying and love the library

Successful Saturdays: “Will we need libraries in the future?” or How I learned to stop worrying and love the library

I remember reading somewhere that when you get a job as a a manager it is very important to win early, even on something small. It means that you must do something noteworthy within the first six months or year, something that makes the papers, shakes things up, gets some attention. Successful Saturdays will document those wins, big and small. It, of course, will be my favorite installment.

“In the future, will we still need libraries?” or How I learned to stop worrying and love the library

During the first six months of my stint as manager a City Councilman asked me, “In the future, will we still need libraries?”. I replied, of course we will libraries serve purposes as centers for information, reading, and a common area for all the public to go and learn. It was a generic response, but it prompted a fear, if members of your governing and budgetary author wonder if you will even exist in the next ten years, it does not bode well for you. It is important to change those perceptions by being a storyteller, demonstrating all the things a library does, and shaping the services to that person's interests. For instance, if the person is a businessman, you need to talk about how the library services businesses, how the library helps create good employees through its services, or how the library stimulates economic development.

A great way to change perceptions is to develop a strategic plan. In that process you gather up major organizations and members of the community to talk about their needs and how the library can meet them. You will get a lot of, “I didn't know the library could do that!” I developed a strategic plan through the help of the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records using the Planning for Results process sponsored by PLA. Before I began the process, I got buy-in from my boss and had her come to the Arizona State Library conference. One of the programs was to talk about the process of Planning for Results. The department that the library is in was about to conduct a Master Plan as well, so it was very critical to have a strategic plan so that its needs were more pronounced.

I rounded up 19 people from the Chamber of Commerce, to the United Way, from the local newspaper, to library staff, library board, and Friends of the Library members. We developed a strategic plan which ended up focusing on Adult Literacy, Lifelong Learning, and developing the library as a community commons. It received attention in the paper and it began to change the perception of the library in the community. “The library is the hotspot of the future. It's where the action is.” was the headline for our planning committee update in the local paper.

Once the plan was in place, it actually received less attention than I had hoped. Library staff quietly worked to develop the plan and action and get started accomplishing the year 1 goals. It was not until the library's annual report, one year later, that the success was to begin. During the annual report, we stated how we had already started an Adult Literacy Tutoring program, developed programs for teens, and established lifelong learning programs on financial health, and even programs in Spanish that were successful. We rolled the presentation into what is called Performance Based Budgeting. The City was not to develop this style until the following year, but because of our plan, we did it faster. The same councilman, who had wondered if libraries were even to exist in a few years, specifically commented "I just wanted to thank you for the performance-based approach to your planning. It certainly is an excellent approach and the results are very obvious that the approach is working. I commend you for being visionary and getting out in front of that. It's an excellent way to plan for the library."

The article in the paper the next day was a big headline, front page, above the fold “LITERACY CONCERNS LIBRARY”. We could not get better attention than that. We immediately received dozens of calls from patrons wanting to become tutors. Adult Literacy became a major buzz word in the city, getting picked up as an editorial from the local newspaper's editor, further articles on the library and a grant award from the Library Services and Technology Act from the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records. Another success in the change of perception was from the same councilman when the grant was accepted by the city for a new bookmobile.

"The reason I asked to have this pulled off the consent agenda is I think this is such a very important project for the community to be aware of. In reading the application, it points out that at the time the literacy study was done (in 2003) 19 percent of adults in the city cannot read at level one. About 4,000 residents could not read well enough to fill out a job application, read a food label or read a simple story to a child. And it talks about the economic impact that would have. This project addresses that aggressively. I think that you and the staff are to be commended for that. It's an urgent need. This will address citizens with an opportunity to move through the literacy program, and I just think it's something that we ought to be more aware is being done. And the mobility of the lab, taking it out to people rather than people having to come to it, is certainly another excellent feature."

Again, a front page headline documenting the award from the grant, and the attention was led by the same councilman who pondered if we needed libraries in the future. We went from a where is the library and what does it do perspective, to major moves and shakers in the community getting behind us and speaking out for us. It is a great transformation for the entire community. I will detail a little more about each of these pieces and successes separately, but this is the corner stone of all of our success.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Library Not County’s Top Priority

Are they ever? Article from the Eastern Arizona Courier. In this case a new jail takes priority over general library funding. I think most people would agree that municiplaties would more likely fund basic critical services first and non-essential services next. (If you did not catch that, most people in municipalities will refer to libraries as non-essential. Everyone should work to change that in their communities as a library with better services will reduce your crime rate, increase the academic success of youth and adults, and provide better people to perform jobs, services, and other items the community will benefit from.)

Many organizations will try to find other ways to fund a library: having a board of trustees where they have a secondary tax fund the library (typically known as a millage), or have more funding from a county system (which is already funded from the millage), or even pull in a private company (LSSI). It is important that libraries are funded and made a higher priority. The perception of libraries as a place of dusty old bookshelves needs to change to the reality of more up-to-date access to information and the latest books. Libraries need to market themselves and change perceptions. It is also important to address those old perceptions by making a joke out of that known perception in order to challenge it:

*When you hear the word library, many people think of dusty shelves and librarians in frumpy clothes shushing. If you go into your local library today, you would find that stereotype is far from the case. The library is a buzzing hive of activity with the latest books for recreational reading, lifelong learning, resume writing, genealogy and so much more. The library provides many different services, a safe and engaging place for teens, literacy skills for a strong workforce, center for community information, and a greater access to technology. *

We need to make it so we see less articles like that in Eastern Arizona Courier and more positive articles on what we are doing instead of just how we are defending our existence. In the article, the funding authority was under the impression that we just have books. We need to advertise what we are doing above and beyond that.

comScore Networks Releases New Search Engine Study

Big surprise from comScore on search engine usage:

"comScore Networks today released its monthly qSearch analysis of activity across competitive search engines. In June 2006, Google gained in search market share for the eleventh consecutive month and maintained its status as market leader with 44.7 percent of searches conducted on its sites. Yahoo! remained in second place while increasing its share to 28.5 percent, and MSN ranked third with 12.8 percent."

Available here

It brings up a thought that when people used to seek information, their first place was either a library, or a personal encyclopedia set, but it was never the internet (it wasn’t invented :) ).

The Public Library provided that information that was paid by the taxpayer and was the giver and guardian of information. Its basic tenant was (and still is) to be non-political, have all sides open, and provide access to as many people in a non-biased way. Much of the information now is available through search engine companies that are proprietary and only beholden to their shareholders. Is there a responsibility from companies such as Google to make sure they have even attention to all information, open access to all? From a business perspective, no way, from an information perspective they have to. Otherwise what is to stop them from doing to the United States what they are doing in China? Not that public libraries were ever immune to that, and you can look at totalitarian regimes to see that. It is critical that libraries continue the job that they are doing providing free and non-biased access to all information. It seems like libraries in the United Kingdom did not keep up as well as libraries in the United States and the results are not pretty.

I guess the purpose here is to keep up the good work that public libraries are doing!

Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet's New Storytellers

Found on Boing Boing, a new internet study on Bloggers!

Here is a brief summary (I won't post the sub-headings, just the titles):

  • While many well-publicized blogs focus on politics, the most popular topic among bloggers is their life and experiences.

  • The blogging population is young, evenly split between women and men, and racially diverse.

  • Relatively small groups of bloggers view blogging as a public endeavor.

  • The main reasons for keeping a blog are creative expression and sharing personal experiences.

  • Only one-third of bloggers see blogging as a form of journalism. Yet many check facts and cite original sources.

  • Bloggers are avid consumers and creators of online content. They are also heavy users of the internet in general.

  • Bloggers are major consumers of political news and about half prefer sources without a particular political viewpoint.

  • Bloggers often use blog features that enhance community and usability.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Basic Facts on Illegal Immigration

Great post at Blogcritics. This is a terrific factsheet on how we benefit from immigration. He even has a bibliography! I know for one thing that the big boom in the housing market in Arizona would not have happened if not for a big influx in the labor force to meet demand. That is just one small aspect on how we benefit. Read the post and read the links at the bottom.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Why Literacy is Important

Another post from someone providing a great service to their community. This blogger is writing for literacy.

She is trying to write as many words as she can in a 48 hour period (I think she will be writing a story and not just typing words). She very coherently identifies the problems illiterate adults have just surviving in the world. Her stats in this article are old. I found that in my community one in five adults cannot read at Level 1 (National Institute for Adult Literacy 2003 study). This means that they can read, but not well enough to fill out a job application, read instructions on a can, or read a simple story to a child. In this post, she makes a personal plea to make an effort to help those in need. I will provide a different incentive. As I mentioned in the previous post, adults who do not have the basic skills to hold a down a job results in an economic drain on the economy. Business move into a community looking for qualified workers, if they cannot find them, or if their accident rate is high because their employees cannot read the instructions, the business goes out of business or moves to a different community. Adult Illiteracy is a local issue, the more literate, able, and affluent your population, the more it will continue to grow that way. Those communities who fail to help these people relegate themselves to the same poverty and the same missed opportunity.

Adult Literacy programs are available in most communities. Help them sustain them by volunteering your time, money, or support (Proliteracy Literacy Program.

Advancement Opportunities for Spanish Speakers

Interesting article from the Douglas Dispatch, (AZ). It is important to note that in order to graduate from a university in Mexico a student must be 80% proficient in English. It is great to see an intergration between two countries so that both can help each other.

This is also important since most immigrants don't have the educational background to learn another language and mat not even be literate in their own language. It is impossible to deter this population to come here because of the extreme poverty in their own country and the extreme opportunity to better their situation by coming to the United States. It is to our economic advantage that this population become educated for two reasons. One reason is that most industries in the Southwest need factory level employees. If there is a community with a population that is illiterate, or does not understand the native language, businesses will cease to come to that community and thus damage their economic vitality. Second this population can be taken advantage of in their situation. They are poor and can end up becoming a drain on the economy because they cannot pull themselves out of poverty. In any community in the United States, a more affluent population benefits everyone. (As in I Heart Huckabees, we are all connected under the blanket ;))

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Transforming Libraries/Transforming communities

This blog is intended to document the success and failures of a Library Manager at a semi-rural/semi-urban mid-sized public library. (In other words a community in transition.) I got the inspiration from this blog from Leslie Burger's President's theme of Transforming libraries. This blog will discuss the changes I have made here, the changes the future holds, and change indicators (how to adjust your sails).
I will also include anecdotal stories of library activities (good and bad), library stories from my experiences, library trends and Arizona library news.

It is my hope that I can sustain this blog, but if I can't keep up, I will delete it.

Here's to sustainability!