For International Literacy Day we asked Barbara Marcus, President & Publisher at Random House Children’s Books and Women’s Forum of New York member, the following question: “What are the 3 most important things IWF members can do individually to make literacy more accessible to all?”
1. Value reading
Accessibility is not the only barrier to growing readers. If one does not value reading, then literacy may not even be a priority for people who are well educated and those who value education. Think of yourself as an ambassador for reading. Read whatever you enjoy and share your love of reading with anyone and everyone. Join a book group, read aloud to young people to engender a love of reading in them early and help make them literate citizens. Bring books into your home as you would with art and hobbies you enjoy and put them on display. Buy books and pass them on. Pass them on to groups who have less access to books. Give books as gifts to folks of all ages to help them see books as part of their lives. We often take reading as a given, as something that everyone values, but there are many people who have never had reading as part of their upbringing. You can change that.
2. Make literacy organizations high on the list of your charitable giving
There are many countries where the literacy rate is less than 60%. One of the ways you can make literacy more accessible is to donate to agencies that get books into the hands of children. These agencies understand that owning and/or access to books is the most important way to foster literacy. There are many you can choose from. Books For Africa, First Book serving after school programs and providing books and resources to kids in North America, Reach Out and Read working with parents as soon as they have given birth to make reading an important part of raising a child. Donors Choose is helping educators across the United States by providing items needed in the classroom, including books. Amanda Gorman has just teamed up with Estee Lauder to create a set of writing grants worth $3 million to promote literacy among girls and women. Your corporation could make literacy part of your giving. Also, there are many local charities that focus on reading and book distributions. And, after a natural disaster there is always the need to rebuild public libraries and school libraries.
3. Make time to volunteer to read
There are also many programs where you can volunteer and read to children. Hospitals, schools, libraries, after school programs, churches—are open to having guests who are vetted to come in and read and talk to children about the importance of, and their love of reading. To share your favorite book or a story about how reading took you to a place you had never been to before, may be just the inspiration a child needs to open their first book and get hooked. I read at a school in New York City where 30% of the children live in shelters. It is a challenging and sometimes distressing situation to see children join a classroom anytime during the year even a week before the end of school. Teachers and administrators are handling this constant shift in their population. If you can engage with those children who need the support, reading to them is an important gateway to literacy. Also bringing in enough copies to leave behind for a classroom builds literacy by allowing children to either choose a book that they want to take home, or read them again, building their confidence.