Monday, 30 March 2009

The Role of Public Libraries in Literacy Education

These are notes taken from Maria Elena Zapata's article, " The Role of Public Libraries in Literacy Education" published in Libri 1994, vol 44 no 2. At the time she was Director of Public Library Networks in Caracas, Venezuela. In this paper she makes many points about the delivery of literacy in a global context that can be applied anywhere in the world.

She speaks of literacy as a new concept of social development. She wrote this 15 years ago and now Britain certainly considers that literacy is vital to social development. (Insinc, Framework for the future, Peoples Network). The focus is again on the prevention of illiteracy, defining the problem of illiteracy as "an expression of unequal access to social wealth, information sources and knowledge," and "Illiteracy: and expression of inequality". She also explains that literacy is not simply a matter of someone being able to decode the marks on paper into words, there needs to be meaning an understanding in the mind of the reader. They need to acquire functional literacy, which allows individuals to participate in social development. With this in mind, libraries need to provide information resources to "People Participating in Literacy education". My argument is that a Children's mobile library provides the resources in the places where children are learning to read, or should be learning to read, the question being "Can Children's mobile libraries help prevent illiteracy?" I have just checked the UNESCO website and the figures that they quote as being the most current is 774 million are illiterate globally, and 64% of those are women.

Zapata argues that illiteracy is not only a symptom of poverty, but a cause as well meaning that some levels of society cannot access their human rights. She explains "Knowing how to read and write is the prerequisite for practising the right to learn which is one of the conditions for the effective and universal application of these principles." It becomes a self generating circle. The process of learning to read gives people the skills to "Access and Process information, to create apply new knowledge, to participate in social processes designed to modify the environment and create better living conditions at individual community and national levels." Even in a democratic society citizens need to know how to read and write at a reasonable level to be able to "understand, analyze and reflect on their personal and social situations and to become active participants in promoting changes". To correctly exercise your vote you must be able to understand the policies of the political parties and chose the one that suits your own opinions.

As a logical first step and a way out of an illiteracy circle, is to teach reading and writing at an early age. Then, Zapata continues, pay attention to the young people and adults who have not attained adequate levels of reading. Libraries can help their literacy in two ways, as a partner of educational intuitions and as a service unit for the general public. A children's mobile library can have this dual function with great ease. It can tour around from school to school working in a tailored way to each educational establisment, and it can go out into a variety of communities to provide resources, skills and advise to members of the general public. The ways in working which Zapata suggests for a static library include the training of teachers and of librarians, both working together to assess and discover literacy teaching methodologies and the access to a range of appropriate printed materials. She suggests that static libraries provide travelling boxes of books and materials to day care centres, well, surely a whole library is a better option, if available. She suggests the provision of information about services offered by the library. the Leicester book bus goes one further that that, it provides information about the city's literacy policy, including schools. Finally she considers that staff should be trained as story tellers to continue the oral tradition. This applies particularly to staff on children's mobiles, they are an efficient use of trained staff, who will use their story telling skills multiple times during one day, instead of a few times a week.

Zapata also believes that libraries need to provide books to children to promote reading for pleasure. Because Zapata wrote the article with a global perspective, she suggests the "Artisan production of reading materials which rescue and give new value to the oral traditions and values of indigenous cultures". She is considering the places where the libraries' users are ethnic groups, some with no official language, but it is equally appropriate in any place. Making books for children, with children and by children gains their interest makes them realise the purpose of books. They end up with a product they feel ownership of and interests them which motivates them to read. Making books is a large part of the Peers Literacy intervention. It was also a large part of the reading policy of my eldest child's' school in Bristol over 20 years ago.

In the conclusion of the paper, Zapata stresses that public libraries are a "Vindication of Democracy" because it is in a library than anyone from any social background can find anything that interests them. If that is true of a static library, then it is also true for a mobile library that can go into the communities to allow any child a democratic choice.

No comments: