The International Literacy Association: The Evolution of the International Reading Association

IRA Council Leadership Academy 2014

Tampa, Florida

What’s In A Name?

International Reading Association becomes International Literacy Association – July 1, 2015

     My first task upon arriving at the Sheraton Hotel in Tampa for the IRA Council Leadership Academy was to check out the pool. The weather APP said that there would be daily thunderstorms so I thought it advantageous to swim while I had the chance. I headed down to the pool before registration and the first session.   Several people had the same idea. Readers were on lounge chairs, reading a book, a tablet or keyboarding on their phone. There were also people like me who could not quite deal with the intensity of the sun and got right into the pool with their book. Others were engaged in small groups discussions about their latest read or chatting about their reading councils. One woman was muttering about having nothing to read. She gratefully accepted my newspaper. I later discovered that she was a writer who had come to town to negotiate tumultuous family issues. She was delighted to be surrounded by avid readers and interestingly enough felt compelled to explain why she had come to the pool without a book.

The International Reading Association was formed in 1956.   Today it has 53,000 members in 60 countries, with more than 1500 organized chapters, affiliates and councils. The respected journals based on strong educational research have been a key draw to the organization, along with the quest to connect with like-minded people, improve reading instruction and share the joy of reading.

The name of the organization is being changed to The International Literacy Association officially on July 1, 2015. The most exciting part of the name change is the transformative nature of the process   IRA’s membership has suffered significantly with the advent of people Bowling Alone, the economic woes of the U.S. economy, the failure to respond to the changing demographics and impact of social media.

The IRA has expanded beyond a sole focus on reading, to a more general focus, which includes writing, listening, speaking, representing as well as use of digital media. It is more accurately expressed as the International Literacy Association. In the 1990’s, many organizations reached the same conclusion and embraced this broadening mandate. Due to the size and complexity of IRA, change has been slow. Marie Craig Post, the executive director of IRA, led the charge in helping us understand where the IRA has been and the direction it is going. It is exciting and opens up many new possibilities in our structure, responsiveness to members and our sphere of influence.

The IRA has gone through a process of analysis and soul searching to determine a direction to revitalize the organization.   The main tenets of this change include a:

  1. Focus on effective governance and full understanding of our fiduciary responsibility as council members.
  2. Responsiveness to the needs of members, including a more flexible structure to accommodate a variety of contexts and organizations.
  3. Plan to communicate and advocate for our purpose to Transform Lives Through Literacy in our schools, communities, provinces/states, and countries as well as within a global context.
  4. Establish the International Reading (Literacy) Association as a worldwide authority and #1 resource for disseminating research and providing resources to literacy educators.

The changes are sweeping and require cooperation and coordination with local and provincial councils and affiliates. The challenge is for us to go through this same reflective process within our own organizations, to revitalize current members and attract new members to create a more prevalent voice for literacy. The potential for growth and learning is exciting!

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