Adult Education Movement

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Excerpt from a twentieth-anniversary booklet from Richard B. Harrison Public Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, that describes Adult Education programming. Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources via North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

Throughout the 1920s, librarians began to view the Americanization process increasingly as part of the newly identified adult education movement. This movement considered the needs not only of illiterate foreign-born immigrants but also of illiterate American-born adults. The once distinctly separate goals of American public libraries—to educate the general populace and to Americanize immigrants—were merging. Many public libraries understood their mission as building a literate citizenry composed of both foreign- and native-born Americans who were imbued with a spirit of patriotism.

The Adult Education Movement spread to public libraries through the committee and reporting work of the American Library Association. ALA promoted the creation of adult education programming in the form of literacy classes and discussion groups. Often, these groups offered discussion about patrons’ shared “American Heritage” and encouraged participants to understand present-day events, like the imagined communist threats during the Cold War, in the context of traditional American values like democracy. Adult education programming continued to include literacy offerings throughout the twentieth century and many public libraries still offer citizenship test preparation today.