Print-Poor Environments & Public Libraries (by Guest Blogger Emily Rocha)

“The past two decades of research powerfully connect access to print with higher reading scores and, conversely, lack of access with lower scores.”  (Trelease, 107)

libraryThink back to when you were a child. Did your parents read you bedtime stories? Were there bookshelves full of interesting titles around the home? Did you ever see an adult in your life reading for relaxation? The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease discusses the role of print reading material in the home and school. In his research, he discovered that low income children are hit by a double print gap – in the home and in the school. Schools are supposed to make up for home deficits, but a study by Nell Duke, featured in the text by Trelease, discovered that urban students have out of date school libraries, less time in class to read, and restricted access to
the library.

Reading is important. No one will argue that. Why is it then that 14 percent of the
American population cannot read? In fact, 21 percent of the adult population cannot read above a
fifth grade level. Even more, 19 percent of high school graduates are illiterate. The most startling
statistic from this study? 63 percent of prison inmates cannot read. There is clearly something
wrong here. All data I have mentioned was retrieved from the US Department of Education and
National Institute of Literacy study conducted on April 28, 2013. That is less than one year ago.
Reading and proper literacy has been made a privilege in our society. In the study by Nell
Duke mentioned early, he found that in the twenty urban first-grade classrooms he visited,
teachers read from a less complex text, and the books-per-pupil ratio was half of what it was in
the “advanced” classrooms. By treating low-income students differently than others, the public
school system is creating two classes of people that graduate. The fact that over half of the prison
population cannot read at an age appropriate and comprehensive level is as much the fault of the
schools than anything or anyone else. What can be done to combat this inequality in our
education system?

For my capstone project, I volunteered with the Scappoose Public Library, located in
Scappoose, Oregon. The public library is one way to combat the social injustice of access to
books. Anyone who lives in the library district can be a library card holder and check out all the
books they want. The library is a public institution that creates the availability of books for
everyone, no matter their age or reading level. Trelease wrote that the mere presence of books in
the home is enough to encourage reading (110). If the schools are lacking in providing reading
time, than it falls back to a job in the home. Even with busy working parents, a trip to the library
every couple of weeks can be enough to have a stack of books to occupy children’s imaginations.
My community based learning at the library focused on the Wednesday morning story
time program for children ages 0-5. This is an excellent service provided by most public libraries
that creates a community of reading among young children and parents. It is a way to attract
families with children to the library and begin using it at a young age. Each week had a theme,
such as cows or numbers, and we read a few books and did a craft. The fight for ending illiteracy
begins with access to books. Public libraries provide free and easy access for all people.
Throughout this course I was connected with other people fighting for various social
justice causes. I learned through our readings that it takes people like me to stand up and make a
change. Public libraries are often the first on the chopping block when communities prioritize
funding needs. It takes just a handful of people to spread the importance of libraries and their
programs and the connection to increasing literacy to keep these services open and available. I
know that I plan to be a lifetime advocate for public libraries.

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” (Loeb 71).

References:

Loeb, Paul Rogat
2004 The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of
Fear. Basic Books, New York.

Trelease, Jim
2013 The Read-Aloud Handbook. Seventh Edition. Penguin Books, New York.

Illiteracy Rates. Statistics Brain. Accessed March 15, 2014 at
http://www.statisticbrain.com/number-of-american-adults-who-cant-read/

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