Working Toward Transliteracy

Posted Sunday, June 26, 2011 - 18:09
Brainstormed chart of an “umbrella” view of information literacy as transliteracy. Illustration used under CC license. Original source:

Five presenters discussed the ways in which each implements transliteracy in their libraries. Transliteracy is often defined as the ability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio, and film, to digital social networks. However this definition is considered a working definition consistently in flux and, in practice, transliteracy is more expansive. A lot of discussion about transliteracy focuses on social uses of technology; however, the speakers emphasized that non-digital formats are as important to the discussion. They also stressed the point that teaching skills associated with transliteracy is not limited to patrons. Library staff also need to be informed about transliteracy.

Amy Mather, from Omaha (Nebr.) Public Library, opened the session by discussing how, for some people, moving from one device to another is a fluid process. For others, this process is interrupted as they struggle to adapt to a new technology. She emphasized the importance of libraries stepping in to teach the skills needed to move from computer to smartphone to tablets. She also warned against making false assumptions, providing an example of how in a computer class, she falsely assumed that her patrons were familiar with basic computer tasks such as using control-alt-delete. Lilly Ramin, from the University of North Texas, followed with a presentation about how the use of technology involves possibilities and how users do unexpected things with technology. Among other examples, she pointed to the use of Twitter during the Iranian protests.

Jamie Hollier began her presentation by pointing out that people often need help with technology during stressful times and they need a support structure to help them manage change. She said that libraries have the opportunity to provide this support by assisting people through the difficulty of the change cycle and provided several specific tips. She noted that transliteracy is a lifelong process. Matt Hamilton, from Anythink Libraries in Colorado, stressed how librarians and their patrons are on a journey together. Anythink prefers to call their librarians “guides” to emphasize this relationship. He pointed out how transliteracy skills assist people to translate lifelong skills to new platforms. For example, he mentioned how things like resumes and job applications often now are online. People who have the facility to create paper resumes and fill out paper applications may struggle to perform these tasks in a new format.

The final panelist, Richard Kong of the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Memorial Library focused on how libraries are becoming more like kitchens than grocery stores, a place where people go to create, not just retrieve. He used the example of a media lab as a way to level the playing field so that all patrons have the opportunity to use digital cameras, camcorders, and high-end editing stations to create. The presentation ended with several questions from the engaged audience.