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Celebrating Literacy in All Its Forms


Broaden your understanding of literacy as FCPL highlights its many different dimensions throughout a “Year of Literacy” in 2022.

By Miriam Roberts, Info Services Assistant, Martha Washington Library

The Basics of Literacy

“Literacy” may seem at first like a simple term, but closer consideration reveals much more depth and complexity. While the most common definition of literacy is a basic one — “the ability to read and write at a specified age,” according to the CIA World Factbook — there exist no truly universal definition or standards across the world. This variation can make it difficult to compare literacy rates between countries. Even so, literacy rates play an important role in assessing the status of a country and its population in the modern world.

A literate populace is a hallmark of an advanced and educated society. As the CIA World Factbook explains, greater importance placed on literacy and education by a country likely correlates to greater positive economic development. And, as human society becomes more dependent on technology, the definition of literacy continually expands to encompass much more than just knowing how to read and write.

Expanding Our Definition

To highlight the increasingly multifaceted nature of “literacy,” Fairfax County Public Library has designated 2022 as its Year of Literacy. Each month will shine a spotlight on a different type of literacy through themed programs (both in-person and virtual), in-branch displays, curated booklists and more. FCPL hopes to provide our community with the inspiration and information to think about literacy more complexly as its definition naturally develops and evolves over time. As societies become more advanced and more of their citizens possess basic skills of reading and writing, they can expand their literacies beyond that.

To quote Aaron Sorkin’s TV show “The West Wing,” as humans: “We came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean, and we pioneered the west, and we took the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration, and this is what’s next.”

Although the fictional Deputy White House Communications Director Sam Seaborn speaks of space exploration to Mars, his words apply equally well to the concept of literacy. In the development and advancement of a civilization, exploration includes more than just physical expeditions into unknown places of the world; intellectual exploration and curiosity are just as important. By embracing our intellectualism and thirst for knowledge, we can better ourselves as people and societies.

Exploring All Types of Literacy

The economic concept of specialization, the selection of a “major” in college, and degrees in law and medicine exist for a reason. As societies flourish and become more academically and exploratorily minded, citizens have the chance to focus on specific areas of craft and study to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for those subjects — in other words, to become literate in those subjects.

FCPL’s Year of Literacy focuses on 12 types of literacy: traditional, love, sports, financial, environmental, health, musical, digital, culinary, political, legal and cultural. The diversity of literacies captured in part by this list helps make the world a more engaging and fascinating place. While every person may not be knowledgeable — or “literate” — in every one of these subject areas, other individuals in their community may have different, complementary set of literacies.

With the 2022 Year of Literacy, FCPL is celebrating the diversity of knowledge present in our world, in our country and especially in our county. Filter our online calendar by “literacy” categories to find programs and events highlighting each month’s type of literacy, stay tuned to our public catalog homepage and social media for curated booklists, and stop in your local branch to see what fun, themed displays and activities are going on!

Fairfax Virtual Assistant