International Literacy Day

September 8 was proclaimed as International Literacy Day by UNESCO in the fall of 1965. It was first celebrated on September 8, 1966. The aim of this day has always been to bring attention to the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies worldwide.

The US Bank Room at the Multnomah County Central Library was buzzing with excitement from 1 to 4pm for this year’s International Literacy Day. Representatives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Portland Literacy Council, Londer Learning Center, Multnomah County Library Outreach Services and more were on hand to help people learn about local GED classes, citizenship classes, literacy tutoring, and much more. The room was alive with people chatting, colorful poster board displays, and piles of pamphlets. Earl was recognized for recently obtaining his US citizenship and had his photo taken several times!

After visiting several tables in the US Bank Room, Earl and I headed up International Literacy Day-themed Pop-Up Museum in the Collins Gallery. The public had been invited to share an object in a show and tell style (the object needed to be related to literacy). I brought a small book called I Am Not a Pest by Marjorie and Mitchell Sharmat. This book was one of the first books I read on my own when I was a child. I had scrawled my name on the cover when I was just starting to learn to write. Earl brought a piece of his former Friends of the Library messenger bag (a cut out of a large Multnomah County library card). He told us how he had filled this bag with so many library books that it eventually gave out over time. Michelle DelCarlo, the creator of the Pop-Up Museum, describes Pop-Up Museums as “a space where these conversations lead to deeper, meaningful dialogue and connections between people.” Earl and I enjoyed chatting with others and looking at the objects that were meaningful to them. Other objects on display were a large dictionary that had been a family heirloom for decades and photo of the one-room schoolhouse in which an attendee had learned to read in as a child.

After visiting the International Literacy Day events, we decided to check out the John Wilson Rare Book Room. This room was recently reopened to the public after a 1.5 year renovation. A library staff member brought us up to the room via a private staircase located in the southeast corner of the second floor periodicals room. Earl and I perused the collection carefully– all of which is organized neatly behind locked glass doors. We talked in excited whispers when we located the first editions of Little Women, L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and other great titles. It was such a treat to look through and learn about this collection.

While looking around the US Bank Room, reflecting on the conversations I had with people at the Pop-Up Museum gathering, and visiting the John Wilson Rare Book Room, I came up with a short list of things people can do to promote literacy in Portland:

  1. Donate books to the Friends of the Multnomah County Library, the Children’s Book Bank, and the Portland Books to Prisoners program.
  2. Start or join a reading club. Use www.meetup.com to meet others with similar reading interests. The Multnomah County Library has this great page on their website to help you get started.
  3. Volunteer with a literacy organization. Check out the Portland Literacy Council, SMART Oregon, the Children’s Book Bank, the Londer Learning Center.

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