By: Sandra Toro, Ph.D., IMLS, and
Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Ph.D., Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education
The recent results of the international “Survey of Adult Skills” estimated that 36 million Americans are low-skilled in literacy, and 3 million are eager to gain additional education and training but are hampered by barriers such as transportation, child care, and work schedules. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) are working together to encourage effective collaborations between libraries and federally funded adult education programs to help more Americans take advantage of the educational, employment, financial, health, social and civic resources that are available online.
According to Pew Research Internet Project data, over 15 percent of Americans, including senior citizens, adults with less than a high school education, and people living in households earning less than $30,000 per year, are not using the Internet at all. And, while 74 percent of whites and 62 percent of African Americans have high-speed Internet access at home, only about half of Hispanics (56 percent) do.
Already, the nation’s more than 17,000 public libraries are providing computer access or free wireless Internet to America’s families. According to the report, “Opportunity for All,” over 77 million people, or nearly one-third of the U.S. population ages 14 and older, used a public library computer or wireless Internet in 2009. Of the library users in households living below the poverty line of $22,000 per year for a family of four, 44 percent visit a public library in order to get online. In fact, education was cited by 42 percent of responders as the main reason patrons used library computers and 24 percent of those users reported taking online courses or working on online assignments. In addition, employment and career –related activities were cited by 40 percent of responders as the reason they went to the library, 76 percent of whom were looking for jobs.
In light of this situation, IMLS and OCTAE recently announced a joint Dear colleague letter released on June 24, 2014 by IMLS Director Susan Hildreth and OCTAE Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin. Susan and Johan recognize the important role libraries and adult education programs play in helping build digital literacy among adults. Joint activities include: increasing awareness about resources and training (see http://LINCS.ed.gov); developing literacy tutorials and guides; and collaborating with various associations and nonprofits to identify and disseminate examples of partnership activities the public adult education system and libraries are taking at the state and local levels.
According to Susan, “Libraries have a long history with literacy programs and reaching residents. We hope this program will help connect youth and adults more seamlessly to learning opportunities online and at their local adult education and community college programs.” For Johan, “Libraries and adult education programs are natural partners; together we can strengthen the onramps to digital literacy and learning. Their joint goal is to enhance skills, employability, and quality of life for all American, and especially for those youth and adults with low skills.”