Since entering the digital age, public libraries have made massive efforts to close the digital divide. In many cases, whether a person has access to a computer or not is not as relevant as their level of literacy. Simultaneously, the largest and fastest growing demographic throughout my home state of Florida are Hispanics. Hispanics nationwide face intergenerational literacy, the ‘passing on’ of illiteracy to younger generations. According to The Pew Research Center’s The Changing Pathways of Hispanic Youths Into Adulthood, in 2009 47% of Latinos who are first generation residents of the U.S. have parents who had less than a high school education. In terms of Florida, in 1993, Hispanic illiteracy rates were 15%, with Miami-Dade County leading the state at 26% (Rodriguez, 2012). Ten years later, illiteracy rates worsened: by 2003, Miami-Dade Hispanic illiteracy rates rose to 52%, while its Hispanic population had only grown 33% (Rodriguez, 2012).
Libraries offering programs addressing literacy rates show librarians are grasping that many Hispanic families face intergenerational illiteracy. In order to help, offering literacy-based family activities may be one part of the solution. Astor County Library, my home library, has designed a humanities-focused Family Reading Connection program aimed at underserved children and families at risk to intergenerational illiteracy, and ideally Hispanics. Funding was obtained through local businesses and groups, such as Friends of Astor Library, Kiwanis Club, and Moose Lodge. Partnering with our school system and day cares helped identify at-risk families. What is being created are long-term improvements in family engagement and student academic achievement through high-quality family-focused learning experiences, as well as stronger community ties.
The series is similar to Louisiana-based Prime Time programming, but is scalable for small and rural libraries. The advantage, though, is that smaller groups can be accommodated, and libraries working with community partners gain buy-in in terms of the program’s success. What is more, libraries can utilize materials they have on hand or, as I recommend, utilize award-winning items such as Belpré and Coretta Scott King award winning items. These items are ideal as they reflect a common experience, which is important, particularly in terms of the participants’ engagement, and celebrating their heritage.
Right now, we need increased multicultural representation in programming. There is struggle worldwide for communities to associate, integrate and acculturate. Librarians need to be culturally competent as tolerance does not go far enough. Only through appreciation and dispelling ignorance can we hope to create harmony in our communities. While it takes a village to make this happen, libraries must take a lead role.
Today’s guest blogger is Jonathan Dolce. Jonathan currently works for Lake County Library System, and has been working in Central Florida libraries since 2000. He took two years out to be a mountaintop farmer in Puerto Rico, then returned to Central Florida libraries. He is now happily the Branch Supervisor at Astor County Library and having a great time. Jonathan just returned from a five-workshop tour of Central Florida aiding fellow librarians in implementing the 2016 summer reading program.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.