The Library is the Community’s Center for Developing Many Forms of Literacy

By Karen Danczak-Lyons

The public library has always been the communal center of literacy in the American experience. Throughout 2018, we at the Evanston Public Library will strive to make it an important third location in the lives of Evanstonians after home and work or school. That means we are focused on stretching our mission, expertise and resources beyond the traditional definition of literacy – to continue redefining literacy for the 21st century. While the basis of all literacy may be the ability to read and write, we believe a more expansive definition of literacy is relevant: literacy is understanding and knowledge, and the ability to use that knowledge to accomplish one’s goals.

Per the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy 2008 Annual Report, financial literacy is “the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being.” There is confidence in everyday independence when one fully understands how financial, credit and debt management come together as we make financial decisions and plans. Not everyone has the resources, experience, or early training to become financially literate.

Through our partnership with the Center for Economic Progress (CEP) income eligible Evanstonians have access to free financial advice related to the preparation of taxes. In addition, the CEP “Progress on the Go” bus visited in early 2018 with 40 feet of computers, Wi-Fi, tax help, credit advice, and money management tips. We are prepared to help our community better understand financial issues and take control of their financial lives.

Our approach to improving digital literacy is anchored by Thursday Tech Tutorials. Most Thursdays, skilled coaches are available to answer questions or help solve technology problems. We encourage participants to bring their computer, smartphone or tablet for one-on-one help with a technology instructor. We are a resource for Evanstonians who seek to get everything out of the technology that affects almost every phase of our current and future lives.

But digital literacy also can include gauging the validity of a website or creating and sharing videos. The American Library Association says, “digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information.” These kinds of programs underscore our commitment to expanding what equitable access to resources means for Evanstonians.

We also are focused on expanding the cultural literacy of our community. This means much more than our monthly book discussions. They make for great communal engagement of African-American literature, history books, non-fiction, science fiction, general fiction, and even graphic novels.

It also includes hosting dynamic speakers, such as hip hop poet Kevin Coval discussing his new collection A People’s History of Chicago; author Dr. Fakruddin Muhammedali Adamji as he shares his recent memoir Zanzibar to Chicago: A Bohra Muslim’s Search for God; and a talk by Prof. Marc Lynch of George Washington University as part of the partnership with Northwestern University’s Middle East and North African Studies program (MENA).

This doesn’t even touch upon our continued growth to strengthen political, STEM, artistic or visual literacy. All of it is wrapped tightly in our expertise of information literacy, provided each day by our librarians who know how to sort facts from fiction and point our patrons in the right direction.

No matter the literacy target, we fully embrace our role in nurturing it and in providing every Evanstonian equitable access to those resources which will keep them informed and help them make fact based decisions.

Karen Danczak-Lyons has been the Director of the Evanston Public Library since 2012. The Library was founded in 1873 and serves a highly diverse and evolving community. More than 1,600 people use its resources and services every day.


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