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Want literacy? Libraries and ‘giving libraries’ have your back

April 29, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongMediaPurpose


Full disclosure: Will Bleier is a student at Temple University's Klein School of Media and Communication.
Kristina DeVoe usually has students come to her at the onset of an assignment or research project.

DeVoe, the English and communication librarian for Temple University Libraries, connects students within the university’s English department and the Klein College of Media and Communication to library services.

Libraries, whether they are public, university-affiliated, or take other forms, play a critical role in fostering literacy — and they do it in a wide range of ways.

Temple University Libraries

The work DeVoe deals with is mostly considered information literacy, she said, which is how information is formed, processed and how it’s “valued within a community and within a society.” It also calls for “reflective discovery,” she said.

“The library, and all the staff here, we build and provide access to collections,” DeVoe said. “Collections that run the gamut and run across different types of media formats and types, but also represent multiple perspectives, voices, and ideas.”

“[T]hat kind of diversity of information is good, because that provides opportunities for students to sort of get out of an echo bubble, or echo chamber,” she said.

But here’s where it gets “squishy,” as Devoe put it.

Literacy can be interpreted through an infinite number of lenses. Some of the most common in DeVoe’s opinion are information literacy, media literacy and digital literacy. Different scholars could have different opinions on what material is covered under certain lenses.

Media literacy includes an awareness of the media we use and come in contact with on a daily basis, searching for any underlying messages and determining who is producing or who owns that media, DeVoe said.

Digital literacy relates to us as digital citizens, she said, and the ability to complete online tasks like looking for a job, getting daily information and navigating social media platforms.

2019 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. (Photo from Temple University Libraries Facebook page)

Earlier this spring, DeVoe’s library hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon where students had the opportunity to learn the basics of the platform, and then were encouraged to correct and expand upon content related to prominent women and women’s issues.

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They have also held workshops geared toward navigating misinformation, detecting it and strategies to develop against it in any form of media.

“I do think overall libraries provide this really fascinating, engaging space for users, whether they are students, whether they are families, whether they are community members, anybody,” Devoe said. “They provide the space for anybody to come in, and to engage in conversation, activity, learn something new, create something new, to better themselves, and be reflective along that process.”

Free Library of Philadelphia

Queen Memorial Library -Free Library of Philadelphia Oculus Rift demo, March 2019. (Photo from the Queen Memorial Library Facebook page)

Elizabeth Gardiner, the branch manager and children’s librarian at Queen Memorial Library, part of the Free Library of Philadelphia system, led a literacy-building program at a nearby elementary school.

The program was called “Building Bridges with Books” and it consisted of multiple literacy-based activities, where Gardiner would visit the school and the children would visit her at the library. Gardiner would read to the kids and complete activities.

(Photo: QMB Facebook page)

“The kids would always be interested,” Gardiner said.

Twelve low-performing schools throughout the city participated in the program, visiting different libraries based on location.

Gardiner also works with the library’s older patrons. They often need help developing digital literacy skills.

Her library and its public computers provide the space to complete activities, like browsing social media, applying for a job and creating a resume. Gardiner said she often answers questions related to spam messages, and has to quickly educate users about how to avoid it.

The library has a wealth of resources aside from physical books, including ebooks, audio books, research databases, DVDs and more, she said.

“One of the main goals of the library is to provide a non-judgmental, cost-free space for people to come and ask questions,” Gardiner said.

Sadly, the grant funding for the “Building Bridges with Books” program ended at the end of March.

Gardiner still sees many of the kids who went through the program continue to visit the library and check out books — the kids in the program who didn’t have them already were issued library cards.

“Without the school trips to the library, those kids might not have been exposed to our facility, and they might not have known what we do,” Gardiner said. “And then pretty much beg their parents to come back.”

Tree House Books

Tree House Books. (Photo: Tree House Books’ Facebook page)

Michael Brix, the executive director of Tree House Books, gets to give away books for a living.

The North Central Philadelphia-based non-profit operates what they call a “giving library,” which means all of the books in their collection are donated and people of all ages are able to browse, take their selections home and keep them forever.

Tree House Books.

(Photo via

“We are really about making sure that people can build those home libraries, because we know that that’s an important component of success,” Brix said.

Tree House books also sets up tables at community events and local recreation centers to give out books. The organization gave away 81,000 books last year through all their programs.

They also have an after school program that works with local daycares where the kids read a book with an instructor and then work on letter and sound recognition.

Brix said they hope to grow to offer programming aimed at building adult literacy skills, and also expand their availability of computers.

The closest library to Treehouse books is about a mile away, Brix said, and so the organization is able to fill any gaps when it comes to accessibility to books, which help build literacy.

“There’s always a need for places that people can come together and do good things and have fun together,” he said.

“And this is a great space for that to happen,” he added.

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