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Starting an Adult Literacy Program

by on July 7, 2015

Starting an adult literacy program at your library is an excellent way to showcase its value to the community. I am the librarian who coordinates the Literacy Program at the Belleville Michigan Area District Library (BADL). This literacy program has made a large impact on the cities that the library serves. During the past two years, over twenty-three students have received help. With some hard work and helpful resources, you too can create a similar program at your library.

Here are some important details that you need to consider before starting an adult literacy program at your library:

  • A Tutoring Room – It’s important to have a private room in which tutors and learners can talk. Both the tutor and the learners will appreciate the chance to work together in privacy.
  • A Resource Partner – It’s a great benefit to have a resource partner that you can go to if you need help. Since the beginning of our program in 2013, the Washtenaw Literacy Program has been our resource partner; they have answered our questions, given advice, and provided forms and materials that we could use in our own Program. If you are unable to get together with a program like Washtenaw Literacy, then I would recommend utilizing a website created by Kristy Cooper called Supporting Adult Literacy in Public Libraries. Cooper created the Adult Literacy Program at the Westland Michigan Public Library. She took everything that she learned about creating a literacy program and created a website so that other libraries can utilize her experience when they create their own program.
  • Sources of Funding – There are costs involved with creating an adult literacy program. For example, Washtenaw Literacy would charge $1000 each time a group of tutors was trained. The Friends of the Library covered our startup costs. I suggest checking with local literacy organizations to see if they will create a partnership. There are also grants available to cover program startup and operating costs; Dollar General is an example of an organization that offers those types of grants.
  • Program Promotion – It’s vital to talk with both local and national charitable organizations to let them know your program exists. Once they know your program exists, they can direct interested learners to you.

The BADL Library Staff attended Cooper’s presentation at the 2012 Michigan Library Association conference. The presentation topic was how she created the Literacy Program at the Westland Michigan Library. Her presentation was the final bit of motivation our staff needed to create a literacy program at our library.  In the end, our Literacy Program has had a positive impact on everyone who has taken part in it. One of our learners finished her college degree, another has gone back to college, and another learner now reads books for pleasure. Many of our learners have become frequent library customers. Staff too, have found the work of providing literacy training and education essential to the community and also very satisfying on a personal level.


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