International Literacy Month was the brainchild of the 1965 World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, held in Tehran, Iran. In 1966, UNESCO declared September 8, 1967, as the first International Literacy Day, dedicated "...to remind[ing] the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society." (UNESCO.org) In solidarity, the United States celebrates the month of September as National Literacy Month, aiming to increase the U.S. literacy rate.
There are no universal standards of literacy, which makes sense because each language relies on a different measurement for its use of the written word. The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics measures three types of literacy among adults: the ability to read and comprehend prose (news articles, brochures, etc.), documents (job applications, maps, payroll forms, etc.), and quantitative documents (balancing a checkbook, filling out an order form, etc.). Using this metric, around 88% of American adults are functionally literate—that is, they read at a level that enables them to navigate daily life at minimum. However, according to a Department of Education study released in 2020, over 130 million adults in the United States between 17 and 74 read below 6th grade level. (Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy)
This is where National Literacy Month comes into play. If you'd like to celebrate literacy this September, here are a few ways you can participate:
Read A Book, Any Book
The simplest way to participate in National Literacy Month is, naturally, to read a book! If you haven't read anything recently, start with something simple that you are pretty sure you will finish. Sometimes all it takes is a good cozy mystery, a romance, or revisiting a favorite from childhood. If you're in the habit of reading regularly, try something outside your usual genre. Expand those horizons!
Visit A New-To-You Library or Bookstore
Even if you're pretty sure you've been to all the libraries and bookstores in your area, there's probably a new one that's popped up since you last looked. Or maybe you've been meaning to visit a new location? Take the opportunity to check it out!
Read A Book to Someone Else
Have you read a book to another person lately? There's something incredibly soothing about the whole process, both for the reader and the listener. If you don't have anyone around to read to, there are always groups looking for literacy advocates. Check out your local library, senior communities, or even animal rescue societies!
Bonus Challenge: Write a Book Review
This one might be a little tougher, but if you're up for it, a book review is almost always appreciated by authors. Think of a book you enjoyed and head to that book's Amazon or Goodreads page to let others know. If you feel so inclined, send the author an email letting them know how they've made your days a little brighter.
This is just a small list of the ways we can all get involved with National Literacy Month. It's a great time to celebrate that in the last 100 years, complete illiteracy—the total inability to read—has dropped from 6% of the U.S. population to just 0.6%. While there is still a long way to go to boost the overall literacy rate, we're doing good work and making progress in ensuring that all people have the ability to navigate a world full of written words.