Dr. Anthony Chow (LIS) Aims to Increase Native American Access to Literacy Resources and Libraries through Reading Nation Waterfall Project

Posted on May 01, 2021

reading nation waterfall students

Dr. Anthony Chow (Library & Information Science) serves as principal investigator for a team of UNCG researchers who are partnering with tribal nation leaders and two national organizations, Head Start and Little Free Library, to address literacy in the Native American community. A $1.4 million Institute of Museum and Library Services grant supports their work — a project they call “Reading Nation Waterfall.”

The project responds to existing research along with the findings of UNCG’s own year-long study that identified barriers to access to books and libraries for Blackfoot children and youth, collectively representing a book desert.

The goal of the three-year project is to break down these barriers and improve reading scores. Native Americans experience disproportionately high rates of poverty and unemployment. Schools, and in turn, school libraries, are often underfunded.

Additionally, Native American cultures may not typically have the same tradition of visiting and using physical libraries located in communities; rather, they tend to have strong oral storytelling traditions.

With grant support, children and families who may live in book deserts will receive brand-new, carefully selected, culturally relevant books — 35,000 in the next three years. The project, which includes specific plans for increasing parent/child reading at home, reflects a significant paradigm shift for traditional community libraries. By placing Little Free Libraries in centrally located and convenient places – schools, grocery stores, Head Start programs, etc. – and by giving away librarian-curated new books instead of loaning them out, the team hopes to eliminate socioeconomic and physical barriers for Native American youth.

“This grant is a perfect example of a university coming alongside community partners and leveraging its expertise to study and address societal challenges,” says Chow. “For me, this grant represents a lifetime achievement award. It’s a true privilege.”

This story was originally published in the 2020-2021 issue of Transform magazine. Read more stories from Transform here.