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NAAL report shines light on state literacy programs

The U.S. Dept of Education's 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) report, the first update of the nation's adult literacy skills in more than 10 years, has brought media attention to the fact that Americans struggle with reading. The mostly glum tales of weak improvement rates and illiterate college students make good copy.

The stories, though, ignore the plight of 93 million Americans who cannot read medicine labels, election ballots, or TV Guide and have what literacy experts call “below basic literacy skills.” Those 93 million live in the margins of a literate nation and shrink from questioning, much less government analyses. They seek anonymity as they creatively maneuver through everything from driving tests to parent-teacher conferences. They feel safe only in their libraries’ literacy programs. That story hasn’t hit the front pages, yet.

California State Library (CSL) literacy leaders see the media’s attraction to the NAAL report as an opportunity to showcase California's libraries, and their winning literacy programs, as welcoming, life-changing havens for people who struggle with modern culture’s diverse texts.

California has approximately 3.4 million adults with below basic literacy skills. California Library Literacy Services (CLLS), a division of the CSL, is dedicated to helping these 3.4 million Californians and many of those Californians know that: California's library literacy programs have over 5,000 adults on their waiting lists.

Last year, CLLS libraries served 20,014 adults in 780 communities through 103 public library jurisdictions. As a result these adults are voting for the first time, reading newspapers, reading aloud to their children, and securing jobs.

State Librarian of California Susan Hildreth in a January 29, 2006 Op-Ed piece for the Sacramento Bee  wrote “Given the few resources for adult literacy, it's remarkable what California’s libraries have accomplished…Continued support of specific library programs that target those with the lowest literacy skills is of [great] value.” That’s good copy.

For more information about California library literacy programs please contact Carla Lehn, CSL Literacy Consultant, (916) 653-7743 or email Carla.Lehn@library.ca.gov.

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