Education Letter to the Editor

For Adolescent-Literacy Advice, Ask Librarians

November 15, 2005 1 min read

To the Editor:

As I read your article about the recommendations to help states improve adolescent literacy proposed in two recent publications(“States Urged to Focus on Adolescent Literacy,” Oct. 26, 2005.), I was struck that there was no mention of libraries. Remarkably, a search for the terms “libraries,” “media centers,” and “librarians” in the report “Reading to Achieve”—a 48-page document—and in the executive summary of “Reading at Risk” (the only section made available online) turns up no occurrences.

Both publications acknowledge notable individuals who served as their advisers, but there is not a librarian among them. With the positive impact school and public libraries have had on improving literacy—and consequently, academic success—how is it that librarians are not participants?

Research shows that students succeed academically when they use school libraries that have a full-time, certified librarian, ample and current collections, a strong computer network, and trained support staff. As information professionals who understand what it means to be literate in a global information society, librarians help students learn to locate, evaluate, and apply what they read, whether in print or electronic form. Librarians promote reading for pleasure, know what appeals to teenagers, understand teenage reading habits, and bring adolescents and books together. Ensuring that all schools have a certified librarian and meet the other conditions is a research-based recommendation that would clearly improve adolescent literacy.

Public libraries are also invested in building literate communities. About one in three sponsor literacy programs—many specifically for adolescents. Libraries provide neutral settings, offer hours after school, allow free computer use, and attract potential tutors. To engage teenagers, librarians create specific programs, collections, and services. Studying how public libraries successfully connect with adolescents is another recommendation that would improve adolescent literacy.

With their expertise and experience, librarians could contribute many such suggestions. Let’s hope state leaders give them a chance.

Jean Ehnebuske

Holmes, N.Y.