at Regina Public Library
Saskatchewan has a fine history of women's contributions to libraries and learning. Our pioneer women laid the foundations of an organization dedicated to fulfillment of the adult education needs of prairie women. Early settlement patterns found women on isolated farms instead of villages, longing for companionship and cooperative effort. Early this century, Saskatchewan women formed a network of Homemaker's Clubs, which were designed to meet the adult education needs of Saskatchewan women.
An early activity of the Clubs was the establishment of permanent and traveling libraries. The average rural prairie woman needed to develop skills for self-sufficiency, given the economic hardship and geographic isolation she faced. The information dissemination and mental stimulation provided by Club activities and libraries met a fundamental need.
As the Clubs matured and Saskatchewan grew, their women recognized the need for improved library service. As early as the late '30s, Clubs' conventions passed resolutions calling for province-wide library service much as we enjoy today. In the '40s, Homemakers lobbied their ratepayer meetings to support regional and provincial library development As these library organizations grew, Homemakers' women participated freely as Board members and library volunteers.
Regina women today continue this tradition with their active participation in our public library literacy program. Half of our learners are women, and many more than half of our tutors are women.
The Regina Public Library's literacy program was started in 1973, with the opening of the Learning Center, at the initiation of Ronald Yeo, Chief Librarian. The program began with staff working with adults in small group settings. Staff and learners eventually articulated a need for attention to individualized learning needs and styles. The recognition of this need and a steady rise in demand prompted the Library to investigate options for revising the program.
In 1977, the Library joined the literacy volunteers movement Since then, the Library has regularly recruited and trained volunteer tutors, recruited learners and matched them with tutors, and provided ongoing follow-up. For those learners who choose to get their high school equivalency, the Learning Center offers programs to assist in preparation for high school equivalency examinations.
The Library's literacy program presently includes three essential characteristics: it is volunteer-based, learner-centered, and offers one-to-one tutoring. Group sessions are offered for those who wish to attend.
The Library asks for a few basic qualifications from its volunteer tutors. We expect them to have literacy competence, and the willingness and commitment to help someone else learn to read. The vast majority of our volunteers are women, which is consistent with the commitment to helping others that women are known to exemplify. The profile of our women tutors is an eclectic one, representing a variety of economic and occupational backgrounds.
The Library provides all prospective tutors with a one to one-and-a-half hour orientation in which the literacy issue, the tutoring process, and library support are presented. The tutor-training workshop lasts fourteen hours and is usually offered in seven two-hour sessions. A two-hour follow-up session is offered after tutors have had six to eight weeks of tutoring experience. Monthly tutor meetings are held to share information on successful tutoring strategies and to provide continuing education.
The training workshops also explain the nature of the tutoring relationship and represent a number of tutoring techniques. It is repeatedly stressed that the tutorial relationship is a partnership. The tutor is not asked to control or direct the learner, but is expected to coach and guide in order to help the learner achieve her goals. We emphasize that it is essential that a tutor treat the learner in a way that is positive, encouraging and patient.
The cornerstone of our tutoring technique is the "experience story," Simply described, the learner tells a story from her own experience, which the tutor records. This story then becomes a text for a tutoring session. This method encourages self-expression in women whose low level of literacy has often relegated them to silence or passivity. It affirms the validity of their life experience and provides a familiar context for learning.