Frequently Asked Questions about Adult Literacy Services

This is an image of two open books stacked on top of one another

Why literacy in the library?


The public library is called the “People’s University.” It’s open to everyone. Except if you can’t read. In 1984, State Librarian, Gary Strong, introduced the California Literacy Campaign. Its purpose was to reach the hardest to reach – those who spoke English, but couldn’t read it, and bring them in to the library. He purposely did not include English as a Second Language as there were already many programs devoted to that group and didn’t want to duplicate services or add another layer of competition for the same funds. There weren’t many programs that addressed basic literacy. That year, 27 libraries started their literacy services. Today, there are 102 libraries that have integrated literacy into overall library services. Last year 10,000 tutors volunteered 566,000 hours to help 17,000 students.

Does it cost to be in the literacy program?


No, it is a free service of the public library.

Do you offer classes for people to learn English?


No, this program is specific to adults who need help with reading and writing. If they cannot speak English, they are referred to a program that offers conversation classes. Once they have mastered a basic command of the language, they may enroll in the library’s program. The majority of instruction is one-on-one, not classes.

Who provides the tutoring?


Volunteers are the core of the program. Without their help, this program could not be offered. Volunteers attend a 12-hour training over two weeks before being matched with a student. They must be available a minimum of 2 hours a week and commit to 6 months of service. Tutoring days and times are set by the tutor and student. Tutoring takes place in the library.

Do you tutor children or teens?


No, this is only for adults. However, if a student is 16 – 18 years old and no longer in high school, but needs literacy help, he/she can be matched with a volunteer tutor.

How long do students stay in the program?


There is no time limit on how long someone may be in the program. It’s important that goals are being set and worked on. This is monitored by the volunteer and checked by the literacy staff.

What materials are used to teach someone how to read?


Potential students are first given an assessment by the literacy staff to determine a starting point. Instead of assigning a grade level equivalency, students are given material based on what they need to know to be better readers. Student goals are included so that the tutoring is student centered. It’s important that the student (and tutor) become library users. It is encouraged that each get library cards on their first meeting and begin using them as soon as they’re able.

How do students find out about the program if they can’t read the posters, brochures, ads, etc.?


Most adult students are not library users, nor are they avid readers. Print material is usually not for the adult student, but for family and friends who see it and pass the information on. Most referrals are from word of mouth.

Does Literacy work with the developmentally disabled population?


The short answer is yes. However, since we use volunteers, most are not trained to work with this population, and although we will assess anyone who requests it, a developmentally disabled student may not get placed as readily as other students. We have to wait until a tutor who is comfortable with this population agrees. The better solution is to train staff and volunteers in that field who can then work with developmentally disabled students on their literacy skills. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Will the Orange County Public Library literacy program, OC Read, be able to continue using the Orange Public Library as a site?


Absolutely. Library literacy programs reciprocate on just about everything. Sometimes students don’t feel comfortable tutoring in their own cities, so they ask to go to a different site. Also, trainings may not coincide with a volunteer’s schedule, so another literacy program may give initial training to our tutors or vice versa. We are working to make the Literacy Lab comfortable and relevant for all tutors and students to use. It is hoped that students will come in on their own to study, use the computer and gradually use the library in general.

What can I do to help this program if I can’t be a tutor?


There are many ways people can support the literacy program besides being tutors. You can tell everyone you know there’s a new program in town. Especially target people you think might make great tutors or would be willing to talk to others about it. If you are a business owner, would you be willing to put a recruitment poster in your window? Brochures on the counter? Include a blurb with pay checks? Offer incentives to employees who volunteer? Also, there are organizations in the community that might want to be partners. They serve children, but their parents might be grateful for a literacy referral. There are family services, and, again, they might not know about a program that helps adults improve their reading. Other ways of support could include volunteering in the literacy office, helping with special projects, calling tutors and students. We can find a volunteer job for you; just ask us.