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Let’s get literal.

February 21, 2020

As academic librarians, we deal most frequently with information literacy — in instruction, collection development, and reference. But what about the other important literacies our students and campus communities are working to develop?

At Penn State Harrisburg, we are working to address the five literacies deemed essential for informed citizens by PA Forward(TM) to help our students, faculty, and staff feel educated and empowered in their lives.

We aren’t the only academic library to join PA Forward(TM) — but one of a growing number. It seems like some academic libraries don’t realize that PA Forward(TM) is for ALL Pennsylvania libraries, not just academic ones. You’re probably already doing PA Forward(TM) programming at your library or on your campus — you might just not realize it.

So what does PA Forward(TM) look like in the life of an academic library? Here is a rundown of one year of literacy events at Penn State Harrisburg, coordinated by our librarians. Some programs are created and delivered entirely by our librarians, and some are done in partnership with a campus unit or a local organization.

February: Health Literacy

Screening of Period. End of Sentence.: This is an Oscar-winning short documentary about the quest to make and sell affordable menstrual products in rural India. The documentary is available for free educational screenings as long as you have a Netflix account. We followed our screening with a discussion about the documentary, provided resources on where to get free menstrual products on campus, and collected donations of menstrual products for our campus food pantry.

March: Information Literacy and Basic Literacy

Online Privacy Workshop: Who’s doing what with your personal information online? In a one-hour, hands-on workshop (developed by our colleagues at Penn State Berks and used under a CC license) we will help students explore what information they are sharing, who is collecting it, and what they can do about it. Students will leave with a personal data plan for protecting their information online.

Penn State Harrisburg Reads closing event. This year, we read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson as a Common Read. This semester, we hosted Sarah Koenig, creator and host of the podcast Serial, which deals with topics similar to  the book. We also hosted a short writing contest, and the winners will be honored at our closing event, where we will also reveal next year’s book selection. Events promoting reading and writing are perfect for the Basic Literacy category.

April: Civic and Social Literacy and Financial Literacy 

There are many important literacy dates in April! April 1 is Census Day; April 4-11 is Money Smart Week, and the Pennsylvania Presidential Primary is April 28. So many opportunities for programming and outreach!

Census: We are working with the Pennsylvania State Data Center to promote the Census and will have open computer lab days for students to complete their census forms online. At these events, we will also have resources so students understand why the census is important, and what will be done with their information.

Voter Information Workshop: Prior to the end of the voter registration period for the presidential primary, we will host a workshop for students that covers voter registration information, and how to prepare to vote. Many of our students may be voting for the first time, and would like to know how to verify their registration status, how to look up their polling place and their ballot, how to find unbiased resources about candidates and their platforms, and what their rights are as voters.

Financial Literacy for Adulting: We will host a financial educator from PSECU for this workshop where we will cover how credit affects your ability to get a an apartment, apply for a mortgage or car loan; strategies for student loan and other debt repayment; questions to ask before consolidating or refinancing student loans, and the basics of retirement and health accounts you might encounter in your first “real” job.

Sharing the Load

Beyond programming, we will also provide handouts, create displays, and share information on our social media accounts related to these literacies. It may seem like a lot of work, but many of the programs can be run repeatedly after they are developed with minor tweaks. Using existing programs or bringing in a programming partner helps decrease the burden as well.

Turn out for these events is typically between 10-20 students, which is a successful number for us. We also hear a lot of positive feedback from students — they aren’t getting this kind of information from other sources. Overall, PA Forward(TM) has been a great success for us! I encourage you to try out a new program and see what happens.

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