Why a library and a literacy organization are hosting a birthday party for NPS

Tree huggers

We love our cottonwood tree!

Thursday, August 25, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service #NPS100. The Organic Act of 1916 created a new agency with the mission to “….to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Marshall Library and Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota love to celebrate, but we especially want to celebrate the National Park Service because, in the words of author Wallace Stegner, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

The NPS oversees 412 areas throughout the United States and its territories. These places offer to all of us recreation and education. They preserve natural lands and culturally and historically significant sites.

The kids and tree in the photo above represent all of us. Many of us do not know the names of the plants and animals in our immediate environment, and we are not making connections between our actions and the environmental costs of these actions. In a 2013 Benchmark Survey Report by the National Environmental Education Foundation, only 23% of adults surveyed said they had a somewhat higher knowledge than average about environmental issues. On cultural and historical issues, a 2014 Annenberg Public Policy Center survey revealed that 36% of adults surveyed correctly named the three branches of the federal government, but 35% could not name one of the branches. The kids in the photo above, by the way, could name all three branches, at least during our leadership learning unit! They were not so good at naming plants, birds, or arthropods.

We need to have both environmental and cultural literacy in order to uphold the democratic idea that Wallace Stegner highlights and to ensure our young people have the legacy preserved by NPS. Public libraries like the Marshall Lyon County Public Library are likewise the product of democratic ideals, intended to provide access to information and ideas that promote an educated citizenry. Not everyone is going to be able to travel to Acadia in Maine, the Dry Tortugas in Florida, Denali in Alaska, or Haleakalā in Hawaii, but we can learn about them and experience them through the print and digital resources of our local public library.

For LV*SW*MN, celebrating the National Park Service relates to our mission. The literacy goals of our learners include improving their historical, cultural, and scientific literacy. In creating our curriculum, we draw upon resources created by the National Park Service (as well as state parks and historical societies) and upon the firsthand experiences of our tutors and learners who have visited these sites. Our learners who are immigrants and refugees want to know about U.S. history and geography to better understand their new home. We consider the NPS as a natural partner in supporting our learners.

The final part of our mission statement, advocacy, means that we advocate for literacy and the people and organizations that make the various forms of literacy available to all people. This includes environmental and cultural literacy as well as citizenship education. NPS plays a crucial role in promoting these literacies, so we need to advocate for continued support for the work they do and for the infrastructure of the physical NPS sites. Happy Birthday NPS!


Counting steps raises literacy fitness

Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota is asking people to take steps for literacy here in southwestern Minnesota in order to raise awareness about literacy needs locally and globally.

Day 1 trek Comm Serv

Cam Bailey, City of Marshall Rec Coordinator, with Candace Thomas, LV*SW*MN Director

Cam graciously agreed to a photo when we stopped by the Marshall Community Services office on our walk to literacy and lifelong learning sites near downtown Marshall on 8/12/16. Cam knows as much about the need for lifelong physical activity and fitness as anyone I have ever met, and he and his staff work hard to provide opportunities for all ages. We at LiteracySWMN want people (as they are able) to walk and run over the next few weeks to promote their health and well-being. But we also want to encourage them to raise their awareness about literacy needs locally and globally and to check out their own literacy fitness levels. Most of us need to grow our own health, financial, or tech literacy skills, for example. Our volunteers who tutor support others in meeting their literacy fitness goals.

Walk with us and share your steps. We will update them on the website every day. You can use social media to note them using #litswmnsteps or text or call them in to 507-401-7337 or email them to literacy.swmn@gmail.com.

Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota is joining the International Literacy Association (ILA) in its 2016 “Steps to Advance Literacy” initiative because awareness is important and advocating for literacy is part of our mission. The initiative’s theme connects with International Literacy Day on September 8, 2016. ILA wants to raise awareness about the number of children worldwide who must walk long distances to reach a school. A child’s location and lack of safe physical access to a school is one of the major barriers to education in developing nations. As part of this initiative, ILA is asking individuals, classroom teachers, schools, and community organizations to count their steps as an awareness activity during some period from now through the end of 2016.

During the next few weeks leading up to International Literacy Day on September 8, 2016, we will share information about literacy locally and globally  via this website and on Facebook and Twitter @LiteracySWMN

Where else did we go on our walk? The Adult Community Center, the Marshall Independent, and SW Adult Basic Education’s Marshall Adult Learning Center. We finished up our walk at the Marshall-Lyon County Library in time to offer Tech Tutors on Friday afternoon. We will share more information about these and other community literacy and lifelong learning resources in the days to come.

Day 1 trek ABE

Pat Thomas, Marshall ABE Director, and Will Thomas (no relation), Literacy Volunteer, at the Marshall Adult Learning Center in the Lyon County Government Center.

Babies and literacy

Will and I have had the joy this week of welcoming a new granddaughter to our family. Today while we were fixing supper for everyone, we overheard our son-in-law talking to our 2 1/2 year-old grandson. Dad was telling this new big brother that he was going to be able to teach his little sister the names for so many things as they spend time together. This little girl is lucky for many reasons, but for certain she is going to grow up in a word-rich environment.

Literacy Volunteers of SW MN programs support family literacy for all ages, including babies. The Association for Library Service to Children’s initiative Babies Need Words Every Day focuses on bridging the 30 Million Word Gap by having libraries support parents in building their children’s literacy skills from birth. Here’s a booklist from ALSC with titles that are good choices for reading with babies. Check with your local library to find these books for your own children, consider these as good books to give as gifts, or select these books to donate to organizations like Literacy Volunteers that provide family literacy services and books to families who are developing their literacy skills.

Keep up the good reading! Candace

babies need words

New grant-funded position

Thanks to a Community Innovation Grant from the Bush Foundation, we are adding a new staff position to our office. This person will be working as our Family Engagement Project Specialist in partnership with a person in SMSU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Please see here for the Family Engagement Project Specialist 2016 job description.

Email applications are preferred. Send the required documents as attachments in PDF or MS Word files to literacy.swmn@gmail.com. If an applicant does not have access to email, then items can be mailed to Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota, P.O. Box 737, Marshall, MN 56258.

Applicants should submit a cover letter indicating the reasons for one’s interest in this position and highlighting relevant experiences and qualifications. Along with the cover letter applicants should submit a resume and 3 professional references who can speak to the applicant’s abilities, work ethic, and qualifications.

Applications will be reviewed as they arrive beginning on August 1, 2016 on an ongoing basis until the position is filled.

Be a Citizen Scientist

Sci Sat 6-18-16

We hope to see families this Saturday, June 18, 2016, at the Marshall-Lyon County Library.

Please note that we will have both age groups in the Community Room and will stagger the start times. The focus for “Bee Connected” is on pollinators and plants that are easily observed by younger children. For older children and their special adults, we will have some science activities related to “phenological” observation and also offer some links to resources that allow non-scientists to contribute to scientific research and data collection.

Summer is a perfect time to explore the outdoors and the night skies. Teaching children to be aware of nature and the amazing science behind what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste is important. Allowing children and young people to inquire about and explore science topics that interest them might contribute to a lifelong interest in science.

Below is a link to suggested resources for Citizen Science:

Citizen sci resources


Tech Literacy Needs

Thanks to our board secretary Julie Walker for this post! If you are interested in becoming a tech tutor, we need volunteers on Friday afternoons from 3-5 p.m. at the Marshall-Lyon County Library and for special classes.

Log into computer. Reply to email. Upload document. Check social media. For many of us, these are everyday tasks. Without thinking, we download apps, craft résumés, build profiles, and navigate the Internet. Not everyone shares our ease.

When I was pursuing my Master’s degree in Mankato, I became involved with a technology training program through the Adult Basic Education program. Much like what Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota does, we taught group classes and matched individual learners with tutors, all free of charge.

I was floored when I started working with learners. Adults from 35 to 68 came to learn how to use the computer. Most people weren’t asking about how to best format a document or learning search terms. They wanted to know which button on the mouse to click, what an Internet browser is, and when to single or double click. Hunting and pecking for keyboard letters was a painstaking process. We couldn’t talk about email basics like the difference between “CC”ing or “BCC”ing someone because so many learners didn’t understand where to type in the email address … or really even how to get the cursor on the address line … or what the cursor was for some.

Many learners were referred to us from the Workforce Center. They’d only used computers before to check in and out of work or maybe to play solitaire. Few understood the wealth of information available through the Internet, such as looking up symptoms for health concerns, seeking resources about education services in the area, or applying for jobs.

A whole population of learners were eager to understand what they’d been missing online. They wanted to find work. They wanted to connect with family members. They wanted not to feel stupid for not being able to do what they saw children doing. Many asked for help from family members or friends to learn about technology, but few had people patient enough to answer basic questions. Few recognized how much there was to learn for basic skills prior to being able to do everything they wanted to do.

My parents, an accountant and an engineer, still do not have the Internet at their home. They do not have smartphones. And that’s okay. Technology is not something everyone needs to choose to have in their homes, but everyone should have the opportunity to understand what is available and to learn the skills needed to accomplish their goals.

Learning from Dad

We are happy to begin a series of posts from our board members and volunteers. First up is our current board chair, Rick Herder.

My father came of age during the Great Depression and was forced to drop out of school after the eighth grade in order to help support his family. He went on to serve in the U.S. Marines and own a series of successful businesses. Despite his later success, he always regretted dropping out of school. When I was in high school Dad enrolled in an evening class where he studied for his GED. For reasons he never shared with us, he eventually stopped attending the class and never earned his diploma. I always suspected he was too busy with work. Then again, it might have been embarrassment. He was at least 50 years old at the time and he might have felt uncomfortable as the only “old guy” in a class filled with much younger students. I can never know for sure why he never earned his GED, but I am confident it was not because he lacked the ability. Dad was a talented businessperson and an astute observer of political affairs. In his later years he served as the mayor of our small town.

One of the things I learned from my dad was an abiding respect for hard work and for working class people. Through his words and his actions, Dad let us know that people who lack degrees are not unintelligent. To the contrary, they are more likely to be smart, resourceful people in search of opportunities for themselves and their families. A couple decades ago while living in Florida I began to teach evening adult education classes on a part time basis. It was a highly diverse student body that included high school dropouts, Haitian refugees, Latin American immigrants, and inmates at the county jail. Some of my students wanted to learn how to read. Some of them were studying for the GED. Others wanted to improve their English. I thought of my dad often during those years and about his respect for hard work, public service… and learning. He helped me to understand that every student has potential and every student has a story worth hearing. One of the reasons I agreed to serve on the board of Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota is because I want to advance that message. Our organization serves many types of learners including children and parents in Family Literacy/ECFE classes, English Language Learners in our Tuesday evening drop in tutoring classes, and many more. No matter who they are or what they are studying, at LV*SW*MN we believe our students have amazing potential and stories worth hearing. If my dad could sit in on our classes he would smile. My mother was a teacher and she would do the same. But that is a story for another day…

Dr. Rick Herder, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Southwest Minnesota State University, Chair of the board of Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota