Literacy is local at the core

Literacy is ”the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

The educational branch of the United Nations composed that definition in 2004. It is a powerful and sweeping concept, and, no, I do not understand it fully. I do know this much: Despite its multinational origin, literacy is, at its core, a local issue. Moreover, it happens person to person. It pervades very familiar places such as our homes, churches, taverns, clubs, libraries, civic gatherings, parks, theaters and newspaper offices.

I may not completely comprehend the U.N.’s description of literacy, but I have seen one of its best practitioners at work in the Hubbard Public Library in the person of Gail Patrick.

Gail, who is most commonly known as Miss Patrick, has been an important person to the vitality of her community throughout her lifetime in various positions. She was a cadet teacher at age 19, then a teacher and principal in the public schools here for many years. After that, she was a principal and a teacher at St. Patrick School in Hubbard.

In her retirement, she has not slowed a bit. She is a trustee of the Hubbard Public Library. At the library, she can be found almost daily helping young people become better readers. In this capacity, she reminds us that literacy is not just a function of our schools.

A small study room across from the charging desk is Gail’s domain. The mostly glass door of the room allows the casual passer-by to glance in and see the importance of what is occurring within those plain walls. There is story; there is magic; there is literacy.

Of course, the young learners do not always find the task of language acquisition so magical. One mother reported that while driving her son to a tutoring session, she was chiding him to read more between sessions. His response was that he had read all the street signs on the way to the library, so he was doing just fine.

Fear not, my readers. I am not asking you to run to your local library or school and volunteer to tutor reading as Miss Patrick does. Nor am I asking you to contribute financially to the Tribune’s literacy campaign (although either of those would be nice). I am only asking that you be more conscious of your own reading and writing habits.

For instance, where do you read? Is it possible that people, especially young people, ever observe your reading? What is your facial expression when you read in the presence of others? Do others ever see you writing?

When those who cannot read see the animation in the faces of those who can, it matters not whether the reading material is newspaper, book, magazine, electronic device, advertisement, comic, poster or even street sign.

To be sure, reading and writing are usually solitary acts done in seclusion. Yet, when we read in public, we sometimes forget that others can observe us. Thus, we who can read encourage those who cannot to engage in this important activity by our very actions.

The old ad campaign used the slogan, ”Reading is fundamental.” Literacy moves even beyond that. Literacy reminds us of the potential of each person in our lives to contribute to ourselves, our families, our health, our neighborhoods, our spirituality, our recreation and our governance through reading and writing.

Before you move to another article to read in today’s paper, please consider rereading the definition with which I began this writing. I wrote that I do not completely understand it, but each of you has the potential to help me comprehend it in a deeper way.

Like Miss Patrick, each of us has the ability to personify part of it for those whom we meet today.

Williams is a Hubbard resident. Email him at