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Literary Lots: Literacy and Community Engagement

By Felton Thomas, Cleveland Public Library

August 2014

As we bring the second annual Literary Lots program to a close, I would like to reflect on the themes of community and collaboration that have made this unique program a success. At Cleveland Public Library, we have never been content to sit back and wait for people to come through our doors. Literary Lots provides an opportunity for us to be out in the community, so that people don't even have to walk through our doors, they just have to walk near the building.

We were immediately drawn to the Literary Lots program last year by its potential to bring our community together. Literary Lots activated a park space surrounding one of our neighborhood branches, which prior to Literary Lots had a reputation as being one of the most underutilized public spaces in this neighborhood. For a short time both last and this summer, this same space became a bustling hub of activity that was filled with children and families from the early morning story hours to the late night movie showings.

What helped ensure the success of Literary Lots was the partnership between businesses, individual artists, and community organizations that shared the same enthusiasm for the event. Having great collaboration enabled us to share the effort of creating and promoting such a large event. Each partner had unique skills to bring to the table, which made the completion of tasks much easier. This was helpful for understanding the overall conceptual shape of the event, plus helped build awareness for some important details we might have otherwise overlooked. Together it became something so much bigger than any one program the library, or any of the partners, could have offered.

Closely related to the partnerships that are such a key to the success of the Literary Lots is the engagement of the local community in order to leverage its resources. This program provides an opportunity for our community to showcasing our talents while offering a place to celebrate books and reading. Literary Lots has cultivated diverse partnerships that will work to ensure its sustainability.

Not only did Literary Lots bring an amazing group of partners together, it brought families and neighbors together. It was so refreshing to see families connecting in this space at a time of year when other summer programming is ending, and school is yet to begin.

The Library will always do what it can to support reading and celebrate books in our community. For the past two years Literary Lots has been able to draw out a love of books, storytelling and writing activities in a fun, free and educational way. Together with our community partners we have been able to provide an environment of learning that is accessible for everyone.

According to the landmark literacy report Becoming a Nation of Readers, the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. This is as true in 2013 as it was in 1985, when the report was released. With the corollary activity of storytelling, reading aloud is a core function of the most effective intervention programs that target children, regardless of location in the world.

While reading aloud is recommended as an activity to share with all children, it is an especially effective and necessary strategy to use in literacy intervention with youngsters who are struggling with reading. Sharing books aloud links books and reading with pleasure and serves as a strong motivator for children who otherwise associate reading with work, failure and struggle.

Literary Lots is fostering this intervention and family engagement specifically around literacy. We know that parents play a critical role in the eventual reading success of their children and how an intergenerational approach to literacy benefits both children and their families. Basically, if children are engaged in literacy activities from an early age, and this normally requires the participation of parents, they will be prepared to learn to read when they enter school. Granted, some literacy intervention will always be needed because of various socioeconomic barriers and learning disabilities that interfere with effective learning. However, wherever they live in the world, parents who take an active role in their children's educational development, starting in infancy, will help them avoid the problems of illiteracy and aliteracy and will contribute to their ultimate ability to achieve reading proficiency.

In the area of literacy instruction, writing is closely linked to reading, and getting students to express themselves in writing is a critical instructional strategy. For that reason, incorporating writing into literacy programs is another best practice of Literary Lots.

CPL's goal for Literary Lots is to bring together the passion, creativity, innovation, skills and knowledge in our community that is required to help adult learners and youth to achieve reading proficiency and to acquire a love of reading, as well as to prepare very young children to arrive at school ready to learn to read and to become motivated readers. Maybe even to inspire others to embark on the important work of combating literacy and aliteracy so that the skill and pleasure of reading will prevail and flourish throughout our city.

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