Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary


Editor’s note: In 2011, for the fourth time in a row (and running), the Library Journal Index of Public Library Services, a public library rating system, designated Telluride’s Library a five-star institution. The Wilkinson Public Library ranks fifth in the nation among public libraries with annual budgets of $1 – 5 million, hence the name of library director Barb Brattin’s semi-regular column, “Five Stars.”

When I read that Governor Hickenlooper proclaimed October as Literacy Month in Colorado, I naturally had to investigate just what the term “literacy” meant to a political leader. Historically, “literacy” has meant the ability to read. But in today’s digital age, the term has been broadened to comprehension.

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary (and Finn)

In other words, literacy is not only recognizing words on a page, it’s the ability to place content into context. It’s more than a headline. It’s the “why” behind the events and issues of the day. In an age of easy access to information, the librarian’s role has transitioned from content provider to context provider.

That’s a tough job in a nation that is bombarded with sound bites, a nation “too busy” to delve into the background of issues. It’s no longer enough for a library to provide many viewpoints on a subject in print. The nation’s attention span has contracted. Our challenge in the information profession is to grab people’s attention and hold it long enough for them to understand the broader picture and therefore make the best informed choices.

At Wilkinson Public Library, we are committed to that challenge. Our programming includes intriguing lectures, films, and opportunities for public discussion and debate where we have the opportunity not only to hear the ideas of others, but thoughtfully analyze ideas together in a shared community space. We value the collective experience and education of the community to place content in context.

Ryan Wilson, WPL’s Marketing Manager, tells me that 80% of the web will be video in just a few years. That prediction brings up concerns about bandwidth, but it also makes me wonder: Will literacy always begin with the written word or will watching video online be how we define literacy in the future?

For now, here’s Governor Hickenlooper’s enlightened understanding of literacy in 2012:

WHEREAS, understanding the written word is critical for successful communication and for the enjoyment of literary works; and
WHEREAS, there are now a variety of tools and skills needed to find, evaluate, and share credible information from all sources in our constantly evolving world; and
WHEREAS, the ability to search, find, decipher, and analyze different forms of information is a key component in effective decision-making across various financial, medical, educational and industrial fields; and
WHEREAS, individuals who are comfortable working with the variety of resources available in the digital world are able to seek highly skilled jobs and compete at high levels in the global economy; and
WHEREAS, literacy is a crucial part of education which, if taught as early as the pre-kindergarten level, will expose children and their parents to ongoing reading for pleasure and to analytic practices that will better prepare them for a changing world; and
WHEREAS, libraries and schools provide the resources, tools, and educated staff to help teach these skills; and
WHEREAS, through public awareness, the State of Colorado seeks to encourage citizens, employers, government agencies, and institutions to share the importance of a fully literate community for economic prosperity, social cohesion, educational opportunity, and an enhanced quality of life; Therefore, I, John W. Hickenlooper, Governor of the State of Colorado, do hereby proclaim October, 2012 Colorado Literacy Month.

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