Getchell Library on the University of Nevada, Reno campus has been empty since the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center opened in 2008. Some older students and faculty members recall Getchell’s awkward charm and reminisce about it—but most have embraced the shiny, brightly lit Knowledge Center. Or the KC, as the hip kids call it.
The transition from Getchell’s outdated facility to the KC’s buzzing atmosphere is demonstrative of Nevada’s evolution in literacy. It comes at a time when different generations are at odds with what it means to be literate. Once it defined proficiency at reading and writing, and many hold firm to that definition, but that ignores the skills inherent in visual or auditory learning. It’s why smartphones, tablets and e-readers are still seen as inferior ways to consume media, and this mentality is what drives our entire education system.
But many educators of the 21st century define literacy as critical thinking and proficiency at reading, writing, science, mathematics, conversation, computer usage, logic and spatial reasoning. It also includes financial literacy, digital literacy and eco-literacy.
Technologists argue that technology has the potential to make everyone in the world a literate person because it takes into account different learning styles. The ability to carry around 1,000 books on a device that can fit in a jacket pocket is astounding, and studies have shown that many people read more when they have an e-reader. People like touching a screen to turn a page. They like the images and videos embedded in the text. They can share their favorite quotes and spark discussions on social networking sites. It makes reading into a responsive, communal activity—one in which people who normally would have struggled with traditional reading and writing skills can now participate.
It’s possible to embrace both physical media and digital media. Heck, we’re newspaper journalists, if that’s any indication. Some of our readers like to read the printed issue of the RN&R each week, while others read it online. Some write us letters that we find in our mailbox; others email us. It takes a certain type of literacy to do both.
As a state with one of the lowest literacy rates in the country and a reputation for devaluing education, Nevadans have to make a choice. Will we embrace the future and its innovation to produce students with a diverse set of skills? Or will we continue to squabble about spelling and grammar as indications of what constitutes literacy? The way we judge our peers and colleagues based on just their ability to write and read is what lets people fall through the cracks. It’s a privileged way of thinking.
Literacy is a societal issue. Education doesn’t stop once a student graduates from high school or college. If anything, life beyond school is when a real education begins. Humans are social beings, and our language, knowledge and technology evolves based on that. It’s why libraries and classrooms begin to resemble cafés rather than storage facilities. Some experts anticipate a transition away from structured learning environments altogether. People can use their technology to explore, discuss and create. The world serves as a source for knowledge.
But even with the KC’s e-reader bar, computer labs and extensive digital databases, not all things have changed that much—students still need help finding the books.