I have spent the last months reading and writing about digital divide, information literacy and other related concepts, attended conferences and spoke with several experts about this topic. The culmination of these activities led me to feel like I was on my way to becoming a subject matter expert. That was until I came across “Why Transliteracy?” in the 2011 American Library Association’s (ALA) Annual Conference program guide. The description read:
The skills needed to be an active participant in today’s society are rapidly evolving. Literacy is changing, more is needed than the ability to read and write. This session will explore the theoretical aspects of transliteracy, explaining why it is important and how it is tied to libraries. We will look at transliteracy from the varying perspectives caused by serving different populations including schools, universities and the public.
I thought to myself, “hmmm, this sounds exactly like what I have been reading, but why are they calling it transliteracy?” Although I was hoping it was an error, I knew it wasn’t and so I added it to my list of programs to attend. At the very least, sitting through the session would allow me to see if what they were describing was information literacy by another name. With five (5) people—Bobbi Newman, Gretchen Caserotti, Tom Ipri, and Lane Wilkinson—scheduled to be on the panel, I was looking forward to a comprehensive description of a term that was foreign to me.
As I expected, the session proved to be informative. Still, I left the session with more questions than answers. I will present what I felt were the key points and provide commentary (especially regarding things that were most troublesome).
A natural starting point, Bobbi Newman began by defining the term. She stated that
Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media
Gretchen Caserotti talked about how the literacy landscape has changed. Where print was once supreme, new forms of technology have been introduced, creating new forms of user experience, affecting how people interact with information. As a result, “new” literacies are called for. She goes as far as implying that transliteracy is now the overarching term that other literacies fall under (more on this later).
Providing a list of characteristics, Tom Ipri puts “clothes” on the term. Among the elements that he says makes transliteracy distinct is that it:
- maps (look for synonoms WHAT DOES HE MEAN) meaning across different platforms without requiring an individual to become familiar with those platforms
- focuses on the “interactions” between different literacies.
- although it is not tied to any particular technology, it has the ability to show relationships that may exist between the two
Ipri implied that transliteracy is unique because it “questions authority and devalues hierarchical structures” (Why Transliteracy, 2011). I would challenge that statement to say, that is the very foundation of information literacy, questioning authority, determining accuracy, etc.
I felt like what was being described was information literacy and did not agree with the idea that transliteracy the overarching concept. One factor that led me to this conclusion was ALA’s definition which states,
information literacy as a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.
Another source defines information literacy as a
set of competencies that an informed citizen of an information society ought to possess to participate intelligently and actively in that society (Shapiro, 1996).
The definitions above are not tethered to a specific format. Additionally, the term “use effectively” in the first definition and “participate intelligently and actively” in the latter in account for the “interaction across platforms” stated in the definition of transliteracy. Just when I began to try to mentally draw lines between information literacy and transliteracy, Lane Wilkinson loaded up a ppt entitled, “Information Literacy vs. Transliteracy: Lessons for Library Instruction” aimed at removing the confusion. Boy was I relieved. Having Wilkinson do it meant I wouldn’t have to do any of the dirty work later on, so I thought.
TIP: Teach how information sources interact, not only the difference
Wilkison started by discussing traditional notions of literacy—reading & writing. He goes on to state that literacy is primarily concerned with communications, at least in a descriptive sense. This is where things began to get a foggy for me. Wilkison proceeds, describing some specific types of literacy (health, scientific, media) which deal with being able to evaluate and follows by saying they are NOT about communicating information. (My notes got a bit messy at that point, so there is a chance I am misrepresenting this).
I am not sure I buy the that information literacy does not address the way we communicate information. Especially since I have come across models that do. For example, the 4th step of the Big6 information literacy model is “Use of Information.” As far as I can tell, that would encompass communication. Furthermore, the ETS, which draws on the ACRL’s definition of information literacy for their tools have a digital assessment test, whose last indicator deals with the ability to communicate.
What does this mean for Information Literacy?
A significant portion of Ipri’s presentation was dedicated to explaining how transliteracy effects information literacy. He asks some really relevant questions. Questions that scholars will be involved in trying to develop responses for. Those questions included:
- Do information literacy standards provide a framework that allows researchers to capture the new rich interactions technology affords?
- If not, should the standards be expanded or should information literacy share the floor with transliteracy?
Because I am not familiar enough with transliteracy or the arguments for and against it, I am reluctant to take a solid stance. However, my gut tells me that information literacy can probably remain the umbrella term. This does not dismiss the need for the term transliteracy. However, I don’t see transliteracy as being the all-encompassing term.
What Can Library’s Do?
The speakers believe that transliteracy is concerned with many of the same skills and issues librarians have been concerned with for sometime. Subsequently, information professionals need to support library patrons ability to evaluate and communicate across platforms.Libraries can start by creating spaces for potential library users to develop these skills. Other suggestions included:
- Change: Newman, like many information science professionals emphasized the importance of being able to keep up with changes in a rapid changing landscape. Being unable to keep and carve out a space for ourselves as things continue to change leaves us at risk of become irrelevant.
- Support Each Other: Newman also implied that working together and not against each other will help us better position ourselves in an environment where transliteracy can be accomplished.
- Learn: Caserotti highlighted the importance of using informal opportunities to learn about new tools and how they can be used
- Connect with Users: Create opportunities that place the library at the center of transliteracy. Hold
- e-book summer reading program
- collaborative computer classes
- seminars that allow participants to create
I don’t know about you, but what I have to do now is read more about transliteracy and see if I need to change the language I am using in discussions and research. Thanks to Bobbi Newman, I know exactly where to begin. Are you interested in reading more about transliteracy? Start with the resources listed below:
- Libraries and Transliteracy Project, the Beginner’s Guide: Defines and explores transliteracy in depth
- Why Transliteracy at #ALA11: Power Point presentation slides from ALA’s 2011 annual conference
- ALA 2011 Working Toward Transliteracy: Richard Kong’s presentation showing what transliteracy looks like when spaces are created to support it
New to transliteracy? Start here (Short Reading List) (Retrieved from: https://librariesandtransliteracy.wordpress.com/resources-list/)
- Transliteracy: Take a Walk on the Wild Side, 75th IFLA General Conference And Council, 23-27 August 2009
- Transliteracy: Crossing Divides. Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Mills, Simon Perril, Kate Pullinger, First Monday, Volume 12 Number 12 – 3 December 2007
- Defining Transliteracy by Bobbi Newman
- Introducing Transliteracy: What does it mean to academic libraries?, Tom Ipri, College and Research Library News, November 2010
Just when I thought I was beginning to wrap my head around information literacy, I am introduced to transliteracy. An interesting concept indeed! But what does it all mean in the larger scheme of things? Many of the ideas expressed in about transliteracy (e.g. communication is distributed across information sources, Wilkinson, 2011) can be said about information literacy.
So, did I get it right? Is information literacy still the over arching term? Do you disagree or agree? Let me know.