When writing press releases, you might be shocked to learn that most public information officers and marketers are taught to aim for a third-grade reading level– and that writing above a sixth-grade reading level may be too advanced for many readers.
What does it mean to write at a third-grade reading level? According to the South Dakota Department of Education’s standards, characteristics of a third-grade reader include the ability to write a paragraph using supporting details, capitalize geographical names, holidays, special events, and book titles, and identify and incorporate interjections in the writing process.
The impact of limited literacy is as individual as it is far-reaching in our society, particularly on earning potential. According to Forbes Magazine, adults with a minimum proficiency level of literacy earned $21,000 more per year than those below proficiency and nearly $30,000 more than those at the lowest literacy levels.
Reading can mean dollars and cents for your residents and can also be a driver of better mental health. Research on over 2 million people across the globe by the University of East Anglia shows correlations between lower literacy levels and depression.
Libraries and recreation centers are conducting quality-of-life-enhancing work to increase literacy levels throughout the country by offering a range of programs and resources. Let’s look at seven ways we can measure the influence and impact of libraries:
Libraries and recreation centers often organize literacy programs and workshops to engage community members in enhancing their literacy skills and fostering a love for reading. Programs vary by age, interests, and community demographics, but one library mainstay is summer reading. In California, Shasta Public Libraries’ Summer Reading program attracts nearly 1,600 children, teens, and adults each year, resulting in 500,000 minutes and 2,000 books read collectively during this time.
Libraries provide access to a wide range of books and educational resources, with many offering extensive digital collections. In 2020, public libraries in the United States loaned an estimated 2.2 billion materials, enabling individuals to engage in reading and learning. Collections are carefully tailored to local populations to ensure the titles residents want and need are readily available. In Florida, Sumter County Library System serves The Villages, an active over-55 community with nearly 80,000 residents, and neighborhoods where families and children reside. Books and digital materials are selected for the varied audiences in this community and balanced by the library branch and resident population.
Image courtesy of Riverside County Library System
Public libraries and recreation centers support digital literacy by providing computer access and technology training. In 2020, over 90 percent of public libraries in the United States offered public Wi-Fi, enabling individuals to access online educational resources and develop essential digital skills. The Homestead Cybrarium in Florida provides approximately 500 programs to 11,000 people each year, many focusing on digital literacy. The Cybrarium is one of the only public libraries to offer dedicated virtual reality stations as a prominent and on-demand service. By blending VR with creative library programs, the Cybrarium motivates kids and teens to explore new academic interests and potential career pathways.
Libraries and recreation centers prioritize outreach efforts to underserved communities, bringing literacy programs and resources to those who may face barriers to access. Through bookmobiles, pop-up libraries, and community partnerships, they reach thousands of individuals who might otherwise lack access to reading materials and educational opportunities. California’s Riverside County Library System Library Connect Vans bring library services to underserved regions of Riverside County and offer literacy skill-building programs. From Wi-Fi and laptops to educational craft kits, STEAM, and job readiness programs, the vans deliver literacy support throughout the 7,000-square-mile county.
Image courtesy of Riverside County Library System
Community assets encourage family engagement in literacy activities. Family-oriented programs, such as reading clubs and parent workshops, contribute to increased parental involvement in children’s literacy development. Research indicates that parental involvement positively impacts children’s reading achievement and fosters a lifelong love for learning. The Simi Valley Public Library in California makes the most of its beautiful outdoor Discovery Garden by offering Family Literacy Storytimes and lending free passes to California State Parks. California Library Parks Passes provide equitable access to state parks, support outdoor education, and encourage families to spend time together outdoors.
Libraries and recreation centers cater to diverse linguistic and cultural needs within their communities. They offer materials and resources in multiple languages, promoting inclusivity and fostering literacy among diverse populations. These initiatives support language development and cultural understanding, contributing to increased literacy across communities. In California, Escondido Public Library provides a robust Adult Literacy program for those who speak English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) by offering reading activities, books, craft projects, and writing practice.
Libraries and recreation centers collaborate with schools and educators to support literacy initiatives. Joint efforts, such as author visits and literacy-focused events, enhance students’ reading experiences and reinforce the importance of literacy within formal education settings. Florida’s Osceola Library System and the School District of Osceola collaborated to offer a new way for Osceola students to access library resources. The Osceola Library Link (OLL) Access Pass gives all K-12 students unlimited access to Osceola Library eResources and up to three print items through their virtual cards. 56,000 students received instant Library access in the project’s first year.
From medical documentation and insurance forms to legal agreements and contracts, daily life is filled with verbose legalese that even the most proficient reader may struggle with, let alone a reader achieving only a 3rd-grade proficiency. The service public libraries provide to increase literacy, enhance community and family values, and provide technology access is proven – and measurable. Programming and activation are the keys to unlocking your local library’s potential impact in your city.