Stories from the field – Libraries ACT

Canberra has a reputation for being packed with tertiary educated public servants – and there are plenty. At the same time, the estimate from an ABS study[1] is that 31% of adults in the ACT do not have the literacy skills they need to comfortably navigate life. Explaining that figure is not as simple as considering those who are literate in other languages and learning English. It represents the substantial part of our community who for many reasons haven’t developed the skills to write and read as well as they would like.

The public library supports literacy in many ways, and is an obvious choice for children and adults learning English. One of the reasons I fell in love with public libraries is the potential they have to make a difference in the lives of people who need it the most. Libraries are important for middle class families and working professionals. But for people who don’t otherwise have access to information and resources – whether that’s because of skills or finances or just knowing what’s out there – libraries change lives. The people who may never walk through a library door by themselves may be the people who could benefit the most.

Recently at Libraries ACT we decided to make a direct impact on adult literacy, especially for adults who have grown up speaking English. We want to provide support that is sensitive to the difficultly adults face in admitting they need help to read and write the language they can speak.

Our adult literacy program is still in early stages. We are recruiting volunteers with a view to putting them through suitable training and matching them with clients referred from partner services. We are partnering with a local community centre, a child and family centre, and the Through Care program with the Alexander Maconochie Centre. The idea of the model is to form a team around the learner: learner, case worker, volunteer tutor, and library. The tutoring will be practical, learner centred and goal focused.

Once the learner begins to develop literacy skills, their world opens up. We are looking forward to helping them discover everything else the library has to offer – from free wifi, music and movies, to tech help, learning programs, and of course, books.

If you or someone you know would be interested in volunteering with this program, please contact

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[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey