If the word literacy makes you a little uneasy, you're not alone. It is often mentioned in connection with world poverty, and it can conjure images of starving children, exploited workforces, and open sewers.
It also stirs up all kinds of uncomfortable memories of failure in the minds of otherwise secure and happy people - of the Bs that insisted on looking like Ds long after everyone else got them straight, the dread you might still feel just looking at a job application form, the entrance exam you failed twice, the resentful stares from your Grade 6 teammates as you tried unsuccessfully to spell the word purgatory.
For others, the word only elicits disinterest.
But literacy isn't boring, judgmental, or frightening, and it doesn't discriminate.
It is equally important to all of us, and something we all - no matter how knowledgeable or clever - can work on continually throughout our lives.
The meaning of the word evolves as our society changes and technology and knowledge advance.
Defined most narrowly, literacy is simply the ability to read and write.
It generally walks hand-in-hand with numeracy - the ability to understand and manipulate numbers - and in recent years, the definition has expanded to include many other competencies that are considered important to a productive, happy life.
Terms like financial literacy, computer literacy, technological literacy, physical literacy, visual literacy, and health literacy are now common.
Literacy skills open up work and leisure possibilities and help us to function independently, to communicate better with other people, and to engage more fully with our society and government.
Literacy is one of the main concerns of our school system, and the reason behind much of the library's community outreach and internal programs like Babytime, Storytime, Summer Reading Club and even our computer classes, social media workshops, and financial skills seminars.
Perhaps most surprising is that literacy can be lots of fun.
Several local organizations will get together in the library on Saturday, Jan. 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. to celebrate Family Literacy Day with the Maple Ridge community.
Everyone from toddlers to seniors can take part in the Amazing Literacy Race, share snacks and coffee, and enter to win prizes from pencils to books to gift certificates and Kobo eReaders.
Teens can work with words or just hang out at the Teen Lit Cafe, children will be captivated by storyteller Paula Justus and all will enjoy the exciting sounds of multi-instrumentalist Boris Sichon.
The event is organized in collaboration with the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Katzie Community Literacy Committee, School District 42, and parks and leisure services and is supported by various local businesses and organizations.
Also starting in the library this month is the Adult Learner Book Club, which is designed for adults who would like to become better readers.
Joining a book club is a great way to improve your reading skills, meet people, and have some fun.
The group will get together every two weeks on Thursdays at 7 p.m. starting Jan. 31 to discover the joys of reading and share tea, cookies, and experiences.
The book club has been planned in cooperation with the Community Literacy Committee.
If you are interested in joining, please contact the library's main floor information desk for more information or to register. Our phone number is 604-4677417.
Come in and pick up our new winter/early spring program guide to see what else is coming up and to learn more about Fraser Valley Regional Library.
- Jo-Ann Sleiman is a librarian at the Maple Ridge Library