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Adult literacy rates, a concern before COVID-19, will have a critical importance in post-pandemic recovery, especially when considered as a factor in labor shortages.

According to 2020 estimates published by the National Center for Education Statistics, 28% of California adults have a low level of literacy proficiency.

These adults can be considered at risk for not comprehending print material or may struggle with basic vocabulary to the degree they are functionally illiterate. English skills are necessary to fully participate in American society.

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Fortunately, resources are available across California to address the needs of adult learners from local governments, nonprofit organizations and community volunteers willing to help. Library-based literacy programs throughout the state serve thousands of residents annually.

Adults can improve reading, writing and speaking skills, achieve goals and contribute to family success. Libraries provide information-rich, welcoming environments where learners can flourish and become familiar with networks of service providers including adult schools, community colleges, employment centers and others to meet the varying needs of learners.

Excellent support in the form of training and grant funding is provided by California Library Literacy Services, a program of the California State Library. The program is supported by state funds provided via the California Library Literacy and English Acquisition Service Program, and by local contributions to individual literacy programs.

Pleasanton Public Library is seeking volunteers for its adult literacy programs. (Photo courtesy Pleasanton Public Library)

The literacy initiatives program is supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the state librarian.

Pleasanton Public Library has been a long-time CLLS member. Pleasanton Reads is open to Pleasanton residents aged 18 and over, who are either native English speakers or English-as-a-second-language (ESL) learners and read below the eighth-grade level.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the success of the program relied on more than 100 library-trained volunteers to assist more than 200 students through one-on-one or small group tutoring, conversation practice groups or book clubs. Students also received support to prepare for U.S. citizenship or GED or high school equivalency tests.

Julie Eseltine has been public services librarian since 2009 and a co-coordinator of Pleasanton Reads — Adult Literacy and ESL Services since 2016 at Pleasanton Public Library. (Photo courtesy Pleasanton Public Library)

About 40% of tutors and learners continued working together remotely in the early days of the pandemic and are gradually returning to in-person meetings. Since the library reopened a year ago, in-person conversation groups have resumed, and library literacy staff have begun to recruit and train new volunteers.

Program coordinators are focused on goals intended to restore pre-pandemic service levels: secure additional funding, collaborate with new service partners and reach underserved populations in the community.

Serving as a literacy volunteer provides a meaningful and interesting experience for tutors and a priceless, life-changing gift to learners. The library provides training, tutoring materials and resources, and meeting space at no cost to participants, and volunteers can choose from a variety of roles, including:

  • One-on-one or small group tutor — in person or virtual
  • Lead or help with English conversation practice groups
  • Provide citizenship or other standardized test preparation
  • Book club host

Volunteers meet with students once weekly for 90 minutes plus prep time.

Pleasanton Reads welcomes native English speakers and multilingual volunteers who are:

  • Age 18 and over
  • Fluent in American English
  • Patient and able to work with people from various backgrounds
  • Familiar with American culture

Prior tutoring experience and working knowledge of internet-based resources, apps and video conferencing software is useful but not required.

For more information, contact Pleasanton Reads at literacy@cityofpleasantonca.gov or (925) 931-3405. Pleasanton Public Library is located at 400 Old Bernal Ave., Pleasanton.