In 2005, the United Nations issued a report stressing the important role libraries play in literacy throughout the world. Instead of being passive storehouses for books, libraries have become “facilitators of information and lifelong learning opportunities.” This is a unique time for libraries. Growing and evolving new programs and collections is both fun and rewarding, as well as a little intimidating. So it’s vital to understand both what we mean by “literacy” and what types of literacy are out there.
Literacy is a multifaceted concept. At its heart, literacy is making and communicating meaning and knowledge by using a system of symbols. Being familiar with and effectively using the symbols associated with a body of knowledge makes a person “literate”. But literacy is also far from static. As a body of knowledge evolves and changes, the symbols that represent that body of knowledge also shift. Therefore, the meaning of literacy in a subject changes, and in order to maintain literacy new concepts must be taught. We have to keep learning.
It could be argued that libraries are most concerned with language literacy – reading and writing and verbal communication. Early literacy is, perhaps, one of the most prominent of these concerns and a topic we would be remiss to neglect. However, language literacy is only one element of the contemporary library’s greater mission. Our blog goes on to explore other forms of literacy, from the scientific literacy promoted by seed libraries to the digital literacy promoted by Minecraft and the New York Public Library’s digitization projects. Improved social literacy and the ability to develop patrons’ professional skills have also become imperative goals for many libraries across the nation.
Most importantly, the topics contained herein focus on the synergy between literacy, community outreach, and the provision of modern information services for all patrons. Throughout a librarian’s career, having a knowledge and understanding of different forms of literacy and outreach – and the services that make such efforts possible – is vital. As centers of knowledge, libraries are the substrate in which literate minds grow. Therefore, understanding the depth and breadth of literacy in all its forms is instrumental to the evolution of libraries.
We hope these brief glimpses into the different roles libraries play inspires you to explore unique bodies of knowledge that your library can promote.