If you were at a party this holiday season and happened to see a librarian giving an exasperated roll of the eyes, there’s a good chance that someone just exclaimed, “I always wanted to be a librarian so I could sit and read all the time!”

Yes. We do read a lot — emails, memos, book reviews, policies and incident reports. But any reading of Stephen King’s latest is on our own time — in between cooking dinners, overseeing homework, walking the dog and doing laundry.

Of course, most librarian’s jobs are centered on encouraging reading — for relaxation, for education and improving minds, to expose people to ideas and the democratic process and to raise the economic standards of the community. Also, they’re centered on simply teaching people how to read.

Subscribe to our weekly arts & culture newsletter

The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2019 that just over 20%, or one in five, of all U.S. adults have low English literacy skills, or are “functionally illiterate,” and unable to easily perform most of the basic reading required for daily modern living.

Two-thirds of this group are native-born and have been through the U.S. education system.

Hayward Public Library, like many Bay Area libraries, offers a wide array of unique literacy services, focusing on both individual learning and individual goals. Rather than a one-size-fits-all curriculum, tutoring at libraries is learner-driven.

Goals are diverse and specific: Get a driver’s license; attend parent-teacher meetings; read the Bible; decipher the order slips in a restaurant kitchen. Working toward specific goals keeps learners and volunteer tutors highly motivated, making every success that much sweeter.

As you may imagine, the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders disrupted tutor-learner meetings. But programs like Hayward’s Tech Lending Library and our Learn-and-Own program (placing refurbished computers in the hands of learners), and the many online resources we added to support continuing learning, kept these programs strong.

A happy learner picks up her computer as part of the Learn-and-Own program at Hayward Public Library. (Photo courtesy Hayward Public Library)

Despite some loss of participants, last year, our 105 tutors recorded 1,840 hours of work, and our 95 learners logged another 4,944!

The biggest challenge for many learners is that a certain basic level of English fluency is required before they can be matched with a tutor. To assist with this preliminary process, and to keep learners not yet paired with a tutor engaged, libraries introduced innovative programs. Hayward started its very popular English conversation circles, where learners can improve or maintain their skills, build confidence and — for many who are new to the area — build social groups.

An unexpected bonus that grew out of this program is the Spanish and French conversation circles Hayward now offers. Community members can practice other language skills using this relaxed format. And better yet, all the Spanish conversations circles so far have all been led by former students of the literacy program, who have the skills and the desire to give back to the community and truly exemplify a successful learning journey.

Literacy and language capability are among the best predictors of career success, but few of us think of the role literacy plays in our personal comfort and happiness. We love to read books for pleasure, but what about the exit signs on the freeway, or the label on a prescription drug, or the holiday card your niece sends you?

I remember the story of a learner several year ago — let’s call her “Janet” — who came to my then-library for assistance. Janet had been raised through the foster care system and had attended 18 schools and graduated high school unable to read.

Literacy programs benefit the whole family — like this family picking up a computer from Hayward Public Library’s Learn-and-Own program — and support from family members can be key to success. (Photo courtesy Hayward Public Library)

Fortunately, she fell in love with a young man who helped and supported her through all situations that required reading. When she was in her early 60s, Janet’s husband died unexpectedly. Janet was devastated not only at losing her beloved life partner, but also by suddenly finding herself unable to function independently in the world.

Were we able to help Janet? Of course we were!

I am so proud of Janet, and learners like Silvia, who recently led a book discussion about John Lewis’s “March: Book One”; or Yurong, who can now chat with her neighbor; or Mandy, who could ask for help at the supermarket. And I’d like to start 2022 off with heartfelt thanks to all library literacy programs and our dedicated and wonderful volunteer tutors!

To find out about becoming a tutor or a learner at Hayward Public Library, please contact us at literacyplus@hayward-ca.gov or (510) 881-7910. To find out about a literacy program at another library in California, please go to: https://libraryliteracy.org/programs.

Jayanti Addleman, Director of Library Services at Hayward Public Library (Photo courtesy Hayward Public Library)

Jayanti Addleman has been the Director of Library Services at Hayward since 2019 and had the privilege for overseeing the opening of the beautiful new 58,000-square-foot library in the heart of downtown.

Unfortunately, the building had to close six months later because of the pandemic, but Addleman credits her very innovative team for pivoting and continuing to successfully serve the community.

Addleman has long been passionate about the need for universal literacy and was the 2015 winner of the California Library Association’s Outstanding Librarian in Support of Literacy award.

When not doing library work, Addleman loves traveling, cooking and growing vegetables and fragrant flowers. Though she is an avid reader, Addleman does not count reading among her top hobbies.