Many at work to raise literacy levels
By Phillip Barton
For the Salisbury Post
I was very excited when I saw the May 12 article regarding how county, city and school leaders would tackle childhood reading issues. However, my excitement turned to dismay when I found no mention of Rowan Public Library ó a county agency that is (and has been for decades) dedicated to promoting early childhood literacy as well as lifelong reading and learning. That the public library and several other community agencies, including the Rowan County Literacy Council and Smart Start Rowan, were not represented at this meeting absolutely baffles me!
After reading this article, the average citizen might think Rowan County is totally lacking in resources (besides the school system) that address child and adult literacy. This is simply not the case. Rowan boasts a very successful countywide public library system dedicated to basic reading literacy, information literacy and more recently, computer literacy. Over the years, the county library has developed dynamic partnerships with Smart Start Rowan to expand early child literacy initiatives and the Rowan County Literacy Council to combat adult illiteracy.
For decades, one of the library’s primary goals has been to promote early childhood literacy. In pursuit of this goal the library has developed significant resources targeted toward children. The library provides expertly trained employees who encourage reading and learning among children through storytelling and other age-appropriate activities. Studies have shown that children who are read to at an early age perform better in school. That’s why the library has offered storytelling programs to generations of Rowan County children.
The library provides children and parents with year-round access to large collections of quality books and other materials, including the latest popular children’s literature. It also provides access to age-appropriate Internet sites and other computer resources at its facilities in Salisbury, China Grove and Rockwell.
Rowan Public Library was among the first in North Carolina to expand its services to preschool children by delivering library services to daycare centers through its Stories To Go bookmobile service. This model program has been expanded significantly with major assistance from Smart Start Rowan, enabling the library to serve more daycare centers.
Additional funding from Smart Start Rowan has enabled the library to develop the Books To Grow program as part of Stories To Go. This new program promotes family literacy through specially developed programs for parents and More At Four teachers. Over the past three years, Stories To Go presented 1,816 training sessions to teachers and family child-care providers, impacting over 6,000 children. During that time Stories To Go has distributed 5,150 library cards to preschool children, teachers and family child care providers. Stories To Go circulated 75,752 books in the last three years.
One of the library’s most successful initiatives is its summer reading program. Last summer, it provided seven weeks of reading and learning-related programs attended by 9,844 children and adults. Nearly 2,000 children ages 1-10 registered and read a total 9,791 hours. A successful summer reading program targeted to teens had a total attendance of 480.
On the other end of the spectrum is the library’s involvement with adult literacy. Recognizing the need to help adults learn to read, the library partnered with the Rowan County Literacy Council, a United Way agency whose services are provided by volunteers. With expansion of the library headquarters in the late 1980s, the library was able to provide office and tutoring space for the Literacy Council. There is no doubt that our community has benefited from this thriving partnership.
It’s wonderful that some of our local leaders understand the importance of reading and how necessary it is to achieving success in life. However, before any committee embarks on an effort to develop ideas to address the literacy issues of our county, I would suggest it spend some time conferring with our local experts who deal with literacy issues on a daily basis. Instead of trying to develop new programs, consider putting more effort and resources into existing programs that are working successfully.
For instance, provide additional resources to help the library expand its summer reading program so it can serve 3,000 children this year. Help the library register more children as library users and thereby provide them with lifetime access to valuable resources. Help improve family literacy in our community by providing additional support for Smart Start Rowan and the library’s Stories To Go and Books to Grow initiatives. Help address adult illiteracy by volunteering as a tutor with the Rowan County Literacy Council.
Let’s invest more in existing successful programs so that more children and adults will have the opportunity to experience a lifelong joy of reading.
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Phillip Barton is the former director of the Rowan Public Library.
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