"at your library" in the north island eagle: literacy skills are essential in our world

Literacy Is All Around Us

September is Literacy Month, a time to recognize and celebrate all the many ways literacy improves and enhances our lives.

As you go about your day, you use different forms of literacy all the time. Looking on Google Maps for directions. Following a recipe. Planting a garden. Reading food labels in the grocery store. Choosing a new tool for a project. Paying your bills. Taking the proper dose of medication. Looking on the internet for how to fix a problem – then watching a video and following directions. Every one of these tasks, and a million more, involve multiple literacies.

Of course to do any these things, you must be able to read and write. In our society, being literate is not optional. No matter how a person earns a living, having basic literacy skills is a must. But traditional literacy – reading and writing – is only the beginning.

Numerical literacy is the ability to use numbers for every day life – to read a price list and understand how much something costs, to make a budget, to understand a timecard at work.

Digital literacy means being able to use technology to access information, solve problems, and make your life easier. 

Together, these three literacies form a foundation of core literacy skills that every person in the 21st century needs. 

Contrary to what many people think, digital literacy is not a yes-or-no, on-or-off proposition. There’s a very wide spectrum of digital literacy, and most people fall somewhere in the vast middle: they have some limited skills. A mark of high digital literacy is our comfort level with learning new digital skills. Do you enjoy and embrace new technologies, or do find new technology scary and confusing? If you fall into the second category, you have a lot of company! 

Often we encounter stereotypes around literacy. Young people are supposedly all tech savvy, and all seniors are supposed to be baffled by technology. Men are supposed to be more numerically literate – “better at math” – than women. Guess what? False, false, false! 

Many young people lack access to technology. They know how to use their phones, but can they use Word to create a resume, can they download an e-book? On the other hand, many seniors thrive in the digital world. (Apparently as of my last birthday, I’m now a senior myself!)

As a librarian, I have a special interest in two other forms of literacy: health and media.

Health literacy means being able to communicate with health-care providers, follow instructions for medications, and find quality health information, to name just a few examples. The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has some great health resources, and we’d love to help you use them.

Media Literacy means being aware of and understanding the messages we get from all kinds of media – internet news, TV shows, movies, videogames, magazines. Someone who is media literate understands the difference between an advertisement that’s trying to sell something and impartial information. They can distinguish a solid source from a scam. It’s not always easy to do!

It’s not hard to see how digital literacy, media literacy, and health literacy are inter-related. How do we find good information? How do we separate facts from opinions? What media can we trust? Librarians can help you evaluate sources and sort through fact from fiction.

When you want to know more about the world, to learn a new skill, or pursue a new hobby, your library is the perfect place to start. The library is your home for all things literacy. We can suggest resources to get you started. And of course, our help is always free of charge.

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