Thursday, November 30, 1989

Ventura Co Library - Officials Seek Federal Grant for Adult Reading Programs


Adults who read at lower-grade levels would benefit from a $25,000 federal grant Ventura County library officials want to augment adult reading programs.

The Board of Supervisors has approved applying for the money from the U.S. Department of Education but it won't know until June 1990 if its programs are selected for funding, said Pat Flanigan, coordinator of the county Library Services Agency's adult literacy program.

"It takes a long time," Flanigan said. "They have to read through grant applications from all over the United States. We have to compete with them, and we're never sure we're going to get what we ask for."

The grant would be used, in part, to set up a new adult reading center at Oxnard Adult School facilities at the Camarillo Airport and to expand use of the Adult School's reading lab in Oxnard, Flanigan said.

Some money will go to buy easy-reading books that appeal to adult interests, and increase training for volunteer reading tutors, according to the grant application.

While earlier local programs have targeted people who cannot read at all, the county now is trying to find people who can read, but only at a low grade level, Flanigan said.

"We're discovering that there are many people who have some basic education, but it's just not enough to meet the goals - social or professional - that they've set for themselves," she said.

Often, such people had to drop out of school at an early age, or suffered learning disabilities that prevented them from progressing past basic reading levels, she said.

According to state Department of Education figures, an estimated 82,000 or more county residents read below the fifth-grade level, and of those people, nearly 58,000 can't read at all, Flanigan said.

People who have basic reading skills are easier to reach than non-readers
because they can read newspaper articles and advertisements geared to reach them, and because "they don't feel as stigmatized as people who don't read at all," she said.

Flanigan said that it is hard to convince non-readers to participate in the reading program because they are embarrassed to admit they can't read.

But many lower-level readers are often eager to increase their skill.

The county has some books for adult readers and plans to spend a recent $5,000 gift from Bank of A. Levy and much of the $3,500 raised during a fund- raising spelling bee in October on new purchases, Flanigan said.

In the early days of adult literacy programs, available books catered to elementary school-aged children, but since a national push began to teach illiterate adults to read, publishers have been turning out more books on adult subject matter, she said.

"We have more adult materials available now than we ever had," she said.

Since the county's adult literacy program began in 1984, more than 1,500 county residents have been interviewed, tested for reading proficiency and either referred to other community programs or matched with tutors. Volunteers have donated more than 15,000 hours of tutoring time, she said.