LIBRARY COLUMN: ‘A’ stands for Ausfahrt

LIBRARY COLUMN: ‘A’ stands for Ausfahrt

It also stands for a whole bunch of other cool words.

I’m a pretty unilingual person. A smattering of French, perhaps, but otherwise I know how to say “beer” in several languages (and later “washroom”), and that’s about it. But even travelling abroad I could usually guess what a word meant in another language as long as the context was there. Last summer in Germany I left the autobahn by taking the ausfahrt without spending too much time thinking about it.

But looking at letter constructs I don’t recognize — Greek, Arabic, Japanese — and it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. For folks who, like me, learned at a tender age to read the English alphabet, looking at these unfamiliar letter shapes makes us throw up our hands and give up. But what if we had no choice but were required to navigate in this unintelligible world?

For people who have difficulty reading, navigation in your own neighbourhood can be a lot like that, every letter shape an unfamiliar symbol. Not helpful if you need to find that exit off the highway, for example. Which is where organizations like Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) comes in.

CBAL gives adult learners — and newcomers to the English language — skills to better navigate this world of words.

There are plenty of good ways to encourage literacy, but perhaps the very best is family literacy, encouraging literacy — reading, counting — from babyhood. That’s where programs like storytimes for young children come in. And that’s what Family Literacy Week (January 24 to 31) celebrates.

Since 1999 ABC Life Literacy Canada ( has encouraged family literacy activities during this week, especially on Family Literacy Day, January 27.

There are some compelling statistics that illustrate why early literacy is important to both individuals and our society, such as the National Center for Family Literacy’s long-term research program, which showed that literacy intervention (such as family literacy programs) reduced participants’ full dependence on public assistance from 67 per cent 11 per cent.

ABC Life Literacy suggests some easy 15-minute activities that are just plain fun. Take the challenge! Here are five to get you started.

1. Create a story with your family: Take turns writing one sentence at a time, then read the whole story aloud when you’re done.

2. Organize a book swap at your school or with your friends.

3. Count how many steps it takes to get from your bedroom to your kitchen. Find out who in your family has the most steps to a snack!

4. Read a “wake up” story in the morning (in addition to last night’s bedtime story).

5. Write a note to include in a grown-up’s lunch – and ask them to write back!

And here’s two more, from your Literacy buddies at the Nelson Library:

6. If you’ve got small children (two to six years), join us on Friday, January 30 from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. for a special Literacy Week event with stories, songs, crafts and general fun.

To register call Joanne at 505-5683 or go to

7. Participate in Nelson Reads, in which we share our favourite books and build a booklist for all of us. Submit your pick online at (weekly prizes!). Help in submitting online is available at the Library or CBAL (lower level at City Hall). This is a partnership between the Library, CBAL, Otter Books, and The Nelson Star.

My favourite book this year (and which I have submitted to Nelson Reads!) is the Giller Prize winner Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. It’s a beautifully—brilliantly—written fictional account of the inventor of the theramin, which is a strange, haunting, hands-free musical instrument with a language all its own and which very few speak. The theramin’s sounds unlock whole worlds — just like language and reading — and so that seems a fine place to ausfahrt this column.

— Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to