I sincerely hope that literacy and library professionals across the country will take up the report's challenge and do everything in their power to protect and develop the public library role in adult literacy."
-- Gail Spangenberg
"The release of this report combined with changes in federal funding presents state library agencies with a renewed opportunity to reshape a role for themselves in literacy programs."
-- Bridget L. Lamont
"We need to pay attention to the report's call for national leadership and to its recommendations for closer collaboration between libraries and community literacy groups."
"From a researcher's perspective, we need to learn more about how the special characteristics of libraries, e.g. their diverse clientele, public setting and widespread uses of technology, can help us provide better adult literacy and education services."
Forty-one library and literacy leaders participated in "Public Libraries in Adult Literacy: The Next Steps," a Literacy Policy Forum at the Library of Congress on Jan. 17 sponsored by the Center for the Book and the National Center on Adult Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania. The purpose of the forum was to discuss the recommendations and conclusions in Even Anchors Need Guidelines: Public Libraries in Adult Literacy, a 144-page study commissioned by the Center for the Book and released in fall 1996 (see LC Information Bulletin, Sept. 16, 1996, for a summary of the report's recommendations).
The report, which is accompanied by a 321-page data book, was prepared by Gail Spangenberg of Spangenberg Learning Resources, who was vice president and operating head of the Business Council for Effective Literacy from 1983 to 1993.
Funding for the report was provided by the Center for the Book, the National Institute for Literacy, Harold W. McGraw Jr., McGraw-Hill Cos. and the American Library Association. Copies of the report, an executive summary and the data book were distributed at the forum.
John Y. Cole, moderator and director of the Center for the Book, welcomed the participants and thanked Gail Spangenberg for her report and research. On behalf of the report's sponsors, he also thanked the 24 report advisers and the nearly 200 people who had participated by answering questionnaires. He also noted that while the Center for the Book was not in a position to implement any of the report's recommendations directly, it "plans to work with appropriate national reading promotion partners -- including many groups represented at this meeting -- in moving the recommendations forward."
There were four brief presentations prior to the general discussion. Ms. Spangenberg began with several observations about the report itself. Her talk was followed by comments from speakers who represented different segments of the literacy and library communities: Bridget L. Lamont, director, Illinois State Library; Maggi G. Gaines, director, Baltimore City Literacy Corporation; and Daniel A. Wagner, director, National Center on Adult Literacy.
Ms. Spangenberg addressed her recommendations for funding, stressing the need to restore earmarked funding for library literacy programming -- in the federal sector, in state block grants or both. She also discussed other recommendations, including the need for deeper involvement in library literacy by state librarians and the philanthropic community; and the need for a "national planning alliance" and for greater leadership at the national level. Regarding technology, she called for a greater commitment "to the wider use of technology in public libraries for the advancement of library literacy programs."
Comments from participants in the general discussion included observations about the report, recommendations for next steps and information about current activities that relate to the report's recommendations. Diane Frankel, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, stressed the importance of focused collaborations between libraries and museums, and also with other organizations that are part of a community's educational sector. Peggy Barber of the American Library Association (ALA) described the new ALA-Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund library-based adult literacy initiative and introduced Project Director Donna Grant.
Sheila Murphy of the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund provided further information about the project, which will work intensively with 13 leading library literacy programs for the next three years. Jane Heiser of the Department of Education provided background information about federal library funding and said that libraries need to do more "to convince people that we are a viable provider -- that libraries are an important part of education." Jon Randall of the Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) discussed funding issues and cooperative efforts between libraries and literacy programs at the local level.
Consultant Dan Lacy, who encouraged the undertaking of the Spangen-berg study, stressed the need for librarians to emphasize what they do best (provide materials and services and access to both) and to cooperate with groups such as LVA when it comes to literacy instruction. He also reminded the audience that, because of the way libraries are governed and funded at the local level, communities that are "information-poor" are also likely to be the communities "that have the least local funding to serve that need." Therefore, it was important "that there be state and federal funding that can address the needs of the poor."
Adrian Chute of the National Center for Educational Statistics proposed a way of following up on the recommendation in the report about creating a national library literacy data collection system. Andy Hartman of the National Institute for Literacy described the current literacy funding situation and complemented Gail Spangenberg for identifying important issues that were "even bigger" than the library literacy issue.
In closing the meeting and speaking on behalf of both the Center for the Book and the National Center on Adult Literacy, John Cole thanked all the participants and said that he hoped that this was only the first of several symposia on this topic. He also said that copies of the executive summary of the report and a limited number of copies of the report and data volume were still available from the Center for the Book.