BYU Radio

Defining Literacy

By Rachel Wadham, host of “Worlds Awaiting”

As a librarian—reader, writer, word-enthusiast—I find the intricacies of language fascinating.  Words are amazing things that can covey so much in one small little package.  One word I’ve been pondering lately is the word literacy.  This word seems to be a very common one.  I use it all the time as an educator and even non-educators seem to have a sense of what this word means as they connect it to other forms of the word like literate or literature.  Most people grasp a basic understanding of what it means to “be literate” so they have some basic understanding of what literacy is.  While on the outset this word may seem to be pretty straightforward and compressible. The true idea of literacy, especially in the 21st century, has taken on new and deeper meaning.  In the past, literacy has been connected to only skills related to reading and writing, but in reality literacy is not just about those two skills.  While reading and writing form a fundamental part of “being literate,” literacy has expanded to include all abilities and skills that allow us to communicate and engage with the world around us.  Now, in the 21st century, we are required to retrieve and assess knowledge in many different formats and through many different mediums.  Today, the kinds of knowledge we gain through technological means is just as important as the kinds of knowledge we might get through more traditional ways such as print.  Honing in on all those ways we communicate and interact with the world around us helps us to see this broader vision of what it means to “be literate” in the 21st century.  The world of literacy our children face today is complex and ever changing. So, it’s our job as adults to help engage our children in learning the skills they need to be involved in, and, at times, critical of the modern world around them.  When we open our show to say that we are talking about reading, writing, thinking, seeing, speaking and listening, we really are encompassing the whole gambit of literacy.  I hope that as you engage with our show, you will be able to expand your definition of what literacy and “being literate” are. And, be better able to support not only the children in your life, but their personal literacy development as well.


At "Worlds Awaiting" we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children. We understand that there is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to children's development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels. Since no one understands a child's needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own needs and standards. 

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