Porterville Library raises awareness on county’s illiteracy

Porterville hosts literacy day to shed light on adult learning services in a county where illiteracy affects 41% of the population

PORTERVILLE – With Tulare County topping the entire nation in illiteracy rates, Porterville City Library seeks to raise awareness during Adult Literacy Awareness Month.

Porterville deemed September as “Adult Literacy Awareness Month,” and will be raising awareness for the Valley’s low literacy rates through Porterville City Library’s event, Family Literacy Day. The city hopes to bring awareness of adult literacy services needed in the community, as well as find new tutors and volunteers. This event will shed light on the illiteracy rates affecting 1 out of 4 individuals in Tulare County. 

Porterville Library, Migrant Education, Friends of the Library and many more literacy improving organizations will attend the event and showcase their services to the community. This is needed, as the county has the second lowest literacy rate in a state with the lowest literacy rate in the nation at just 77%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 

In Tulare County, the functional illiteracy rate is 41%, compared to 23% of the rest of California’s population, according to The Literacy Project. The Tulare County Library records only a fraction of Tulare County residents visit libraries compared to the rest of the state.

The Tulare County Library operates in 17 unincorporated communities, and every town has a school library, but the amount of funding it spends on engaging residents in utilizing library services is among the lowest in California. A 2020 report by the California State Library found the Tulare County Library spends about $13.47 per capita, far less than the state average of $57.16. Only four county library systems spent less. Local residents are five times less likely to visit a library than average Californians.

This trend of illiteracy and lack of educational opportunities starts young, with children’s access to books and literature being limited, resulting in only 71.9% of residents holding high school diplomas, and a mere 14% with a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Porterville, these percentages are slightly lower. Another factor is the high rate foreign born residents in Tulare County.

Over 21% of Tulare County residents were not born in the United States, meaning many of them were educated or not educated in another country, and only about one-third of them become naturalized citizens, often a predictor of their comfort level in seeking educational opportunities. Porterville has a slightly higher rate, reaching 24% of foreign born residents.

Just under 88% of foreign born residents migrated here from Mexico where 63% of the population do not finish a high school equivalency. As of 2018, the United States was ranked 3rd in terms of the rate at which the population earns college degrees while Mexico ranked 68th, although Mexico has made great strides in educational attainment, especially among those emigrating to the United States.

With many English language learners, the road to literacy is not an easy one, with the county’s lack of bookstores as the cherry on top. There are just two bookstores in the entire county. The only new book store in Tulare County is the Book Garden in Exeter. Purveyors of books chronicling Valley history, written by local authors and specialty topics, owners Sally and Chris Brewer run one of the last independent book stores in Tulare County. The last chain bookstore, Borders, shuttered its doors at the Sequoia Mall a dozen years ago. If it’s used books you’re looking for, Linda’s Used Books is the only one left.

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