In recent weeks, the blogosphere has been abuzz with a flurry of posts debating the value of the term transliteracy in library circles. Some of the conversations about transliteracy–what it is, why librarians should care, what it looks like–have been constructive; however, some of the discussions have been outright petty, mean-spirited, and unprofessional, particularly those in David Rothman’s post that question the motives and integrity of Bobbi Newman and others’ work on transliteracy, which really detracts from the more important discussion of why librarians should not only care about transliteracy, but also pay heed to other disciplines whose work informs our practice. If libraries are about learning (and I think they should be), then you certainly need to be tuned into the conversations in other information landscapes.
One of the problems I see with the conversations in these recent posts is that some view transliteracy as a synonym for “information literacy” when in fact, it is not. I can see how you might struggle to conceptualize the term if you are looking through just the lens of information literacy, but if we look at the working definition of transliteracy, we’re looking at a much broader picture: multiple literacies for reading and writing the world. I interpret transliteracy as an umbrella term that examines how traditional literacies transact with new and emerging literacies; the intersection of these literacies, I think, is where transliteracy can help us theorize how people may use a combination of literacies in transformative ways to access, create, and share information through diverse mediums.
Like others, I’m still mucking around with this notion of transliteracy; I enjoy examining how it plays out in my practice and my services to high school students in our library. I think this effort is particularly evident in the work Susan Lester and I have done for the last year and a half with the Media 21 project, but as I’ve shared in several presentations this fall, other librarians at the elementary and middle level are also applying the transliteracy lens to their practice and work with students through collaborative learning experiences they facilitate with classroom teachers. In 2011, I would like to further explore how libraries can be sites of literate communities (and I use literate in a broad sense of expanding beyond the standard definition of the word) where people are engaging in many kinds of literate practices to consume and create content in thoughtful, meaningful, and new ways that meld traditional and new literacies. I also will continue to explore how participatory culture and librarianship dovetail with transliteracy.
My inquiry stance on literacy and background study in critical theory in Literacy and Language Education at the University of Georgia most definitely color my thinking—I am perfectly fine with a working and most likely, imperfect, definition of transliteracy, but I think the cognitive dissonance we’re experiencing as we try to unpack the concept of transliteracy and the process of inquiry is where the real learning takes place. Whether we (and that includes me) ultimately accept or reject the term transliteracy in the future, there is value in the exploration, questioning, and testing of these ideas.
I think it is important for us to embrace the chaos and messiness of inquiry and learning (as Dr. Bob Fecho at UGA would often tell us) and model risk-taking and being comfortable with being imperfect or “beta”, in finding joy in the joy of learning and of asking questions (isn’t that what libraries are about?) rather than feeling compelled to finalize answers right now and dismiss the inquiry. For now, I accept “Beginnings are always messy” (John Galsworthy) and am approaching my disquisition of transliteracy anticipating that ideas may be fuzzy for a bit and not yet clearly in focus. I will continue to contemplate my inquiry as thoughtfully and purposefully as I can and share those reflections with you through my blog postings and presentations, which I invite you to read in their entirety and not try to interpret out of context or in a piecemeal fashion as some have. I encourage you to share your thoughts and any examples you may have of how libraries are supporting transliteracy.
Here are some thoughtful reads for your consideration:
- The Whole Elephant: Librarians Arguing About Transliteracy, Sue Thomas
- Comment #10, ,Martha Hardy
- What is Transliteracy, and How Does It Fit at Empire State College?, Dana Longley
- What is This Buzzword “Transliteracy”? A Q&A with Ryan Nadel, Josh Karp
- It’s Not Nothing, Diane Cordell
- Considering Transmedia: Literature Born “Digital”, Laura Fleming and John Connell (thank you, Polly Farrington)