AmeriCorps works for literacy
AmeriCorps volunteers working in 28 libraries

Several years ago Carla Lehn, a consultant at the California State Library, had an idea for how to help public library literacy programs in the state meet their staffing needs.

Lehn, a former VISTA volunteer, thought that the federal AmeriCorps program, which supplies workforce assistance to a variety of public and non-profit endeavors, was ideally suited to help public libraries in California with their literacy programs. Working with Anne Campbell and the literacy staff at National City Public Library, Lehn crafted a proposal that would eventually result in 57 AmeriCorps workers being placed at 28 public libraries in California.

The AmeriCorps program is entering its third year of funding. Allocated $450,000 in its first year of operation, the AmeriCorps funding went up to more than $600,000 in 2005, owing to its demonstrable success in reaching its first-year goals.

Lehn points out that the AmeriCorps grants leverage a great deal of additional money for library literacy programs. The California State Library has granted $110,000 in Library Services and Technology Act funds to National City Public Library to bolster the AmeriCorps grants, and participating public libraries have contributed about $350,000 per year to the program. Participating libraries pay $2,000 per year for each full-time AmeriCorps member and $1,000 year for each part-time member. In total, about $1 million per year from all sources is devoted to the AmeriCorps program in California public libraries, more than doubling the original appropriation from AmeriCorps.

According to Lehn, AmeriCorps workers are a cross section of the general population: people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds, the common factor being a desire to serve their nation. At the 28 libraries to which they are assigned, they perform a variety of tasks. They all serve as tutors in their library’s adult literacy program, and in many cases they work in the Family Literacy service, or the ELLI (English Language Literacy Intensive) program for K-12 English language learners. Some even staff the mobile library literacy vehicles. Anne Campbell reports that in National City AmeriCorps workers actively recruit volunteers and organize book fairs and other community-wide events, helping to spread awareness of the literacy program at the city library.

“We immediately saw the benefit not only to our library but to libraries around the state,” Campbell says. “We certainly hope that we are successful in securing another three years of funding after this grant has run out.”

The current three-year grant will expire at the end of the 2006 calendar year. National City Public Library and the California State Library currently are at work on an application for a second three-year grant.

“The program has had an additional layer of effectiveness by impacting the lives of the AmeriCorps members, themselves,” Lehn adds. “They all say they want to continue volunteering their time after they leave AmeriCorps. One is starting library school in the fall.”

Full-time workers are given a living allowance of $10,000 per year and, at the end of one year, a $5,000 education award. Several of the AmeriCorps workers have signed on for a second year, an indication, Lehn says, of how much they enjoy working in libraries and serving their communities.

For more information please contact Carla Lehn, library programs consultant at (916) 653-7743 or email at




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