Staff from the Bradford County Library have begun taking a set of eight laptop computers on the road to show groups of senior citizens how to use the Internet.

This fall, the Towanda Public Library launched a new program, called "Baby and Me," where a children's librarian reads and sings to a group of very young children while they sit on their mothers' laps, which promotes literacy in the babies and also models to the mothers how to foster literacy skills in their offspring.

And public library card holders in Bradford County can access an on-line database called "Consumer Health," which they can go to after they've received a doctor's diagnosis, in order to get a plain-English explanation of what the diagnosis means, what effects it will have, and what medications may be needed.

These are examples of how libraries in Bradford County are increasingly going beyond the traditional role of loaning books to taking an active role in improving the literacy of the public and giving them the knowledge and skills to lead a productive and healthy life, according to local librarians.

And efforts like these could increase even more at local public libraries in the future.

This year, the Pennsylvania Library Association started a new statewide program, called "PA Forward," which aims to publicize the many free services that libraries offer the public to improve their literacy in five areas - the "basic literacy" they need to read and write, the "health literacy" they need to better manage their health, the "information literacy" they need to use computers and the Internet, the "financial literacy" they need to manage their finances, and the "civic and social literacy" they need to contribute effectively in their community and participate in civil discourse, according to the association, which is the professional association of libraries and librarians in Pennsylvania.

PA Forward, which is partially funded by a $50,000 federal grant, also aims to increase the programs and services that libraries offer to promote literacy in these five areas, said Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association.

"We're excited about this," Miller said in a presentation that he made Friday at the Monroeton Public Library to local librarians and library and government officials.

So far, the Pennsylvania Library Association has lined up 29 partners for the PA Forward program, including major corporations, state agencies, and non-profit organizations, he said.

Among the partners are Citizens Bank, and the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, Comcast Corp., and Giant Food Stores.

Some of the partners might provide staff to conduct free educational programs in the libraries, said David LaFrance, system administrator for the system of nine state-funded public libraries in Bradford County.

A bank, for example, might want to be involved in the program, because it could provide employees to conduct programs at public libraries for children in order to teach them, for example, how savings accounts work and how interest rates work, said Melissa Rowse of Pennsylvania's North-Central Library District.

As part of the PA Forward program, the Pennsylvania Library Association has started a database where librarians can share ideas for improving literacy in the five areas, Miller said.

PA Forward was developed over two years by a committee launched by the Pennsylvania Library Association, which included 16-18 librarians from throughout Pennsylvania, LaFrance said.

Among those who attended Miller's presentation were state Rep. Tina Pickett and Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com