two women smiling while looking at paperLiteracy programs in California’s public libraries change the lives of nearly 16,000 Californians every year. They help adults learn to read and write and achieve their goals and aspirations. They help families succeed.

Library-based literacy programs are successful because public libraries are trusted spaces at the heart of the community. Libraries are information-rich, welcoming environments where learners can flourish.

Adults in California’s library literacy programs achieve personal goals such as learning the alphabet, reading a book for the first time, getting a job, sharing a book with a child, reading a medicine label, volunteering in the community, and voting.

California Library Literacy Services was developed in 1984 as the first statewide library-based adult literacy service. Since then, library literacy programs have helped more than a quarter of a million learners and their families.

Adult Literacy Services

Trained volunteers provide tutoring for English-speaking adults with low literacy skills. Tutoring is provided in one-to-one and small-group sessions and is tailored to each learner’s individual goals and aspirations. Tutoring sessions take place in comfortable spaces in the library and other welcoming places in the learner’s community.
Two people smiling at table
In addition to tutoring, staff and volunteers connect learners with other library programs and resources and other community services. Some libraries recruit learners to work as staff members or volunteers, and learners often serve as program ambassadors.

Learners also have the opportunity to take part in supplementary programs that support their progress.

  • The Adult Learner Leadership Institute (ALLI) helps adult learners develop leadership, communication, and advocacy skills.
  • The Writer to Writer Challenge encourages learners to develop their reading and writing skills by writing letters to the authors of books that have impacted their lives.
  • The Key to Community project helps learners become more engaged in their communities and better prepared to participate in local, state, and national elections.

Family Literacy Services

Family literacy services focus on adult learners and their family members–older and younger generations alike. Families take part in programming, are connected to resources and each other, and are given materials to take home and keep. 
A woman holding a book and two children pose for a photo
Programming includes storytimes, games, music, and concept learning activities to help adult learners support their children’s education and development. Program staff help adults develop their confidence and skills and learn how to select books, read to their children, and foster a love of reading.

Staff also help adults strengthen their connections and communications with educators, healthcare professionals, and family members, and navigate the systems and services that affect their families.

In some communities, family literacy services are provided using specially-outfitted vehicles that visit low-income housing developments, migrant camps, local day care centers, Head Start programs, and recreation centers in hard-to-reach and underserved communities.


image of man writing on whiteboardTrained volunteer tutors provide adult learners with one-to-one or small-group instruction based on each learner’s pace and goals. Tutors meet regularly with learners, report on learners’ progress, and participate in ongoing professional development. Non-tutoring volunteers help with program operations. Meaningful relationships develop from the learner-tutor partnerships and the volunteer’s experience can be almost as transformative as the learner’s.

Library literacy staff coordinate and manage library literacy programs. They support learners and tutors, develop community partnerships, generate local support, and participate in regional literacy coalitions, library literacy networks, and their local communities.

California State Library staff distribute funds to libraries, collect and analyze program data, and provide technical assistance. They provide additional training and resources and develop special projects through a federally-funded statewide program titled Literacy Initiatives.


The State of California provides $7.3 million annually to support California Library Literacy Services: $4.8 million for adult literacy services and $2.5 million for family literacy services.
image of mobile literacy bus
California Library Literacy Services programs are operated in accordance with the California Library Literacy and English Acquisition Service Program.