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This exploration begins with the history of libraries in the United States, examining the ways in which Jefferson’s library, the Library of Congress, and Benjamin Franklin’s ideas about libraries intended to address public literacy levels and problems. Changes to the structure, function, and role of libraries in public life are discussed in terms of the changes made since the first libraries were founded in the US with an eye toward developing public literacy and critical literacy as presently understood. Finally, the current practices of public libraries, including their support for community reading projects, their use as sites of literacy instruction (both ESL and basic education), and their use of technology and related functions are explored to see how libraries contribute to the goal of improving adult literacy in America. Two case studies will show how public libraries function as key sites and librarians as key supporters of this goal.


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