The 21st Century Literacies Initiative: An Interview with Kathy Silks
Many academic librarians provide course-integrated library instruction to improve upon the information literacy skills of our students, helping them succeed in college and become lifelong learners. Many of us also have an interest in assessing the information literacy skills of our schools’ students in order to improve our instruction programs, to demonstrate the value of our libraries, and to contribute to the scholarly literature of our field. Some are also discussing shared concerns or collaborating with with local school and public librarians to ensure students come to college with the skills they need to succeed in higher education. Pennsylvania’s 232 academic libraries are part of the state’s “People’s University,” many providing public access to print and electronic research collections and historical archives, supplementing the collections available at their local public libraries. These academic libraries also helped many Pennsylvanians earn degrees in higher education. I recently interviewed Kathy Silks, PaLA’s “Libraries and 21st Century Literacies” project manager, to help academic librarians learn more about this literacy initiative and better understand how it involves academic librarians.
But before we get to the interview, I have a special comment from Glenn Miller, Executive Director of PaLA:
“I was struck by the common-sense clarity of Megan Oakleaf’s presentation at the CRD Spring Workshop at Bloomsburg University. She reminded me—and she reminds us all—not only that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but also why we need wheels (libraries) more than ever! She underscores the reality that libraries face a never-ending calling—to educate and persuade decision-makers at universities, in school districts, and within state government and municipalities that fund public libraries—and to enlist the alumni, students, parents, and the public-at-large in this vital mission.
“Megan’s thought-provoking talk laid out a number of creative ways that our efforts to educate and persuade might take shape. But better still, her insights dovetail perfectly with PaLA’s new initiative—PA Forward (Libraries and 21st Century Literacies)—which, when launched officially in early 2012, will provide all library advocates with new topics, tools, and techniques to position libraries as essential players in powering Pennsylvania’s future. PA Forward is the result of nearly three years of hard work, from brainstorming to branding. We are excited about the vision and hope that PA Forward represents, and thrilled that Kathy Silks, a passionate library advocate and persuasive communicator, is on board as PA Forward’s Project Manager.”
(Glenn R. Miller, PaLA’s executive director, is reading All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone by Myra MacPherson.)
Amy Deuink: Kathy, as project manager for the PA Forward: Libraries and 21st Century Literacies initiative, you are a new face at PaLA. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Kathy Silks: Amy, thanks for the opportunity to do so. On the professional side, I previously worked for 26 years at WITF, central Pennsylvania’s public broadcasting organization, where I held vice presidential positions in corporate communications, community relations, and development. I’ve devoted much of my work and volunteer life to literacy-related initiatives; I’ve been a trustee of Dauphin County Library System since the mid-’90s and served as board president for two years. I’m also a non-recovering biblioholic. And now you know why coming to work at PaLA feels like landing my dream job.
AD: I’m glad we have you! What is your role in the project?
KS: I’m managing PA Forward / Pennsylvania Libraries, a marketing and advocacy initiative designed to secure the future of library services. It will focus public attention on the ways libraries will help power Pennsylvania’s future progress.
AD: What do academic librarians need to know about the 21st Century Literacies initiative?
KS: PA Forward redefines the library’s role within the context of five literacies that Pennsylvanians must attain to achieve success as citizens, parents, students, employers, employees, and consumers: basic literacy, information literacy, civic and social literacy, health literacy, and financial literacy. For academic libraries, PA Forward will strengthen the public’s perception that academic institutions provide great benefits to their local communities by sharing resources and services with the community as well as students and faculty.
AD: Many of the state’s academic libraries are open to the public (including collections, services, and programming). What else can we do to support this initiative?
KS: In 2011 we’re laying the groundwork for publicly launching PA Forward in early 2012. Until then, here are several actions you can take: Prepare yourself to communicate effectively about PA Forward and the concept of the five literacies with your staff, college/university administration, and board. Ask your institution to formally endorse PA Forward and make a financial contribution to support it. Use the five literacies as the framework for the services and programming your library offers.
AD: Just for fun, what are you reading right now?
KS: A phenomenal book, a beautifully written memoir by Rick Bragg called The Prince of Frogtown. His language brings back the atmosphere of the deep South that I remember from my years in south Georgia, and it’s also spot-on about the challenges of first-time step-parenting — navigating unknown territory.