Celebrating International Literacy Day: What makes libraries unique as literacy learning spaces?
08 September 2022
International Literacy Day, celebrated annually on 8 September, is always an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of libraries to delivering the foundation skills that unlock so many other opportunities for people.
This year, with the Day taking place under the slogan ‘Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces’, is is a great time both to talk about the uniqueness of what libraries can do, and to explore how the concept of a literacy learning space itself is changing.
There is growing awareness that libraries need not be limited by their walls, that literacy is made up of a wide range of skills, and that we can learn in different ways throughout our lives. In parallel, a longstanding library priority – to ensure that all members of the community benefit from our services – remains as strong as ever.
So to mark this year’s International Literacy Day, we asked our Literacy and Reading Section Standing Committee for their reflections on the theme. You can also view excerpts from these submissions in our infographic.
Paula Kelly Paull (Australia)
Libraries are print-rich environments – a necessary component of the ‘why’ to read is that we are in a world that is defined by print – through signs, instructions, recipes, information. As a literacy learning space libraries draw that connection closer and provide a world of wonder ahead sign post in terms of collection access. Being able to hold and feel books in your hands knowing you can just open it to have its magic reveals itself to you is an incredible thing – but only IF you can read or have some familiarity with how books ‘work’ and what they offer! I note this because wordless books can be enjoyed by all ages, and indeed babies love books ( as evidenced in my project report outreaching to parents of the very young, as their first literacy teacher)
The most important transformation is the work being done in both the hybrid space of online delivery of early childhood literacy experiences (driven by library closures and Covid impacts) and the collaboration that is occurring around this including publishers making copyright loosened for this purpose, but also cooperation and partnership of content development and delivery. The other would be the campaigns and additional efforts being made by libraries for people to “return themselves to the library”. Campaign such as “Libraries Change Lives” and the “Return Yourself to the Library” run by Public Libraries in Victoria, highlight the important space and impact of libraries and library programs, equipment and resources in building strong literacy skills, including print as well as digital and creative literacy.
It’s the collection that makes a Library has its “Libraryness”… this will always be the unique offering – free access in both physical and digital forms, as well as the programs associated to engage and stimulate literacy and learning. They are also places that welcome and celebrate diversity and inclusion and hence make literacy a learning opportunity, not something to feel shame about. This is evident in the approach for example of the Conversation Club at City of Melbourne Libraries and the Creative Technology Hub at Hobson Bay Libraries as two examples. You are welcome and encouraged to join in no matter what your skill, knowledge or competencies are – it’s all about lifelong learning!
Elizabeth Jones (New Zealand)
Libraries support, champion and enable literacy in all its forms. As spaces of literacy and learning they are unique in providing free, flexible and responsive environments and services that support literacy across the whole life course. They provide access to literacy and reading resources in all formats along with trusted staff to connect people with skills and support.
Libraries are unique in providing reading and literacy-rich environments that inspire and encourage connections and experiences with important stories and ideas beyond the horizons of one’s own world.
As the need for more sophisticated and diverse literacies becomes ever more important in a chaotic, complex and challenging world, libraries are continuously evolving to meet the needs of their communities while retaining the enduring and foundational importance of supporting communities, families, children and young people to have access to the resources, support and services to be readers for life.
Libraries are based on important values of inclusion, equity, trust and freedom and are anchors of literacy in their communities.
Saif AlJabri (Oman)
Libraries are unique literacy learning spaces because they offer a variety of materials to their readers. Being in the library, individuals can explore not only printed material, but also different types of learning objects and means, such as digital materials, audio-visual materials, arts, games and other type of materials. Users regardless of their age, education, sex, or social status can use library materials and facilities equally.
Anette Mjöberg (Sweden)
The best thing with public libraries are that we can meet, reach and talk with people all ages from 1 month to 100 years old. We can help them through their lives, suggesting materials and different medias they can use, and helping them to develop and choose lifestyle. New working methods as Share Reading help us in our work with literacy.
In Hässleholm’s public library we have since many years book club for people with visual impairment and that is also a service we are very proud of.
Maria Ponomarenko (Russia)
In such a big library like ours, the most important thing that makes the library a literacy learning space is our unique book collection – one can find books on so many themes, languages, ages and branches of knowledge.
The library as unique literacy learning space means that in the library one can find a community of booklovers as well as professionals that can give a piece of advice about choosing a book and reading in general, which is also very important.
Last but not least, libraries also research and study the latest trends such as information literacy, media literacy, and visual literacy. They have a lot of elaborated materials and tools to help newcomers not to get lost in the array of written and published information.
Atlanta Meyer (Australia)
With new technologies changing rapidly, libraries have the opportunity to adapt and create literacy learning spaces for all. New literacy skills are needed to develop the self-confidence to use new technologies. Libraries can provide the technology and assistance to assist their communities to develop these skills.
Libraries have the ability to promote early learning and literacy to young children and families, creating spaces where children can explore books and enjoy reading in a welcome and safe space.
Libraries can support and build information literacy to combat misinformation and fake news online. Well trained library staff can assist students and customers navigating the digital world, and libraries can become the place to find quality information.
In short, what makes libraries unique as literacy learning spaces:
- Books – libraries have books!
- Flexible library design and layout to accommodate and welcome everyone
- Spaces that promote creativity
- Spaces for social connection and collaboration
- Technology where people can access quality information
- Trained library staff
Shari Werb (United States)
Libraries are unique as literacy learning spaces because whether in-person or online, in addition to their primary responsibilities, they can also celebrate, convene and serve as conduits to literacy champions. The Library of Congress is excited to be doing this on International Literacy Day, when we will announce the 2022 Library of Congress Literacy Award Winners and Successful Practice Honorees!
Adriaan Langendonk (Netherlands)
To give an example, PLEK 3 (Space 3) at Venlo Library is a place where children from group 6 (out of 8 in primary school) to first grade who need just that little bit more stimulation in the field of their general development and language skills can come. With this after-school educational program, the library offers children a context-rich environment in which personal development, fun and discovery are central.
Furthermore in each library there is a Language House for low literate people to orientate themselves to improve their literacy skills, and in the last couple of years Dutch libraries offer services (from volunteers) to people who are not able to fill in government forms online. This is called Informatiepunt Digitale Overheid (IDO) – Information Point Digital Government.
Simonetta Pasqualis Dell’Antonio (Italy)
I would underline the role of libraries in citizens’ welfare and wellbeing: in many aspects they help institutions and countries at large in taking care of their citizens, and that is why they should be funded and supported.
Meghan Harper (United States)
Libraries provide unique opportunities for patrons to be creators and consumers of information. This enables patrons to engage all of their senses creatively when developing their literacy skills. Libraries are no longer places where information is asked for and then received passively. Libraries are spaces where patrons can become explorers, creators and adventurers and actively engaged in the pursuit and seeking of information.
Libraries have adapted to the changing needs of learners to expand access to their services and resources beyond the physical space and into the digital realm and to go from from finite to universal availability. With this transformation, libraries have unique opportunities to facilitate learning, adapting and sharing a multitude of applied literacies in real-world applications in the library.
Nina Olsson (Sweden)
The doors to our Public libraries are open to everyone in our society. We have literacy and learning on our agenda and targeted work shops for those who need it the most.
Digital reading and learning has made the most important transformation, because we can reach many more, but it’s also our biggest challenge to educate everyone in digital literacy. And we really need our staff with language skills and librarians educated in this new world: open minded, working together with people in other fields so that we all become readers!