Promote Literacy

Literacy: the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, achieve one's goals, and develop one's knowledge and potential.
—American Library Association Committee on Literacy 

Basic, functional literacy is an essential skill for an individual’s personal and professional growth—it is also key to their full, beneficial use of a library’s services and programs.  Yet, according to a study conducted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education and National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S.—14 %—cannot read. 21% of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19% of high school graduates can't read at all.

The implications of these statistics are alarming, indicatiing that many adults cannot identify a specific location on a map, complete a job application or an insurance form, understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, or effectively help their children with homework.  

With a long tradition of providing resources and services for adults wanting to improve their reading and writing skills, libraries are committed to helping children and adults develop the skills they need to survive and thrive in a global information society.

The American Dream Starts @ your library

“Here in the library you are in good hands. Welcome to the United States.”
—An English language learner from Turkey.


For more than a century, public libraries have been a cornerstone of the American Dream, providing equal access to information of all kinds. In fact, libraries are among the first American institutions immigrants turn to for help in learning how to read, write, and speak English.

Since January 2007, the American Library Association (ALA) has funded 100 libraries in 28 states through its American Dream Starts @ your library initiative. Each library received a onetime grant of $5,000 to add or improve literacy services to adult English language learners and their families.

The 100 American Dream libraries expanded ESL collections, taught classes, hosted conversation circles, trained tutors, increased computer access, build community partnerships, and raised the library’s visibility.

This initiative is generously funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

Articles about literacy

Forty miles north of Chicago, the Waukegan (Ill.) Public Library (WPL) is giving new Americans the skills and confidence to improve their lives and “pay it forward” to their neighbors, thanks to support from the American Dream Starts @ your library initiative.Carmen Patlan, WPL’s community engagement and Spanish literacy manager, credits the initiative for giving the library the resources to structure classes that are helping individuals achieve their American Dream. The grant has enabled the library to hire a coordinator who works with a team of ambassadors to reach out and engage the community, conduct market research, and assess the community’s needs and the barriers that may prevent its members from succeeding. The library can then address these needs. READ MORE
The Township of Plainsboro, New Jersey, is known for the global pharmaceutical corporations and advanced technology laboratories that call it home. Located between the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas, the community attracts a diverse population from all corners of the globe. More than 46% of its residents speak a language other than English at home—and the number is growing. READ MORE
Because libraries make leaders, Libraries Transform, Essex County (N.J.) libraries—Bloomfield, Montclair, and South Orange—have joined together to provide literacy assistance to all county residents.Located just outside Newark and New York City, the county’s libraries serve a population diverse in background, ethnicity, economic status, and education. Roughly one-third of its population speaks a language other than English. In recent years, South Orange has seen an influx of Haitian immigrants actively seeking English-language learning opportunities. Working with Literacy Volunteers of America, the public libraries of Essex County provided publicity and space for volunteer training, instruction, conversation groups, and individual and small group tutoring. “With the American Dream Starts @ your library funds, we were able to add much more to the English as a second language (ESL) materials than we had before,” says Lin-dita Cani, head of reference and library services for the South Orange Public Library. These materials included DVDs and CD-ROMs. READ MORE