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Partnerships between Libraries and Adult Basic Skills Programs


There appears to be growing interest in how adult basic skills programs and libraries can partner to expand and improve services for adults who need basic literacy, adult basic education, adult secondary education, English language learning and/or digital literacy skills. Below are four initiatives or projects that you may want to know about, especially if you work in a library, or your program works with libraries. I am also interested in what partnerships and other activities involving libraries and adult basic skills or adult learning are happening in your area.

1) Adult Literacy and Libraries Action Agenda and now an Online Course for Librarians. With support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, ProLiteracy and the American Library Association developed an Adult Literacy and Library (ALL) Action Agenda a couple of years ago. Its purpose is to help libraries, wherever they may be on a continuum of engagement with adult literacy, to strengthen their adult basic skills activities and partnerships and possibly also their advocacy for adult literacy.  Since then, ProLiteracy and ALA have been piloting the Adult Literacy and Library Action agenda in three libraries. As part of that project they have just launched an online course for librarians to learn how to effectively implement the ALL agenda.  (Note: I have been an advisor to those ProLiteracy and ALA projects.)

2) Public Libraries Task Force of the Open Door Collective.  The Open door Collective, a relatively new national group, whose mission is to reduce poverty and income inequality, and whose members include adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL) advocates, researchers, practitioners, librarians, career pathways advocates, community health advocates, and others, has a Public Libraries Task Force writing a paper now to help public libraries understand why it is important to partner with adult basic skills programs and, in some cases, to offer adult basic skills instruction in their libraries. Following this, Task Force members will write a second paper to help adult basic skills practitioners understand why it would be worthwhile to partner with public libraries.  (Note: I am the convenor of that task force, and a member of the Open Door Collective Steering Committee.  Although the Public Libraries Task Force papers are in progress, the Open Door Collective is offering a session at COABE 2017 in April in which several other papers will be presented: on community health and adult basic skills; immigrant and refugee issues and English language learning;  Intergenerational Literacy; Safety Net Issues and adult basic skills; and corrections and adult basic skills.)

3) Digital Literacy in Public Libraries. The Learner Web project at Portland State University in Oregon continues to offer its online learning curricula ("Learning Plans") in several states and has also, with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, continued to do research on digital literacy in libraries, in particular with the Multnomah County Public Library in Oregon. They have been publishing fascinating articles for practitioners in their Digital Literacy Acquisition and Equity Research Hub blog.

4) Volunteer-led Projects in Libraries. Adult basic skills practitioner and teacher educator, Ed Latham, a member of several LINCS communities and the moderator of the 2017 Online Tools and Resource Micro Group, as a volunteer has started two programs in his local public library in Milbridge, Maine. The first program brings immigrant and long-time Milbridge families together in the library on Saturdays to learn how to play board games together. This is leading to many informal opportunities for English and Spanish language learning, increased problem solving skills, and is helping to build an interactive multicultural community in Milbridge. You can read about that program here. Ed has also started a learning strategies program in the same library in which adults and young adults, from all levels of learning, including college students, help each other to figure out good ways to tackle learning challenges for themselves and for others who come to the Learning Navigators group. For more information about this, read Ed's blog article, Building a Community of Learning Navigators.

What partnerships and other activities involving adult basic skills or adult learning and libraries are happening in your area? Please tell us about them!

David J. Rosen


Andy Nash's picture

Hi David,

There's also a 4-pager summarizing the work of library partnerships called "Collaborations with Libraries Offer New Learning Opportunities for Immigrants." The paper describes lessons learned from partnerships supported by the Networks for Integrating New Americans Initiative.


Lyn Buerkett's picture

Thanks David,

We have partnered for years with local libraries, mostly in our literacy program, but as funds continue to decrease for literacy in our state, I see these partnerships growing in collaboration and direct services to learners. I'm glad to see some training opportunities for library staff on adult learning.