Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

Identity Crisis Series: The Role of Literacy in Libraries

Happy October!

As I do with every October column, I want to wish my beautiful wife a happy birthday!  It was another wonderful year!

This month we are focused on Youth Services.  Debbi Raindl from the John Ed Keeter Public Library is our guest on Librarian Live while Tine Hager, Director of the Little Elm Public Library is the guest columnist.  Please take a few minutes to read, listen and learn.

For my identity crisis series this month, I am exploring the role of literacy in libraries.  As many of you know, we have a literacy program here at NTLP called Libraries for Literacy.  We decided to begin this program in order to fulfill the need we saw in communities when it came to literacy.

Reading is fundamental to our everyday lives.  Imagine how difficult it would be to exist in today’s world without the solid ability to read.   According to the 1993 Texas Adult Literacy Survey, between 25 and 27 percent of Texans, 3.5 million, are unable to read beyond the basic level.

Nationally, the picture is just as bleak when it comes to pure numbers.  According to National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 14% of Americans were below basic in the literacy skills in 2003.  (


Here are some additional alarming facts about literacy in Texas and the United States.


Adult Literacy Statistics:

NATIONAL: One in four adults do not have the literacy skills necessary to manage in today’s world, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  At least one in every four adults failed to reach minimum levels of literacy for coping with everyday life and work in a complex society.

STATE: The Texas Education Agency, Austin and Texas released goals of the long-range plan in a recent issue of Texas Education Today.  The items include increasing adult literacy by 10%, increasing the number of children who attend pre-kindergarten classes, and strongly involving parents in their children’s education.

REGIONAL: According to the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy & Learning, an average of 13% of adult Texans in the NTRLS and North Region GREAT Center counties are unable to read a newspaper article. This indicates a reading skill at or below the 4th grade level. Their information was taken from a study titled January 2009 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Indirect County and State Estimate of the Percentage of Adults at the Lowest Literacy Level, released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Dept. of Education.

LOCAL: A survey conducted by the United Way of Greater Wichita Falls and the Wichita Adult Literacy Council requested information from 140 service agencies, organizations, schools, and businesses.  Forty-three of the 49 surveys returned indicated a strong need for additional literacy services.  Of the 131,664 Wichita County population, 23% are functionally illiterate and 18% of this population 16 years and older are functioning at the lowest levels of literacy with 14,711 people in Wichita Falls alone. Over 9% of 9th graders or below have dropped out of school and 13% of the population 19 years or older do not have a GED or high school diploma. In Wichita County, 12.34 % of the population speaks a language other than English in the home; most of these individuals speak either Vietnamese or Spanish.  Of those people, 36.82% speak little or no English (Census 2000).


Tarrant County has the largest population of any of the NTRLS counties.  The Tarrant Literacy Coalition (TLC) has identified 230,000 individuals, or 20% of the population, who cannot read a book.  Despite this overwhelming need, TLC has determined that existing literacy programs only serve about 10,000 individuals in Tarrant County.

Libraries are positioned perfectly to assist with this growing problem.  There are several advantages to using public libraries for adult literacy programs:

  • Libraries are used by all sectors of the community and participants do not have to be identified as anyone other than library users when they come in to use the photocopier, borrow videotapes, listen to music, read magazines or bring their children in to use library facilities such as story time, school holiday activities or to borrow materials.
  • Libraries are usually centrally located and accessible by public transport.
  • Libraries have easy access to the resources needed to run an adult literacy program–printed and spoken word books, magazines, videos, and newspapers.
  • Most libraries can provide space for students and tutors either during or after hours.
  • Public libraries are committed to support individuals in the lifelong learning process and cater to peoples’ interests from birth to death.
  • The library service already exists and will continue to do so while the life span of other agencies may vary considerably.

(Libraries and literacy: `One of the best systems in the world because everyone can use it’., APLIS, Jun95, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p86, 12p)

Literacy needs to be addressed by libraries in the next decade as our roles shift.  Why is this important?   As we can see above, the library is uniquely positioned to play a central role in literacy instruction endeavors for the community.  During our time providing the Libraries for Literacy program, we have learned that literacy is an important, pressing concern of most communities, but there is no, or very little, coordination between the organizations. Libraries can step forward to be the central force that drives literacy instruction in the private sector while providing partnership opportunities to the structured public programs found in agencies like the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Workforce Commission.  Libraries are being pressed to represent themselves as being essential to a community and taking a leadership role in the illiteracy struggle is one way to prove value to city and county government officials.

Next month, I will be looking over New Directions for Libraries in the Next Decade.

Read the rest of my column….


Written by amwlkaw

October 12, 2010 at 9:55 am

Posted in Misc

One Response

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  1. The statistics are daunting, here in NJ 17% of adults lack the necessary reading and writing skills. Fortunately there are programs out there that want to help, and the benefits can be seen almost immediately.


    October 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

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