Alice Darnton - Rescue mission for non-readers
Think about this: Right now, you are reading these words in a printed newspaper. Can you imagine what it might be like to be unable to read? How would it affect your life?
Reading books or magazines for pleasure or instruction would be beyond your reach. Everyday activities like managing your finances, searching for and applying for jobs, or helping your children with their homework would be difficult or impossible without the ability to read.
Facts about literacy
Unfortunately, Yamhill County residents deal with illiteracy or low literacy as a reality every day. According to the data gathered by the National Center for Education statistics in 2003, 11 percent of the Yamhill County population lack basic literacy skills.
The statistics are equally as concerning on a national scale. ProLiteracy.org reports on its website: “In the U.S. today, there are 36 million adults who can’t read better than the average third grader,” which is, again, about 11 percent of the national population.
Low literacy goes hand in hand with lack of high school education. These disadvantages can have an enormous impact on the quality of a person’s life.
The National Institute for Literacy (NIL) reports, “More than 20 percent of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level, which prevents them from working at jobs with a living wage, hinders their ability to vote and impedes their ability to read a newspaper.”
Lack of education and low literacy also contribute to higher unemployment rates in Oregon. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, “Adults who have not received high school diplomas are unemployed at nearly three times the rate of their peers with high school diplomas.”
Low literacy in our community today also affects future generations. Parents without a high school diploma or with low literacy skills are more likely to have children who struggle in school. In fact, “the literacy levels of parents are crucial in predicting their children’s literacy levels and educational attainment,” according to NIL.
Because McMinnville Public Library’s mission is to foster lifelong learning through encouraging literacy and to provide ways for people to enhance and improve their own lives, it falls within the library’s scope to tackle the problem of adult literacy in our community in whatever ways it can.
Understanding local needs
To better understand how McMinnville Public Library might help the illiterate adult community, we asked 13 business owners, teachers and leaders of community service organizations to answer a questionnaire in March. Eight responded.
We asked how many people they encounter who would benefit from adult literacy education or tutoring and to rate the importance of some potential library services.
We also asked them if they knew of other places literacy training is taking place in the community.
Four of the responders had been in contact with more than 20 individuals in need of adult literacy tutoring in the past six months.
These teachers and leaders identified reading and technology as the areas where they saw the most need. Within these areas, document and quantitative literacy were considered the highest needs.
Document literacy is the knowledge and skills needed to write job applications or read drug labels, for example.
Quantitative literacy is the knowledge and skills required to perform quantitative tasks, such as balancing a checkbook or calculating a tip.
Technology literacy, or the knowledge and skills required to use a computer, was deemed the third most needed type of literacy.
Answers to our survey indicated that the McMinnville Public library might be an appropriate place for tutoring as well as for recruitment and training of adult literacy tutors.
Local literacy resources
As explained above, literacy means more than helping adults read. Even adults who are otherwise literate may struggle to navigate the Internet, fill out forms and do paperwork.
McMinnville Public Library already helps with technology literacy through its one-on-on technology training sessions. One-hour computer instruction appointments with a librarian may be used to set up an e-mail account, download e-books and other tasks. By helping create resumes and complete job applications, reference librarians regularly assist with document literacy.
But clearly, residents of McMinnville would benefit from an organized adult literacy program with a focus on document and quantitative literacy. In Keizer, the Mid-Valley Literacy Center offers classes and, importantly, it also teaches other community organizations how to create literacy tutoring programs. McMinnville Public Library intends to take advantage of the Center’s expertise.
How you can help
Adult illiteracy and low literacy in Yamhill County must be addressed, but it can’t be alleviated without your help. At the library, a literacy tutor training program is about to begin. After volunteers have been trained, the Carnegie Community Room will offer a secluded area where tutors can meet with adult learners.
Together, we can make a real difference in our neighbors’ lives. To get started, please plan to attend a literacy tutor information night at the library in September.
Guest writer Alice Darnton is the reference supervisor at McMinnville Public Library, where she’s worked for four years. She enjoys volunteering with the McMinnville Noon Kiwanis Club and performing at the Gallery.
Guest writer Diane McMillen is the library’s homebound program coordinator and helped write this piece.
Become a tutor
Who: Anyone willing to be trained.
What: Information nights.
Where: Carnegie Room, McMinnville Public Library, 225 N.W. Adams St.
When: September, look for announcements.
Why: End illiteracy, one person at a time.
How: Contact Diane McMillen at 503-435-5551 or email@example.com and attend an information night.