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Valerie Hardie

22 Years of Literacy Training

Valerie Hardie says she is fortunate to see miracles at work all the time. Hardie just celebrated her fifth anniversary as director of the San Diego Public Library’s award-winning adult literacy program, READ/San Diego. But her history with the program dates back 22 years, since READ’s inception.

“It’s been an extraordinary journey,” Hardie said. “I still continue to feel very privileged to work in San Diego at a job I believe in, that I think is relevant more so now than any time.

“I see miracles happen in the workplace.” Hardie’s career in the library and in literacy began in college. In 1988, she was studying political science at UCSD and also serving as a tutor at the school’s writing center. She also worked as a library assistant with the San Diego Public Library and when graduation came, she decided to pursue a career in library work. “I’ve always had the luxury of working at jobs I believed in, that I think are socially relevant, useful and needed,” she said. “And the library was just a perfect niche.” Angela Yang, former outreach librarian who worked to implement the literacy program at the San Diego Public Library, suggested she apply for a volunteer coordinator position with the new literacy program in 1988. READ/San Diego’s founding director Chris McFadden said she was the perfect choice. “She brought a great perspective,” McFadden said. “Her education at UCSD and experience at the library was a great match.” When Hardie joined the adult literacy program, she was its second employee. The program had no name and no permanent location. With the help of Hardie and other dedicated staff and volunteers, READ has grown to help more than 22,000 San Diego adults to learn to read and write. READ now has six full-time literacy professionals on staff and is located at the Valencia Park/Malcolm X Branch Library.

The program also has garnered national attention, receiving the Advancement of Literacy Award from the American Library Association and was named a top community partnership by the U.S. Department of Education.

Hardie points to the efforts of READ’s many volunteers as the basis for their success. The program has trained 250 to 300 volunteer tutors and an additional 100 volunteers who don’t tutor. “There is no way we could touch the numbers we do without volunteers,” Hardie said. “They’re the heart of our program.”

Valerie Hardie (left) speaks with former student and current volunteer tutor Maria Gonzalez.

Hardie notes that with the incredible need for READ’s services, having a stable of trained tutors available to help adult learners is a challenge of the job. The San Diego Council on Literacy estimates that 450,000 adults in the County cannot read or write to meet everyday needs and pursue professional goals Working to meet those needs can create pressure. “That’s not to say the job is without stress and challenges, I think we all have that, but it’s just a privilege to work at a job where you know you’re making a difference for people,” Hardie said.

“And you’re providing the skill no one can take away from them.”