American Dream Literacy Initiative: Louisville Free Public Library

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Courtesy of ODLOS - the ALA Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services

Libraries are often the first place new Americans turn to for support, whether to learn English, connect with community services, or to learn about American culture while celebrating their own heritage. American Dream libraries are the new community centers for English language learners, offering not only language instruction but also camaraderie and civic engagement through clubs, events, and services.

For the Louisville Free Public Library, investing in the education of the thousands of new refugees who arrived in the metropolitan area each year is a top priority. To help new Americans and international students become more self-sufficient in school, work, and life, the library created English Conversation Clubs, which provide one-on-one assistance and help foster ties to the community.

With their American Dream grant, the library was able to purchase iPads and software to help students study for citizenship and GED exams, improve their pronunciation, and learn English idioms and grammar.

Fuqian Yuan, an immigrant from China and Conversation Club member, said the club and the iPads have helped him immensely.  “I have learned English for over eight years in China. However, my speaking and listening was terrible,” he says. “When I first came to the club, I just want to see how it was going and I was not sure whether I could get what I needed. But now I can tell you that the club is working great. The iPads are also very helpful to me with pronunciation apps. I have met a lot of nice and good people and am learning how to understand Americans better.”

For Becky Eckburg, a Conversation Club volunteer, the iPad apps provided a quick reference and assistance during her tutoring sessions.

“There were times where I would struggle to explain a certain word, or a student did not know the English translation of a cultural word and had difficulty explaining it,” she says. “At these times it was so useful to quickly type in the word we wanted translated, and there were lots of ‘aha’ moments after the translating apps helped us!”

The iPads also provided a bridge between cultures when students used them to look up maps and photos of their home countries. “This was a wonderful way to help quieter students open up and try their English, because they were excited to share about their families and cultural traditions,” Eckburg says. “I loved learning more about these things as well!”

Libraries play a vital role in American society. They are centers of learning and opportunity that welcome all members of the community to freely explore new possibilities, access educational programming, and enlighten the mind. For many new Americans, the wealth of digital and print information at their local library, coupled with the educational programs that are available, serve as valuable catalysts for the pursuit of their American Dream.That’s why the Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to invest in libraries through the American Dream Literacy Initiative. When we first started the American Dream partnership 10 years ago, it started with 44 libraries receiving $5,000 each.

Since 2008, 188 libraries across Dollar General’s market area have received more than $1.5 million to help build innovative and effective literacy programs for adult English-language learners. With these grants, libraries have developed new courses, expanded their print and digital collections, increased access to technology, implemented new strategies for inclusion, and developed sustainable partnerships with organizations across their communities. These enhancements and expansions have resulted in increasing access and opportunities for thousands of individuals across the country.