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Beyond four walls: adult literacy services in Queensland public libraries.

Fifteen years on from the 1988 International Literacy Year many public libraries in Queensland have come a long way in the level and depth of adult literacy services they provide. Many library services offer programs that 'work in the context of people's lives in the community', and this has meant that more staff are venturing beyond the four walls of the library. This paper describes the role of the State Library of Queensland in offering adult literacy services statewide, and showcases a number of libraries providing services and programs to rural and remote, Indigenous, and metropolitan communities. Although resource constraints apply, the main limitation for libraries and their communities in providing adult literacy services are negative attitudes to a need in all communities, a need which is often hidden


Nearly 15 years on from the 1988 International Literacy Year, 2003-2012 is the United Nations Literacy Decade. Many libraries in Queensland have come a long way since 1988 in the adult literacy services they provide. They do strive to make the programs they offer meet Margaret Whitlam's injunction to them, that
 Literacy programs need to work in the context of
 people's lives in the community and libraries can
 contribute as access and support centres in the learning
 process (1)

Or as Brisbane Libraries' manager Jennifer Cram asserted in 1988
 If we wish to support literacy through public libraries
 we must make sure that the message those libraries
 deliver to the community is not 'Come join us in
 literacy' but rather the more neutral and accepting
 'Come join us in the library'. (2)

Lifelong learning, information, computer, family and community literacy all lead to many promotional activities and services. They present literacy opportunities for life. This paper is not, therefore, limited to library adult literacy programs. It includes community programs covering all of these literacies to demonstrate the breadth of the approach being taken by libraries.

To promote such diverse programs library staff have been reaching out beyond the four walls of their libraries for some time. Whilst libraries have become increasingly seen as spaces that welcome, and engage with, their communities, the reality is that libraries do not confine their activities to the four walls of the building itself.

There will always be resource, space, money, time, and staff constraints on how libraries can improve people's lives. However the main limitation for libraries and their communities in developing and managing adult literacy services is negative attitudes. For example, at library staff development sessions, it may be that adult literacy issues do not affect 'their' library users, and that the information being offered is not needed. Statements include 'We don't have those people in our libraries', or 'They may be there in our community, but they don't use the library' or 'We don't know of anyone with this problem in our community'.

Yet the disturbing reality is that there is a high probability that all libraries and their communities do have 'those' people with adult literacy issues. Adult Learning Australia has reported that 46 per cent of Australians do not have adequate literacy and numeracy skills to function in a sophisticated society. (3)

This is a problem affecting all communities, and it is often hidden. The clues may already be there within the library, for example

** assistance sought in filling out forms

** choosing materials off shelves

** accessing the catalogue

** concern expressed by a parent about how to cope in helping their child learn to read

It is never easy for anyone to admit to having a literacy concern, at any age. This is even more so in a small country town, where it can be perceived that by admitting to needing help, everyone will find out, and a label or stigma will be attached to that person.

Libraries can also be limited by an unwillingness to explore possibilities, existing and potential client literacy needs, and creative partnerships. Successful literacy programs are those that have reached out into the community to ask for its ideas, and have been flexible in adjusting programs and services to meet the needs. These programs have also questioned the traditional print means of advertising programs and providing library resources to the community. They have explored other formats when providing library resources, and have creatively explored how to initiate awareness raising for services and programs, including using local radio, television, and more visually oriented signage.

State Library of Queensland's role

The State Library of Queensland's future directions 2002 policy highlights that it
 ... operates as a hub to a network of 330 public library
 sites in Queensland, in partnership with local
 government. Queenslanders make 21.4 million visits
 to libraries each year, and a total of 1.7 million are
 formally registered as public library members (4)

Its adult literacy services include

** adult literacy collection

** adult literacy website

** multicultural bridge

** adaptive or assistive technologies partnership

** training

** innovation grants

** promoting services eg networking, writing articles, attending conferences, providing displays

Adult literacy collection

The Adult literacy collection is housed at a central location in Brisbane. Resources from it are sent in bulk to public libraries throughout Queensland. Members of the public wishing to borrow from this collection do so through their local library, as a free service. Many public libraries hold their own adult literacy collections. A number have opted for naming this collection other than 'adult literacy', including learning collection and reading development collection.

When assisting adult literacy clients and tutors, library staff are encouraged to see the whole of a library's collections and services, including the Adult literacy collection. This has been developed with a focus on literacy resources for English speakers and for learners of ESL (English as a Second Language), and resources for tutors. The collection is not only about functional literacy, and as many formats as possible are included. There is also an emphasis on materials for independent life skills. A 2002 Australian Council for Adult Literacy (Acal) thrum described this as literacy for livelihood--not just survival, but for well being and engagement in all aspects of life in Australia. (5)

The collection includes

** teaching theory and practice books

** workbooks for students on grammar, spelling, comprehension

** novels (including graphic novels), short stories, poems, plays, biographies

** numeracy resources

** independent life skills material eg cooking at graded reading levels, modern banking, reading newspapers, employment issues

** variety of formats--print, videocassettes, taped book kits, cdroms, slow speed narration kits (Narkaling)

** ESL materials in variety of formats--again, not only functional but independent life skills encouraged eg enrolling children at school, socialising, legal, health, workplace issues

** Indigenous--collections recently weeded for inappropriate and outdated material, and new materials now being added

State Library's community services website

This aims to support librarians working over a range of specialist areas, including adult literacy. It contains

** specialist adult literacy page, a gateway to a variety of adult literacy organisations, websites, and resources

** online adult literacy brochure and poster for use by all Queensland public libraries

** information on adaptive or assistive technology

** multicultural services information, including access to Multicultural bridge, the State Library's website in 14 languages; also access to the 58 languages held

** Comserv mailing list http://www.slq. enables the discussion of community services issues within public libraries. Discussion topics include adaptive or assistive technology, adult literacy, Indigenous issues, multicultural issues, issues with regard to disabilities and ageing, and home library services. Its main use for adult literacy issues is as an awareness raising vehicle eg opportunity to promote Adult Learner's Week, grants, conferences and an opportunity for networking with public libraries and adult literacy representatives

Multicultural bridge

This multilingual website has been designed to assist public librarians to provide services in community languages. It provides information in 14 languages, with four to be added in 2004 (Arabic, Samoan, Tagalog, and German). Online newspapers and radio broadcasts, websites that provide automatic machine translations, Queensland government services, and Google access, are also provided.

Postcards and posters are available to promote it widely in the community and through the State Library's many networks. Adult Migrant Education Program (Amep) students of Southbank Institute of Tale were photographed for the postcard.

Adaptive/assistive * technologies partnership

In early 2003 the State Library, in partnership with the Local Government Association of Queensland, distributed and promoted adaptive technologies at more than 140 library sites in 100 councils in regional, rural and remote Queensland. This project has improved the level of access by Queensland's rural and remote communities to internet, library resources and other online facilities. These technologies assist people with a disability (including print disability), young children, and the aged.

Examples of software sent to libraries include Open book scanning, and Connect outloud screen reading. Open book uses a standard flat bed scanner and your computer to read out printed material eg textbooks, magazines, bills. Connect outloud is a basic screen reader which uses a speech synthesizer to read out what appears on the screen. It is ideal for viewing websites, sending and receiving email, and creating documents with its own basic word processor. These software packages are not only for vision impaired persons. They may also be used by people with dyslexia, learning development and adult literacy needs.

Library services not included in the above partnership also have adaptive technology available in their libraries, including those which have provided equipment and services through the State Library of Queensland innovation grants. They include Brisbane, Maroochy, Logan, Toowoomba and Rockhampton libraries.


The State Library provides training to Queensland public library staff, including those in regional, rural, and remote areas. This focuses on reaching out and engaging with communities by providing services for young people, the aged, people with disabilities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and people with literacy needs.

Wherever possible speakers are invited to these courses, offering the opportunity for participants to benefit from, and interact with specialists.

Vicki Belcher, the adult literacy coordinator of Caloundra Libraries, has addressed participants at a number of these courses. She has much experience in running adult literacy programs within and outside libraries, and has been a literacy tutor and coordinator of programs and promotions, a number of which are featured in this paper. She speaks to participants about the programs she has been involved in, many of them grant funded, and encourages participants to think laterally and not miss an opportunity. Opportunities are discussed for partnering and the grants available.

Possible programs are explored in the context of rural, regional and remote communities. The most recent course saw participants discussing an example raised by a librarian from a small mining town, where the correct reading of labels on very expensive and potentially dangerous equipment is essential. Rather than seeing literacy difficulties as a negative, participants were encouraged to formulate a positive plan involving networking and partnering in the community.

The plan involved applying for a small grant from the Queensland Department of Employment and Training to pay for an adult literacy tutor, and partnering within the community to resolve space, time, advertising and financial issues. For example, if there was a space issue, the program could be held in community venue other than the library. The library could provide in kind assistance (help with advertising program, free photocopying to participants, use of laptops). The program would need an appropriate title, not necessarily Adult literacy, but possibly Learning for the future or Find out about new chemicals.

State Library of Queensland's innovation grants /index.htm

These encourage libraries to explore innovative strategies for increasing and improving the community's access to, and use of, public library services. Throughout the years, a number of grants have been awarded to projects specialising in literacy and adaptive technology issues, and this paper looks in particular at the work that has been undertaken by the Caloundra and Logan libraries.

Promoting services

The State Library also promotes its services through networking, writing articles, attending conferences and providing displays. It has membership of the Queensland Council for Adult Literacy (Qcal) and Australian Council for Adult Literacy (Acal), and its staff attend conferences and workshops to keep abreast of issues. It has also promoted adult literacy services in public libraries through writing articles, providing displays and brochures at conferences and workshops, and accepting invitations to talk at literacy related events.

Queensland Narrating Service

Housed at the State Library is the Queensland Narrating Service (QNS), a nonprofit community organisation providing audio material for people with print disabilities. Skilled volunteers and staff transfer print material onto cassette or cd. Clients include people with ESL, people with a physical or intellectual disability, dyslexia, or people requiring literacy support. As QNS is nonprofit, the State Library assists by providing accommodation, purchases regularly from its catalogues, and invites it to speak at library related events.

Adult literacy services in Queensland's public libraries

Below are examples of libraries offering specific adult literacy services. Included are simple but effective programs and also quite sophisticated, often grant funded, programs. There are numerous services and programs offered throughout Queensland, many not fitting just under the heading of 'adult literacy'. Relevant services are also to be found in programs for family, computer, community and information literacy, and lifelong learning. These programs demonstrate the breadth and depth of the approach being taken by libraries and that adult literacy services within libraries are not confined within four walls, or to only providing a collection.

Rural and remote

Moranbah Library

Moranbah is a mining town of 8,000 people. The library has a close relationship with the local Tale college. One of its volunteer adult literacy teachers brings all new ESL students to the library and organises their membership. Students are mainly women who have married miners, and are from Brazil, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and The Philippines. The community language collections are well used and adult literacy material is requested on bulk loan. Collections are housed in the main section of the library, and not in a back corner. Moranbah records the second highest usage of community languages in Queensland for Country Lending Service libraries. It now has a new library, and plans are underway for the meeting rooms to be made available for use as a training centre for adult literacy students.

Dalby Wambo Public Library

Dalby holds a regular monthly meeting in the library, attended by 15 adults who are interested in enhancing their literacy. The meetings, which have been running for 18 months, began through two people approaching the library to ask if it was possible to start an adult literacy group. They felt there was a real need for contact with others in the same circumstances, to raise awareness of the problems encountered, and to be able to seek assistance without any attached stigma. At least one staff member attends each meeting, which has a chairperson. The library advertises the meetings in a monthly newsletter, which is available in print and on the library's website. Posters also advertise the group and their current projects. The local newspaper and community radio station advertise for the group and the library.

Mt Isa City Library

Mt Isa is a mining community, and the mines, the library, and the Tale college have had a long history of providing adult literacy and language courses, and support to its residents. In the past, Mt Isa Mines provided English classes for its many male migrant workers.

Mount Isa Library assists the Mount Isa Community Adult Literacy (Mical) Group to provide one on one tutoring of adult literacy learners. This nonprofit organisation coordinates tutors for adults with literacy disabilities. The team leader of Mount Isa Library is an active member of its management committee. The committee holds meetings in the library and Mical's resources (laptops etc) are housed in it. Mical and the library team also organise and run events for Adult Learners Week. The use and location of Mical's laptops is monitored by the library, as the laptops are lent through the library's circulation system.

A special collection of adult literacy resources is held in the library. These text, audio and video resources are freely available to all members of the community.

Library services to Indigenous communities

Library services to Indigenous communities website lib/ indig/index.htm This website supports librarians providing services to Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Knowledge Centres (IKCs)

The State Library, in partnership with Aboriginal and Tones Strait Islander Community Councils, has established eight IKCs since 2002. These are Wujal Wujal, Mabuiag Island, Erub, Lockhart River, New Mapoon, Arukun, Pormpuraaw and Poruma. The IKCs offer free community wide access to library resources, and include materials to support the oral and visual traditions of Indigenous peoples.

A number of the centres, such as at Arukun and Wujal Wujal, have begun to develop youth and intergenerational programs. For example, at Wujal Wujal, the IKC has a daily homework club. This is run by the Women's Justice Group (elders) for the children attending the Bloomfield School. They arrive by bus at 3.15pm and often stay until about 5.30pm. The library provides the venue, alternative resources, stationery and tutorial assistance. Afternoon tea is provided when all the students have completed their tasks. They are then allowed to watch videos, work on the computer or play games. Whilst this is not an adult literacy program, it is highly successful in its continuing participation levels, and having an intergenerational approach to family literacy.

Zine workshops (Brisbane City Council Libraries)

Zines are handmade publications for, and by, teenagers that combine elements of personal journals, newsletters and magazines. Many young people with literacy difficulties enjoy zines. Workshops to show young people how to produce their own zines have now been seen by a number of libraries to be an excellent literacy promotional opportunity, and in recent years Caboolture Library pub/grants/01/01cab.htm gained an innovation grant for a workshop.

Presently, zines workshops are being held weekly at the Brisbane's Inala Library, and include Indigenous high school students. The workshops have attracted boys and have been successful in getting them engaged in finding out about creating their own zines. These skill building sessions support literacy, and have enabled students to produce their own zines around the Stylin' Up Festival held in May in Inala. This free outdoor music and dance event is a showcase of Indigenous and non Indigenous youth culture.

'Words speak louder' innovation grant 2002(Caloundra City Libraries) dra.htm

This grant involved an Indigenous community engagement program, designed to 'energise and develop positive collaborations between libraries and indigenous communities within Caloundra City, and to grow sustainable and effective partnerships that contribute to capacity building within the wider community'.

Included in the objectives was to develop culturally appropriate library resources (mini expo conducted by publishers and booksellers, with Indigenous people invited to select material for the library to purchase), and to contribute to the enhancement of literacy within the Indigenous community.

Enhancement of literacy skills occurred through innovative library programming that recognised the value of older people as catalysts to learning for young people in the context of Indigenous family and societal values. The Caloundra Libraries' literacy coordinator was involved in the consultation process with the participating community.

This community indicated that literacy programs were not an urgent need, but that computer literacy was an emerging need for Indigenous families. Programs needed to be appropriate to their learning styles. Parents with no basic computing skills, and no computer at home, wished to engage in the learning experience of their children. A program was developed and delivered to meet these needs, and was attended by a wide age range and males and females, with the library's Indigenous library trainee assisting. Emphasis was on creating a nonthreatening learning space, and ensuring participants did not feel embarrassed or 'shamed'.

Metropolitan library services in south east Queensland

Logan City Council Libraries

Logan is home to more than 170,000 people from over 160 cultures, and the council actively celebrates diversity. It has a young population, with more than 50 per cent aged 30 or younger. Logan Libraries have conducted numerous programs over the years to promote libraries as welcoming and inclusive spaces.

Its community services librarian has developed close partnerships with the Tafe college, and the many community centres that support this diverse community. The librarian regularly visits Tale to talk with new tutors who are being trained.

One of the community centres recently received a Queensland Department of Employment and Training grant to run a program aimed at improving Logan residents' life skills and the family situation. An integrated and holistic approach was sought, rather than a one dimensional program focusing only on literacy.

Sessions covered included emergency relief information and computer skills to assist with looking for employment. The community services librarian attended one of the sessions to talk about what libraries could offer, and emphasised that there was more than books to be found in the library space. Free photocopying in the library has been offered for those doing literacy courses.

The community services librarian has also fostered good relations with a number of the multicultural community centres. In particular, Multi-Links now conducts a regular program for young refugees in the community. They are shown a number of services in Logan, and one of the sessions includes a highly successful visit to the local library. Many of the young people involved have low literacy, but are naturally attracted to the computers, videos, music, picture books, and other visual materials.

In 2003 Logan Libraries received an innovation grant from the State Library. The Reading and literacy for families (Ralf) program provided free adult education and literacy workshops for parents, carers, and their children under five. It focused on promoting public library services and resources to a target group of parents and carers enrolled in community adult literacy and numeracy classes, young single parents and members of the general public from a variety of backgrounds.

The program included intergenerational workshops focusing on developing literacy skills and creating a learning environment through practical hands on sessions with parents and carers working with their children, program presenters and library staff. The main emphasis of the Ralf program was to promote existing library services and collections to parents and carers, through the creation and distribution of an information resource package and the display and use of library resources throughout the workshops.

Long term goals of the Ralf project include developing a partnership with parents and carers involved in the program to help pass on skills and knowledge learnt while attending sessions, through their involvement in future workshops with other participants. Workshops were conducted throughout March and June 2004. innov03.htm#Logan

Caloundra City Libraries

Caloundra's Adult literacy program has been running for many years. It provides tutoring programs for volunteer tutors and a variety of programs for the large numbers of adults in the community who have difficulty with everyday, functional literacy. Volunteer tutors work on individual programs with students, for 1-2 hours a week, in a library, home or community venue. There are also weekly literacy classes at Beerwah and Kawana libraries.

Over the years there has also been a number of innovative, grants funded programs reaching out beyond the library to a variety of people in the community. One program has even involved a group meeting in a garage.

The innovation grant funded Words' speak louder Indigenous community engagement program has already been mentioned. Other grant funded programs have included

** Family learning program 1998 involved parents together with their preschoolers, and aimed at assisting adults with low literacy prior to their children's school entry. The program encouraged parents to participate in their children's learning through improving literacy and numeracy skills, and encouraged greater community communication by increasing literacy skills and self esteem. oun98b.htm

** Leading edge libraries and community learning 2003 aimed to promote lifelong learning opportunities responsive to the cultural diversity, ages and lifestyles of the community (included zines project for young people, homework help program with Indigenous components, Indigenous leadership program targeting young women, learning for life expo for older learners) ov03.htm#Caloundra

** The 2004 Onsite program http://tapinonthe reached out to 18 talented young artists who needed professional and technical skills development, and arts industry communications training. All of the participants had some disability which inhibited and disadvantaged them in their work, communication and daily lives. This initiative was funded by Arts Queensland, The Queensland Arts Council Regional Arts Fund, Maroochy and Caloundra Ralf, and supported by Caloundra City Council.

Caloundra Libraries' adult literacy program role in Onsite was to provide tutor training for 10 professional artists who would be working with the budding young artists, and tailored adult literacy and numeracy training for the 18 participants. (6)

A journey without end

Work in the adult literacy field is never finished. Libraries cannot afford to become complacent or rest on laurels earned from successful programs. The reality is that one off events are neither as effective nor have the longterm benefits of a series of well planned programs. The successful programs above lead to conclusions applicable to all programs, not only to adult literacy programs

** literacy opportunities for life are present in a number of promotional activities, including lifelong learning, computer, family, community and information literacy programs

** adequate, well planned, funding is needed

** there needs to be recognition that the individual has value in the community and in assisting with the planning of a literacy program

** community consultation is vital. It is essential not to offer an unwanted program

** be prepared to be flexible and change the program to suit clients needs

** specific library resources are needed to back up programs

** positive sustainable collaborations and partnering in the community is essential

** there needs to be recognition that other services in the library can be called upon to assist with programs eg photocopying, lending laptops

The need to keep the fire constantly burning on this issue is also critical. Regular awareness raising programs for public library staff and the community is vital in providing access to adult literacy resources, advice and support services, activities etc. No matter how small a community, literacy levels impact on the health and well being of all of its members. There is, indeed, a great opportunity for progress during the United Nations Literacy Decade, to promote literacy services 'for livelihood--not just survival' (7) and for Australia's 1600 public libraries to deliver the welcoming message to their communities, 'Come join us in the library'. (8)


(1) Whitlam, M Chair of the National Consultative Council for International Literacy Year, 1990 Alia, Literacy & Public Libraries Sections Adult literacy: the role of Australian public libraries, Melbourne, Alia 1991 foreword

(2) Cram, J Potential unexploited: public libraries and adult literacy paper presented at the Literacy for living 12th national conference of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy, 1988

(3) Literacy link: newsletter of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy April 2003 p2

(4) State Library of Queensland Smart libraries build smart communities: future directions of the State Library of Queensland Brisbane, State Library of Queensland 2002 p4

(5) Dickson, D ACAL forum: recent arrivals in Australia -literacy for living Literacy link: newsletter of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy December 2002 p12

(6) Belcher, V ONSITE--an innovative arts training program Literacy link: newsletter of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy December 2003 p 10

(7) Dickson op cit

(8) Cram op cit

* 'Assistive' is increasingly the usage worldwide, but 'adaptive" is sill common in Australia ed

Debra Cooper has worked in university and public libraries for nearly 25 years, 14 in public libraries in Australia and the UK in Cald, ageing, disabilities and adult literacy areas. During her time with the State Library of Queensland she has worked in the community services area and has been the acting consultant for 18 months. Address: Public Library Services State Library of Queensland PO Box 3488 South Brisbane Qld 4101

Received June 2004
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Title Annotation:State Library of Queensland
Author:Cooper, Debra
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Geographic Code:8AUQU
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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