Advocacy: Part II

October 23, 2009

In my first column, I mentioned the symbolic journey on the old Route 66 from Chicago to L.A.—Library Advocacy. Let's now embark on the second part of that trip. It is still the same route from Chicago to L.A., but this time the road leads to Literacy Advocacy. Although I include all types of literacy, such as reading, information, financial, cultural, and technical/ digital, my focus here is on reading.

As library professionals, we know that a literate nation helps us maintain our democratic ideals, such as freedom of speech, expression, and press. Our populace can read and stay abreast of issues that affect those democratic ideals. They can read and be informed about actions that might jeopardize any of those ideals. But they can only stay informed and engaged if they have basic reading skills to access that information.

Libraries play a vital role in making our nation literate, and a literate nation is the foundation of our democracy. The challenge for our nation is that we are falling behind in our national basic literacy skills scores. I am concentrating on reading or basic literacy skills (BLS), which includes adults as well as young adults, 16 years and older. The deficiencies range from being unable to read and understand any written information in English to being able to only locate easily identifiable information in short, commonplace text, nothing more advanced.

The National Center for Educational Statistics administers the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). The results of the last NAAL assessment study in 2003 revealed that at least 90 million adults in the United States read at or below basic literacy levels ( naal). Fifty-five percent of adults with below BLS did not graduate from high school, compared to 15% of adults in the general population. Additional test results reveal that several minority groups fall below BLS levels-44% of Latinos, 24% of African Americans, and 14% of Asian/Pacific Islanders. These are startling statistics and we have to start somewhere to raise those levels.

Members of my presidential initiative working group are focusing on a literacy effort that will provide resources to the five ALA ethnic affiliates to develop family literacy projects and programs that can be replicated by libraries throughout the country. The plans are in the spirit of ALA's Association for Library Service to Children's El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), the family literacy program founded by Pat Mora in collaboration with the ALA affiliate Reforma: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. The programs should specifically serve any or all ethnic/racial groups but be available to all community users. Details will be announced as they become available.

Spotlight on Spectrum

As I mentioned in my October column (p. 8), Immediate Past President Jim Rettig, President-Elect, Roberta Stevens, and I are raising funds for the ALA Spectrum Scholarship Initiative. The following highlights one of the many Spectrum success stories.

Alexandra "Alex" Rivera, outreach librarian at the University of Arizona in Tucson, serves as the coordinator of the university libraries' Peer Information Counselors, a group of students from underrepresented minority groups who deliver information access services, provide library tours, and present workshops. She also supervises Knowledge River LIS for Hispanic and Native American graduate assistants.

Help us continue the Spectrum success stories with a tax-deductible contribution. To donate online, visit and click on giveALA, or send an e-mail message to development@


David Weinberger

A web visionary and author of The Cluetrain Manifesto talks about the cultural transformation brought about by the internet