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Literacy = Dallas Public Library

Dallas Public Library, TX
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Innovation Summary

In an effort to brand the Dallas Public Library as the symbol of Literacy in Dallas and align it with other Literacy agencies in Dallas, the library started volunteer ESL and GED programs and created a one-stop Literacy webpage containing up-to-date local literacy resources for staff and customers to access.

Problem Statement

Twenty-one percent of Dallas County residents are functionally illiterate. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 32% of Dallas County residents speak a language other than English at home, 44% of North Texas residents are foreign-born or children of foreign-born parents and nearly 25% of adults 25 years old or older do not hold a High School diploma or equivalent. Our librarians are fully aware that the library is the go-to-place for literacy resources including books, audio-programs, and literacy program referral for Dallas residents. However, our stakeholders, the community and our fellow literacy providers are not as aware. As part of the library’s initiative to brand itself as the symbol of Literacy in Dallas and proactively join its literacy partners, the Dallas Public Library created a Literacy webpage and started volunteer-led literacy programs, including English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and GED test preparation classes. Since 2012, Dallas Public Library ESL and GED classes have served over 900 adult learners at ten library branches. The Literacy webpage is easily-accessible from the library’s homepage and offers information and resources on Dallas Public Library literacy programs, library databases, online resources, community literacy programs, literacy volunteerism and the Literacy Coalition of Greater Dallas, a collaborative of literacy agencies in Dallas. The website is used regularly by library staff providing customer referral, community literacy providers and by customers.


The Dallas Public Library used a three-fold approach to aligning itself with Literacy in Dallas: connecting with literacy providers in Dallas, engaging literacy advocates in the community, and increasing its literacy-related presence online. The Dallas Public Library has taken a leading role in the formation of the Literacy Coalition of Greater Dallas, a collaborative of nearly 20 Dallas-based literacy providers working together to coordinate resources, build awareness, and promote literacy in order for residents of Dallas to compete in the 21st century. The library’s participation in the Coalition keeps the Library linked to its fellow literacy providers, up-to-date on literacy issues and readily available for partnership opportunities. Consulting with existing literacy agencies assisted the library in establishing its own volunteer-led literacy programs, including ESL and GED classes. These volunteer opportunities allow non-traditional library users to establish a new kind of relationship with the library, as well as, secure a better understanding of the library’s value and relevancy in the community. The library’s literacy programs have 49 active volunteers, 73% of which are under the age of 40. The creation of the library’s Literacy webpage has helped to recruit volunteers and increase the library’s literacy-related web presence. Prior to the creation of the library’s Literacy webpage, the Dallas Public Library appeared on the third page of a Google search using search terms “Dallas” and “Literacy.” Since the publication of the Literacy webpage, the Dallas Public Library comes up on the first page of a Google search. By taking this three-fold approach, the Dallas Public Library has erected a solid foundation from which to grow and promote its status as the leader of Literacy in Dallas.


By aligning the Dallas Public Library with literacy in Dallas, the library becomes associated with literacy efforts in the city, not just books, not just information, not just education, but literacy – the ability to read, write, compute, solve problems and function in order to reach one’s potential. Achieving this opens doors to community engagement, volunteerism, partnerships, funding, and most importantly concrete value and relevancy for the public library. Current efforts have already resulted in thousands of dollars in additional funding, 49 new volunteers actively engaged in the library, and 903 adult students with a new understanding of the role the library can play in their lives. The literacy webpage has saved librarians from hours of independent research for literacy referral and ensures information provided to our customers is accurate and consistent. When asked how the Dallas Public Library’s literacy programs have changed their lives, one student said, “I’m grateful. Without these programs I wouldn’t know where to turn to.” Another student said, “I used to look up to Billy Mayes, the OxiClean guy. But now, thanks to the GED program, I can go for my GED and be a pharmacy tech instead of selling OxiClean. Thanks to the teachers and this program, I can make something of myself.”