Information Centers and Literacy

By Crystal Logan-Syrewicze

In their policy manual on National Information Services & Responsibilities, the ALA states that literacy is a basic right for all individuals in our society and advocates that libraries have the responsibility to make literacy a top priority (50.6.2).

It is necessary to understand that literacy encompasses more than the basic understanding of the written word. Thomas Frey (2010) posits that there are as many as 18 different types of literacy. Frey writes, “Basic reading and writing forms of communications will no longer be sufficient for the workforce of the future.” It is then our priority as librarians to provide the information necessary to combat illiteracies in these proficiency areas.

Child literacy is of paramount importance, as it is the building block for adult and other forms of literacy. Libraries are information centers for parents, providing books, early childhood programming (MacLean, 2008), and summer reading programs with incentives and rewards to make reading engaging (Celano & Neuman, 2001).

In regards to health literacy, a library should offer materials that will educate people, such as the Memphis Public Library’s Health Information Center, which includes local health information, general health concerns, pharmaceutical information, and more.  However, patrons may not always have the skills necessary to understand the information presented. Many libraries cannot afford to employ staff that are health specialists, so libraries should reach out to non-profit organizations such as the Health Literacy Wisconsin coalition to provide further education.

Libraries are critical in technology literacy if only that they are the only access to high-speed internet for 28% of Americans who do not have home access (Dewey, 2013). But there is much more libraries can offer – computer classes, database coaching, instruction in job search retrieval and material creation, device education. Technology literacy can even be introduced in childhood, with libraries offering computers and devices for their younger populations to become acquainted with.


Celano, D. & Neuman, S.B. (2001). The role of public libraries in children’s development: An Evaluation report. Retrieved from

Dewey, C. (2013, August 19). The 60 million Americans who don’t use the Internet, in six charts. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Frey, T. (2010, June 28). Next generation literacy. Retrieved from

Haycock, K. & Sheldon, B.E. (2008). The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

MacLean, J. (2008). Library preschool storytimes: Developing early literacy skills in children. Retrieved from

3 thoughts on “Information Centers and Literacy

  1. Crystal,you have done a great job of advocating for all literacy types! Do you feel information centers can or should focus on one specific type of literacy? Is there one type that is particularly more crucial, or that information centers have an advantage regarding?

  2. Being from Minnesota, I’m always suspicious of anything from Wisconsin. Just kidding. I think that a partnership with the type of organization such as the Health Literacy Wisconsin coalition is a terrific way to create a win-win and get the message out to patrons and consumers. “Informed decisions” means information, and what better place to showcase that information that at the library.

    I think that all of the blog topics in this site show the need for greater communication and more technology to achieve a higher degree of literacy. I also think that partnering with the community and community organizations is a real strong strategy. It serves the objectives of the partnership, gives real value, and is a clear benefit for the patrons.


  3. What a great overview of literacy! When we talk about literacy, we tend to talk about it in terms of reading books, but as you’ve pointed out, literacy can be about health knowledge as well as computer knowledge. It is our job as librarians (or future librarians), to advocate for all types of literacy. And to make sure that our libraries, as institutions, to provide resources for all of these different types of literacies.
    Just as we would want the children in our libraries to be able to read the books they are surrounded by, we want our older patrons to be able to use the technology that is available to them, and want our patrons to be able to access important health care information.

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