Purpose - This conceptual paper aims to discuss a few concerns in the title categories of literacy, aliteracy, and lifelong learning and illuminates the scholarly concern about a global population increase of people who either are unable to read or are uninterested in reading. Design/methodology/approach - The juxtaposition of discussion about the three title categories and conclusions excerpted from the literature about these categories shows the predicament of the person today who is ill-prepared in basic literacy. The predicament includes the individual's lack of ability to read, write, or reason; but also their limited capacity for successfully engaging technology or future lifelong learning. A discussion of marginalized populations relates how marginalized groups are unable to participate fully in their societies. Regardless of economic, gender, religious, or other reasons for group marginalization, members of these groups often suffer from illiteracy as well. Findings - It is concluded that librarians who encourage development of reading and writing can make significant contributions to the profession, local cultures, and the global community. Originality/value - This paper focuses on the immediate and long-term problem of illiteracy. It is intended to motivate librarians across the globe by providing information about the effects of illiteracy on individuals or marginalized groups.