by Norma Zuniga
Arlington Public Library
Public Services Administrator
Librarianship gives many of us the opportunity to match an individual with a resource that meets their informational, educational or recreational interest. Through this practice of pairing people and information, individuals young and old can experience the joy of reading and the value of information. However, not everyone has the ability to read. According to ProLiteracy’s recent survey, 20% of adults in Tarrant County cannot read well enough to understand day to day activities such as filling out a job application or operating an ATM machine.
As library staff and I collaborated in various initiatives with United Way and other agencies, we discovered the need to address basic literacy in Arlington. Through our participation in various workgroups, we identified a lack of coordination in the Arlington area for literacy services and a need for support services for existing literacy programs. In line with the Library’s vision, “To be our community’s best and most sought after resource for information, learning, and discovery”, we set out to become a vital part of the effort to improve literacy rates in our community.
Under the leadership of our Library Director, Cary Siegfried, we set up a team of library professionals which included Area Branch Manager, Marc Marchand, Marketing and Development Officer, Andi Davis, Electronic Services Administrator, Saralyn Shone, Bibliographic Services Administrator, Harriet Stow and Public Services Administrator, Norma Zuniga. Arlington Reads was formed in the early months of 2008 and three primary goals were established:
1) To increase the quantity and improve the quality of literacy programs serving Arlington adults, youth and families.
2) To build mutually beneficial relationships between literacy partners in Arlington.
3) To raise public awareness of literacy issues in Arlington and connect with our regional and state partners to enhance our resources.
Through generous funding and support, we hired Yoko Matsumoto as the Literacy Coordinator a little over a year ago. With Yoko’s assistance, we continue to examine what literacy programs are being offered, how the programs are organized, and what our role may be in facilitating their efforts. We organize a Community Literacy Network that meets regularly offering a venue for literacy providers to share ideas, information and resources. Yoko works closely with Americorp/Vista and recruited members Kayce Green and Diane Flores. Kayce and Diane assist with volunteer recruiting, training, placement and program planning. We actively recruit for volunteer tutors to be trained and matched with adult learners who are dedicated to improving their reading, writing, and speaking skills in English. Yoko makes numerous presentations to organizations that may have adult learners that can benefit from our one-on-one /small group tutoring. She also reaches out to groups of people that show an interest in volunteering as literacy tutors. By reaching out and informing others about this initiative, relationships continue to be forged with local colleges and universities, businesses and organizations.
Arlington Reads also consists of literacy initiatives for children and families. The Learning Zone is a program co-sponsored through Americorp/Vista. It is meant to enhance the studies of school-age children in grades first through third by offering free tutoring and homework assistance. In addition, the Family Learning Lab, a computer lab equipped with early childhood and adult literacy, citizenship, GED and ESL software will soon be available for Arlington Reads participants.
The work is ongoing, the challenges are many, but most importantly, the impact is visible. The most rewarding element of Arlington Reads is hearing about wonderful ways we are positively impacting the lives of our adult learners: the young Hispanic woman who obtained her U.S. citizenship, after failing the exam two times before, and came in to the Arlington Reads office to thank staff for working with her and helping her achieve her goal; the soon-to-be father with a troubled past, who spent countless hours in the Arlington Reads office using GED software and eventually found a job to help sustain his family; or the child who is improving grades and test scores with the help of a volunteer tutor!