Learner Recruitment, Intake, and Assessment

Learner Recruitment

Strategies for Recruitment

Adult learner recruitment, especially the recruitment of native English speakers (who may feel more stigmatized), can be challenging despite there being a strong need for the service throughout much of California. This challenge may be greater or lesser, or present differently, depending on each library’s community. Therefore, effective recruitment strategies will always need to be considered in light of your local population and any special circumstances or needs that may exist. In other words, what works well for one program, may not work as well for another. With that in mind, here are the top ten strategies recommended by CLLS programs across the state.

  • Word of mouth
  • Information in the library and/or shared by library staff
  • Flyers, postcards, posters, banners, and other materials
  • Community organizations
  • Social media
  • Information booths
  • Presentations at clubs and events
  • City/community publications
  • Internet, such as the library’s VolunteerMatch page and/or literacy web page
  • Radio advertisements

Considerations for Messaging

In order for any of these strategies to maximize their effectiveness, messages need to carefully consider the intended audience and tailor the language and images. Extra care should be taken with any messaging intended to directly reach learners, especially when written language is involved. Here are a few specifics to consider: 

  • Language level: vocabulary, phrasing, sentence structure
  • Tone: positive, asset-based, inclusive
  • Images that represent diverse learners and tutors.

It is ideal to get learner feedback before widespread distribution, if possible. Even better, as well as providing a great leadership opportunity, would be to identify learner ambassadors to help recruit new learners in targeted areas of the community.


The learner intake process is a first opportunity to gather information about the learner and their goals. Here is a basic overview of some key steps and components to address:

  • Verify needs and goals are a good fit for the program, per CLLS guidelines
  • Learner educational background/experience
  • Current goals and timeline
  • General strengths and interests (What are they good at? What do they enjoy doing in their free time? What do they enjoy learning about? etc.)


To conduct your intake, some tools to consider are:

  • Application form
  • Interview
  • Roles & Goals form
  • Roles & Goals mind map

Goals: Digging Deeper

Learners often have a difficult time being specific about their goals and may make very general comments like “I just want to read better.” It’s better to start with a general conversation than the Roles & Goals form, which can be overwhelming in its scope. Here are some suggestions for digging deeper:

  • In what specific situations do you want to improve your skills? What, where, when, why, with whom, etc.?
  • What do you currently need help with that you’d like to be able to do yourself? (Examples may include reading and sorting mail, filling out forms, reading medicine labels, reading and responding to teacher notes or emails, etc.)
  • Do you have a family member or friend who currently does certain things for you? What if that person were no longer able/around to help you? What would you need to learn how to do?
  • What do you avoid doing or not do as much as you’d like to because of your current reading/writing/math/digital skill level? 


Before beginning with a tutor, each learner needs to be assessed to determine their starting literacy level, specific instructional needs and, which will then determine the learning materials that will be most appropriate for them. There can also be ongoing assessment to determine progress towards meeting goals and any additional needs that may arise.

Literacy Skills Assessments

What reading and writing skills do they have, and what are their areas of improvement? Do they need to address speaking/listening, numeracy/math, or digital skills as well?

When addressing reading skills, it is extremely important to remember to specifically assess for phonemic awareness, which is a foundational reading skill that is often not included in textbook placement tests or standardized tests.

Types of Assessment: Informal and Formal

Adult Learner Assessment: Idea Source Book

Informal assessments may include things like an application and interview, whether the learner can independently complete the application, did they use technology to complete it, did they hand write it and what does their handwriting and spelling look like? With an informal interview, what is their spoken language like (vocabulary, grammar, fluency)? The spoken language assessment may apply to native English speakers as well as non-native. Note areas of strength and areas of improvement and consider how these strengths may be used to compensate for or facilitate skill improvement.

Self-assessments may be another kind of useful, informal assessment (see Idea Book). This can also be a good tool for narrowing down literacy-related goals.

Formal assessments include paper-based or online tests that are scored. There are free textbook placement tests (see examples below) and, of course, fee-based, standardized assessments like CASAS, BEST, GAIN, and TABE. California adult schools use CASAS. Reminder: Many of these fee-based, standardized assessments do not include assessment of phonemic awareness, so a separate assessment of this important skill should be added since many adult literacy learners have a reading disability and may be weak in this fundamental reading skill.

Tip: When speaking to learners about any formal assessments, in general taking care with the language (and tone) you use is a good idea in order to not increase any anxiety they may have, which could negatively skew their results as well. On the other hand, it can be difficult to use simple language without also using a word like “test.” It may be better, when possible, to describe the process and purpose in simple terms. Or use a term like “placement test” and explain it is only to give you information about their level to choose the best study materials for them. There is no passing or failing the test.

Free Textbook Placement Tests and Unit Check-ups

Screenings: Learning Disabilities

Other kinds of “assessments” or screenings that may be helpful are those used to identify possible learning differences or disabilities.

Ongoing Assessment: Measuring Progress

Ongoing assessment will revolve primarily around the learner progressing towards and meeting their identified literacy-related goals as noted on the Roles and Goals form, although often improving more measurable, discrete literacy skills will significantly contribute to reaching these goals. It may also be informal or formal but can be more difficult to incorporate and track, depending on how large the program is, how many learners/pairs you need to follow up with, and how difficult it may be to measure progress towards a particular goal. However, it is important to more intentionally incorporate ongoing assessment so that learners meet their goals more quickly and efficiently.

Addressing ongoing assessment as part of tutor training may help so that volunteer tutors are more consciously considering this as they work through materials. Instead of just “getting through” a book without assessing how well the learner has mastered different concepts, skills, or knowledge, a tutor will want to check in with the learner and help the learner practice those elements that need strengthening.

Ongoing skill assessment may be just checking mastery of skills and strategies covered in learning materials and re-teaching material or providing more practice as needed; it may use textbook unit check-ups or unit final activities to measure progress. More formal assessment may include testing the learner again after six months or a year to compare progress against their initial formal assessment.

Tutor Training

Tutors and other volunteers are fundamental to the success of California Library Literacy Services. One of the values of the California Library Literacy Services is that literacy services are volunteer supported. Volunteers are advocates for the library and its literacy services, and they help library literacy programs reflect the library’s community. In turn, programs enrich volunteers’ lives, helping them develop expertise to succeed in the roles they play in the program, opening avenues of meaningful connections with others, and providing opportunities to practice and support lifelong learning in their community.

See California Library Literacy Services Value 5: California Library Literacy Services Is Volunteer-Supported. 

The Need for Volunteer Training

  • One of the California Library Literacy Services Program Essentials is that volunteer tutors are provided with tutor training before starting to work with a learner and are provided ongoing training opportunities thereafter.
  • Volunteers often come from a variety of backgrounds, with little or no experience in literacy.
  • Even volunteers with experience in education may not have worked with adults in learner-driven environments.
  • All tutors need an understanding of learner-centered tutoring vs. curriculum-centered tutoring.

Tutoring Training Models

Tutor training is typically five to seven hours in length although many programs offer longer training and all programs should offer continuing education for volunteers. A variety of tutor training models exist including in-person, virtual, hybrid, and “just-in-time.”


  • Held in person at the tutoring or other site and led by a staff member or trained volunteer
  • Pros:
    • Gives the opportunity to get to know the tutors, which can help with matching
    • Provides hands-on practice with materials
  • Cons:
    • Must be offered on a regular schedule
    • Dependent on staffing levels
    • May be less convenient for tutors

Virtual: Synchronous or Asynchronous

  • Generally held as an online program either as an instructor-led scheduled program (synchronous) or as an on-demand recorded program or video(s) (asynchronous).
  • Pros:
    • An on-demand program is readily available for tutors
    • Virtual training allows for a large number of tutors to be trained at the same time
    • If literacy tutoring is provided virtually, it provides an opportunity to make sure that the potential tutors have and know how to use the technology.
  • Cons:
    • Changes may be difficult to make depending on the medium used
    • It may be more difficult to get a sense of the tutor’s appropriateness as a tutor


  • Generally held as a combination of in-person and virtual or online sessions
  • Pros:
    • Has the pros of both the in-person and the virtual models
  • Cons:
    • Has both the cons of both the in-person and the virtual models, which can result in additional work to maintain the training


  • Not a model by itself, but a way of delivering training on a schedule that provides the information needed by the tutor close to the time that it is needed for the learner.
  • Pros:
    • Helps reduce the “forgetting curve” that happens between the time that tutors are trained and matched
    • Builds confidence because tutors are able to quickly apply what they have learned
  • Cons:
    • Can be difficult to schedule
    • Requires more management to keep track of the trainings

Considerations for Tutor Training

Take these factors into consideration as you plan your tutor training model:

  • Existing model/materials
    • What model and supporting materials do you currently have? Are they effective?
    • Do your tutors feel prepared and confident to tutor when they complete training?
  • Volume of new tutors
    • Does the method you offer support the number of potential tutors coming into the program?
  • Staffing
    • Do you have adequate staffing to support the model?
  • Need
    • Is there a need for a change?  Are you fixing something that isn’t broken?

Tutor Training Outline and Sample Content

Core Training Components

  • Program Orientation/Information
    • Library Information
    • Program Logistics, Rules, & Guidelines
  • Understanding Learners and Stories
  • Learner-centered Instruction
  • Roles & Goals
  • Language Learning Components
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Listening
    • Speaking
  • Resources Available to Tutors

Supplemental Training Topics

  • Adult Learner Characteristics
  • Internal/External (Affective/External) Factors of Learning
  • Power and Burdens in Learning
  • Understanding Implicit Bias
  • Creating a Positive Learning Environment
  • Cultural Competencies

Ongoing Training

Provide ongoing training in the form of:

  • Conference attendance
  • Virtual workshop attendance (regional, state, and national trainings)
  • Tutor workshops (e.g., roundtables, meet-ups)

Resources for Tutor Training

Tutor Ready Reading Videos

Tutor Ready Writing Videos

Adult New Reader Project

The Adult New Reader Project is a statewide collection of fiction and nonfiction books created in 2022 by Sacramento Public Library with LSTA funding. The Adult New Reader Project collection of 108 high interest, low-level books were written by 75 literacy tutors, staff and learners from 42 California Library Literacy Services programs. The books are accessible to adult learners reading at levels 1 and 2 on the Fry Index. Each book has helpful “Tutor Tips” that provide relevant pre- and post-reading and writing activities for tutors and learners to explore together.

The LSTA-funded Adult New Reader Project was inspired by Read Santa Clara‘s project in 2020 during which they produced 21 Adult New Reader books. While the LSTA collection includes “Tutor Tips” in all books and text that is accessible to adult reading at levels 1 and 2 on the Fry Index, the Read Santa Clara collection also includes books written at a slightly higher level and a few offer “Tutor Tips.”

This project was supported in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. 

Adult New Reader Resources

Family Literacy

Programs funded by California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) to offer adult literacy services may opt to offer family literacy services. Family literacy programs funded by CLLS intend to serve:

  • Enrolled adult learners and families to enhance their learning environments
  • Eligible-but-not-yet-enrolled adult learners and families to recruit for the adult literacy program

For general CLLS Family Literacy Services implementation guidance, please view the Family Literacy Services Overview (2023). For ideas on CLLS Family Literacy Services programs, a four-part webinar series (2019) providing an extensive set of ideas, tools, and research data on starting a new family literacy service and developing an existing one. To learn more about the CLLS family literacy landscape through public libraries, a Family Literacy Landscape Analysis (2018) prepared by Common Knowledge for the California State Library provides an overview of family literacy programming in California’s public libraries and includes a wealth of great programming ideas. 

See California Library Literacy Services Value 7: California Library Literacy Services Support Families for more information. 

Family Literacy Promising Practices

Developed for the “Building an Environment for Successful Whole Family Learning” California Library Association Conference panel in June 2023, below is a list of family literacy promising practices developed by Fresno County Public Library, Richmond Public Library, and Salinas Public Library. 

When reviewing the list of family literacy promising practices and helpful tips, consider the family literacy practices you are currently implementing in your family literacy program. Then, consider how you can build up and onto these practices. Because each CLLS family literacy program serves a unique community, the secret to building a successful family literacy program is focusing on the areas that are relevant and sustainable for your program. In time, you will be able to adopt all seven practices.

  1. Recognize literacy programs are drivers of change and literacy staff are change agents
    • Be the change you want to see
    • Be comfortable with confronting moments that do not align with your visionCreate a space that allows people to participate when they are able and ready
    • Lift every voice in your community
  2. Provide books to families to build home libraries and materials for at-home learning
    • Celebrate the power of reading
    • Emphasize reading and learning together enhances the skills of the whole family
    • Recognize the unique opportunity to bring books into people’s lives
  3. Acknowledge and respect caregivers’ many complex roles
    • Validate caregivers as the first teacher in their children’s lives
    • Help learners become empowered
    • Dispel falsities about the communities you work with
    • Be mindful of the language used to describe the communities you work with. For example, learners and families are “in growth” instead of “struggling”
  4. Create ways to incorporate learners and families into the program design process
    • Put learner-led, co-design to practice
    • Open doors and make the impossible possible
    • Provide opportunities for caregivers to learner from and support one another
    • Incorporate learner needs where families can choose how to participate
    • Build opportunities where families can find a love of learning and reading
    • Teach families how to have conversations. For example, learn to ask “What did you learn today? What does this mean to you?”
  5. Create and sustain community partnerships and build community buy-in
    • Cultivate opportunities for decision makers to really connect with the people their making decisions for and about
    • Create an opportunity for community organizations and other partners to dialogue with the people you serve 
    • Create an environment where learners learn and feel comfortable engaging in civic engagement by discussing what they need and want while also being able to say “no” to what they don’t want
  6. Actively bring in community members new to the library
    • Serve who comes into the library and go out into the community 
    • Engage and support those new to the library
  7. Consider the suite of resources available to and needed by the whole family
    • Become familiar with library-based and community-based resources
    • Think of the roles each family member holds within their family and the different types of resources each member may need 
    • Provide different opportunities for families to share moments and engage together to learn something new together and learn something new about one another

Community Partners

Library literacy programs value co-design, which is the intentional planning of learning and instruction using the ideas, goals, and voices of adult learners. 

See California Library Literacy Services Value 4: California Library Literacy Services is Community Focused for more information.

10 Promising Practices and Tips for Connecting with Your Community

  1. Be visible in your community. Forming partnerships with existing organizations is essential for outreach for both Adult and Family Literacy. Make friends BEFORE you need them.
  2. Attend events or meetings with related or relevant groups. Get out of the library and into the community by attending events, offer to speak at events, or give presentations. Once you start making partnerships, you will be invited to more!
  3. Prepare an elevator speech and share a consistent message about your program/services. Bring knowledge of library services to the table. 
  4. Be a good steward of relationship building. Cultivate relationships and get to know your partners personally. What interests them? What motivates them? Listen to them. The “right” people could be anyone in the organization, or their donors or board members.
  5. Developing community relationships is not so different from personal relationships. Don’t be afraid!
  6. Give as well as receive. Focus on what you can do for a partner, not just what they can do for you.
  7. Know how to align and articulate what you do with an organization’s mission and needs. Look for gaps and how your program can help fill them.
  8. Maintain good communication. Invite others to your events. Meet with partners for coffee or lunch meetings. Offer to share information of other organizations with your program.
  9. Literacy is a necessary skill, not a noble cause. Be sure to relay how literacy is an essential skill to function in society.
  10. Maintain a leadership role in a community group.

Community Partner Examples

Community partners include any agencies, businesses, schools, or other entities with which you have an agreement (casual or formal) to receive or provide services and/or support at no charge. Types of partnerships can include:

  • Collaborations: work with partners to produce events, services, etc.
  • Networks: groups or system of interconnected people or groups.
  • Outreach: reach out to raise awareness of available services.
  • Referrals: refer learners to other organizations based on their needs, and vice versa.

For example, a collaboration with an adult school might entail an Adult Ed teacher teaching a weekly class at a library branch; or a tutor goes into an Adult Ed classroom to provide extra support during, before, or after a class, etc.

Networking might look like attending meetings with your local Adult Education Consortium.

Outreach might involve connecting with local food banks or churches to advertise your program services.

Referrals might look like referring a learner to Behavioral Health, or vice versa.

Partner Examples

  • Adult Education Consortia
  • Adult Schools
  • Behavioral Health Departments
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Churches
  • Community Colleges
  • Community Fairs
  • English Learner Advisory Committees (ELAC) and District English Learner Advisory Committees (DELAC) 
  • Family Action Centers
  • First 5
  • Food Banks
  • Garden Clubs
  • Health Clinics
  • Healthy Start
  • Housing Authority
  • Homeless Shelters or Warming Centers
  • Human Service Providers
  • Jails and Prisons
  • Law Enforcement Groups
  • Literacy Coalitions and other literacy organizations
  • Local Transit Authority
  • Neighborhood Groups
  • Newspapers
  • Office of Education
  • Parent Teacher Associations
  • Preschools
  • Public Health
  • Public Schools
  • Rotary/Kiwanis/Lions Clubs
  • School Districts
  • Social Services Departments
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Workforce Development Board

Internal Connections

Going out into the community is crucial, but you may also find meaningful connections within your library: 

  • Library Boards
  • Friends of the Library and Library Foundation groups
  • Other library departments

MOU Examples

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is an agreement between two or more parties outlined in a formal document. This is for more formal partnerships. Casual partnerships are not permanent and could be irregular or as needed. Formal partnerships use a written agreement to establish the way two organizations will work together, including what each organization agrees to contribute to a partnership, a timeframe for delivering the desired outcomes, details of exactly how each party will collaborate, etc. Here are three examples of formal partnerships:

Words of Encouragement

From the Kansas University Center for Community Health and Development:

Becoming an integral part of the community is a necessary step to establishing a literacy program that will last and continue to be effective in attracting students.

Shanti Bhaskaran from Santa Clara City Library says:

Like all relationships, it takes time and effort to build a partnership. It may offer no gains in the short-term, but if we nurture it long enough, it can open doors to other partnerships we hadn’t thought of. Remember, a partner’s partner can be your program’s partner too.

Connections require communication maintenance, shared ownership, and openness to change in case things aren’t working or if they stop working as well as they have in the past.

Devon Cahill, formerly of Santa Barbara Public Library

A helpful resource is the Community Outreach and Relationship Building CLLS Webinar.