A colleague of mine and I have been talking about transliteracy for some time and came to very similar conclusions as David Rothman did in his smart and respectful critique. I’d thought about writing about it myself for months but two things stopped me. The first was that I thought perhaps there was something I was missing, which is still certainly possible. The other is that I’ve tried to avoid discussions about buzz words ever since I got bruised and battered for criticizing Library 2.0. While I do agree with David that Library 2.0 and Transliteracy describe things that are not in any way new and are murky terms to say the least, I think there’s a key difference between the two. I feel like the rhetoric around transliteracy is far less hysterical; less “if you don’t do this your library will become irrelevant!” or “if you don’t do this you’re against change!” That makes me feel more confident that my own critique (as someone who actively promotes information literacy as part of her job and is the Chair of her University’s Information Literacy Committee) will not be seen as an attack.
I’ve been following the blog Libraries and Transliteracy since it started. I read Tom Ipri’s article in C&RL News. I’ve read a number of other pieces on the subject from non-librarians. All of them start from the same basic definition (“Transliteracy is 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”) but there seems to be no agreement on what that means and how it should be applied. I still don’t feel like I have a handle on what transliteracy means. Lane Wilkinson looks at transliteracy through the lens of library instruction and teaching students to navigate a complex information ecosystem. From her presentations, Bobbi Newman seems to focus more on transliteracy being about teaching digital literacy. Tom Ipri writes:
On one level, transliteracy is a descriptive concept, being a “new analytical perspective.” In its original iteration, transliteracy is more about understanding the ways various means of communication interact and understanding, not necessarily teaching, the skills necessary to move effortlessly from one medium to another. It is about the convergence of these media and acknowledges the multi-modal experience of engaging with the modern world.
The First Monday article I read defines transliteracy as being the convergence of other previously existing literacies like digital and media literacy (which I always felt like information literacy did too). I feel like I’m smarter than the average bear, but the more I read about this, the more stupid I feel. When I see sentences like “in fact, incommensurability is anathema to the transliteracy project because transliteracy is predicated on the ability to maneuver between competing ‘paradigms’ of literacy” my eyes glaze over. As someone who studied philosophy a great deal in college, I’ve always felt that the mark of a great theorist is the ability to explain something simply (thanks John Locke and Jeremy Bethman!). So I’m going to look at the way Lane Wilkinson distinguishes information literacy from transliteracy, since it seems like the most coherent and concrete description I’ve seen.
Lane Wilkinson describes the difference between information literacy and transliteracy as being that information literacy compartmentalizes academic research and tools vs. popular research and tools and transliteracy conceives of them as all being part of a big information ecosystem. That certainly sounds like a good idea; our instruction should be about teaching patrons to make sense of the information ecosystem that exists, and that does extend beyond the walled garden of the University. The issue is, that’s how I and my colleagues have always seen information literacy. That’s how information literacy was defined by pretty much everyone I attended ACRL Immersion with. Sure, there are some librarians that only see our role as teaching the library resources, but that’s more about them doing a disservice to their patrons than about information literacy being that limited. I believe that what I teach students in information literacy sessions should be just as useful for them when they work on a paper as when they are choosing their next laptop. It’s about enabling people to make good decisions by choosing the best sources of information (for their need). It’s not just about academic research, but about life-long decision-making support. Information literacy isn’t just for academic and K-12 libraries; it’s for all libraries. When you teach a patron how to find grant information online so they can start their small business, that’s information literacy. When you teach a patron how to avoid getting scammed online, that’s information literacy. When you teach them how to create their own blog in order to share information, that’s information literacy. Call it information literacy, call it transliteracy, call it Fred, but I just don’t see how the two terms are different. Were we not doing it all before? What is new?
The way librarians and other instructors teach information literacy instruction has grown and changed in response to the changing information ecosystem. We respond to the needs of our students and what is available to them. We didn’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend the Wikipedia doesn’t exist. We don’t spend 50 minutes now covering how to search a print index. I would be a negligent instructor if I didn’t teach students in my liaison area (the social sciences) about the primary historical, government and NGO/think-tank/etc. sources on the web. As the resources, technologies and students change, so do we. And while there are librarians who don’t change the way they teach, that’s just being a bad instructor. It has nothing to do with information literacy instruction somehow being insufficient.
What I find is that the biggest force for making information literacy just be about the library is faculty (not all though — I have plenty who are gung ho for me to teach students how to critically evaluate all sources, including those on the web). I sometimes get complaints when I cover web searching and evaluation in addition to searching tools like Academic Search Premier. I’ve received dirty looks when I tell students that the Wikipedia (as well as other reference works) is a great place for getting ideas for keywords to use in searching on their topic. And perhaps that’s where transliteracy can be useful. Perhaps librarians just need to see if this takes hold with K-12 teachers and college and teaching faculty and jump on the bandwagon if it does. That’s no different from my jumping on the fact that my University amended General Education Goal 1 to include the teaching and assessment of “the ability to find, analyze, synthesize and critically evaluate information” and getting a committee together to assess how that is (or isn’t) happening. It doesn’t really matter to me what faculty and administration are calling information literacy (independent/critical inquiry, research skills, Gen Ed Goal 1, etc.) as long as they’re talking about it. But I don’t see how us changing our own language about this is going to change anything regarding our ability to promote it.
Someone in the comments on David’s post felt that the term information literacy has too much baggage, because many think of it as being just about the library and library instruction. Forgive me if I’m wrong (I wasn’t a librarian then) but didn’t we get rid of the term bibliographic instruction and change it to information literacy because it had too much baggage and was thought of as being the librarian’s thing? To be honest, I feel like it’s our own fault that information literacy is thought of as being a library thing. We push information literacy from a library perspective. Librarians go to faculty meetings armed with the ACRL standards which have no meaning to non-librarians and talking about library instruction. We work to make sure that all students in certain classes get information literacy instruction from a librarian (as if other instructors are incapable of teaching it). In trying to communicate our unique qualifications to teach information literacy, we make information literacy about us. And we buy into it just being about us too. I remember when I first approached my director about asking the VPAA to create an information literacy committee made up of members of the faculty from each academic school, her first thought was “couldn’t the Faculty Library Committee do that?” And now that we have a committee, we are mapping out how information literacy is taught and assessed throughout the academic curricula; regardless of whether it’s done by a librarian or their professor. I think until we change our own marketing approach to being less about getting librarians into more classes and more about information literacy being taught (no matter who is doing it) it won’t really matter what term we use. It will always be associated with us.
In the end, I felt like the whole Library 2.0 thing was a distraction. So many libraries jumped on the bandwagon, creating “2.0 services” that were not carefully planned for, staffed or assessed. Now we see a vast 2.0 graveyard of abandoned blogs, wikis, Facebook pages and more. And, in the end, there was never really any agreement on what it all meant. I can’t really see anything good that came from that term or discussions about it. Now, instead of tons of articles, presentations and books about Library 2.0, we will see tons of articles, presentations and books about transliteracy. What real impact will it have on our patrons? How will it change the way we serve them? I feel like a cynical jerk sometimes, but I want to see results. I have no problems with theories as long as they can be applied to our work in some way. My own teaching has been influenced heavily by constructivist learning theory, but I’m not sure what transliterate library services or transliterate instruction looks like. And until someone can show me, I guess I’m going to be as cynical about that as I was about Library 2.0.
Hi Meredith, I think I agree with most everything you’ve just written. But I’d like to make a few points of clarification:
First, I don’t actually propose transliteracy as any sort of alternative to information literacy. As I wrote, transliteracy just is information literacy (actually, just a small subset). I also should have put more emphasis on the ‘often’ when I wrote that “information literacy is often needlessly segmented” and I should have made it clearer that
More to the point, I just want to reiterate that I understand transliteracy strictly as a teaching method based in analogy and transfer of learning. For me, it’s another pedagogical tool to add to the toolbox. A chapter in a book of teaching strategies, if you will. Transliteracy has nothing to do with librarians hiding from Wikipedia or avoiding the web…you’re right, that’s just negligence. I’m only concerned with the students and faculty who are drawing distinctions between “academic” and “non-academic” research. One way we tackle student apprehension in my library is to make a structured appeal to their existing competencies using analogy and cognitive transfer. We make active use of, say, Wikipedia, in order to teach them about Academic OneFile. We also use games, demonstrations, quizzes, lectures and a whole slew of teaching tricks. But, since I don’t know the actual name for the former method, I’m using transliteracy. In sum, teaching best practices for navigating the information ecosystem is not transliteracy (for me) it is good old information literacy. Using Wikipedia as a means for teaching a library database, that’s what I want to focus on.
So, in all seriousness, and in deference to your experience (I won’t go to Immersion until next year), what teaching method am I describing? Whatever it’s called, that’s what I want to talk about and any use of the term ‘transliteracy’ outside of a specific teaching method is outside of my expertise.
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i second your concerns, and i’m not entirely comfortable with the term myself, but i’ll use it. in reality, transliteracy seems like an umbrella term that covers too much well-defined ground to be much more than a catchphrase rather than a critical framework to understand the world around us.
Thanks for your thoughtful post, Meredith.
I agree with Lane and don’t see transliteracy as something that is meant to replace information literacy. Thank you for quoting a key point of my article. Transliteracy did start out as an “analytic perspective” not meant to prescribe any pedagogical approach. I very pointedly say in my article that information literacy may very well cover all the skills needed for an individual to be transliterate and stress that transliteracy is a field librarians may want to watch in case anything develops there that can better inform how libraries deliver information literacy instruction. It’s most decidedly not an either/or situation.
This concept did not develop within libraries, so, for me, this is a matter of intellectual curiosity. How does this new field of inquiry fit with what libraries are trying to achieve? There is obvious overlap with information literacy which is why I don’t see transliteracy as a replacement, but it may be something we can learn from and contribute to.
I find “transliteracy” a poor choice of words for the concepts involved, but I didn’t create it so can’t do much about that. When people want to critique transliteracy, what I usually see is that they will first define “literacy” and then be unable to fit transliteracy into that intellectual framework. But as Thomas points out in the First Monday article you refer to, the term does not have its origins in the ideas of literacy but in the ability “to transliterate,” that is to map letters or words from one language into that of another. Transliteracy is the ability to map skills learned in one medium onto that of another. It is not about being literate in any given arena but having the skills to transfer that knowledge. It’s about being able to transfer and adapt social skills learned in face-to-face communication onto online interactions. The key concept is that of transference.
The term is also unfortunate because of the ways the concepts involved have evolved. Because becoming fluent in the online environment has become essential to the types of discussions and information sharing that can potentially make one a more active and vital citizen, those concerned about transliteracy have become advocates for such things as net neutrality, broadband equity and bridging the digital divide. There are social and political concerns that require equal access to technology and a baseline of skills to successfully navigate the technology. This equity of civic involvement has been essential to libraries since their inception.
A lot of this is nothing new to libraries, but I find something intriguing about transliteracy because it is coming from outside the library realm and librarians are well-positioned to contribute to its development and/or learn from its research.
Hi Meredith, I think you’ve been ahead of the curve in information literacy instruction for a while now. David too for that matter, which is why it seems there is “no there there” with transliteracy.
I think that many people’s notions of information literacy are very traditional and library-based, as you note. So “transliteracy” is just an attempt to label the kind of teaching you’ve been doing for years…yes, the term information literacy does have baggage with it.
On Library 2.0–sure, it was in many ways a buzzword, and individual “2.0 projects” were not well evaluated. But how well do we evaluate and let go of “1.0” verities? There are many reference desks out there hanging on for dear life. If we’re going to get rigorous with the new, we should be prepared to be equally tough with the pstensibly “tried and true.”
More thoughts on transliteracy here: http://mbanks.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/12/transliteracy-information-literacy-et-al.html
A: “Sure, there are some librarians that only see our role as teaching the library resources, but that’s more about them doing a disservice to their patrons than about information literacy being that limited…It’s about enabling people to make good decisions by choosing the best sources of information (for their need). It’s not just about academic research, but about life-long decision-making support.”
B: “we are mapping out how information literacy is taught and assessed throughout the academic curricula; regardless of whether it’s done by a librarian or their professor.”
In my opinion, B is the only way A can be supportable. “What students learn while enrolled in degree programs” is curriculum; curriculum is the right and obligation of the faculty as a whole.
There are also student support services. So when I “teach a patron how to find grant information online so they can start their small business,” I do it collaboratively with Career Services. (My university doesn’t have any academic business courses.)
It is hard for me to explain my views on this in the right way. There are many, many valuable and appropriate things that academic libraries can do. But we have limited resources and an obligation to align with our institutions’ goals. If we can successfully advocate within shared governance structures for goals that we believe in–great! If we can’t…then pursuing our separate “library things” is not only doomed, but irresponsible.
Meredith, I keep waffling on whether I’m agreeing with you or disagreeing with you. 🙂
“…the more I read about this, the more stupid I feel.”
Glad it’s not just me. 🙂
Great post. Lots of food for thought.
Meredith – I’m glad you wrote ” I feel like the rhetoric around transliteracy is far less hysterical; less “if you don’t do this your library will become irrelevant!” or “if you don’t do this you’re against change!” That has never been my intent, part of my goal when I talk about transliteracy is to make sure the focus is where it belongs – on the needs of our patrons not on tools or technology.
You’re right I do talk about digital literacy or medial literacy or whatever we want to call it when I present. My focus tends to be on the technical aspects of things. That is one of the reasons I’ve worked hard to bring together a diverse group of contributors. Transliteracy is a new concept and we need to come at it from multiple experiences and backgrounds.
As for “What real impact will it have on our patrons? How will it change the way we serve them? I feel like a cynical jerk sometimes, but I want to see results.” What sort of proof do you want?(real question, not snark) Transliteracy is a new concept in general and we are working to apply it and I’m ok with it being a work in progress (the blog is less than a year old). I understand that many people aren’t, they want clear rules, definitions guidelines, and measures and pie charts, I’m not sure I am able to help them at this point. I’m ok with that too. Not in a mean way but in a I-can’t-do-everything-at-once sort of way.
We are reaching people and we are making them think about the needs of patrons in the 21st century and that is making a difference in the lives of our patrons or I wouldn’t be spending so much of my own time on it.
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@Lane WIlkinson, thanks for that clarification. Like Meredith, I have been suspicious of transliteracy as a subject of study. When I read the incommensurability quote, I thought “compare and contrast a movie and a book on the same subject.” I could not imagine how that could warrant specialized instruction. But as a teaching method, yes, the term makes perfect sense to me as a teaching method.
Tom’s point that transliteracy is a relatively new term probably explains the confusion surrounding it. I have seen a lot of strange emails on literacy listservs that try to explain it as a form of literacy that either somehow does not overlap with information literacy or else is a better replacement for information literacy. After seeing all those emails, I was beginning to see it as a cancerous word. I hope your view of it as a teaching method becomes a more explicit part of the discussion. That would help us all.
Sorry for the delay on responding to these wonderful comments! Was sidelined by illness and then catching up on the work I missed.
@Lane – thanks for the clarification. I find your thoughts on transliteracy fascinating and I think whatever makes people better instructors is a good thing. I figure what you describe is just good engaging information literacy instruction incorporating (possibly) instructional tech and active learning. To me, the key to teaching is to be user-focused and use whatever tricks and techniques are appropriate to the group you’re teaching. Even when I was a psychotherapist, I was very averse to adopting a specific theoretical perspective for my work — I believed in having a big bag of tricks (AKA theoretical perspectives that I embraced) and working from where my client was.
P.S. You’re going to love Immersion — it’s such a career-altering experience. Enjoy!
@Tom – thank you for your clarification. I know it’s difficult to work with a term that you didn’t create and I think it’s important that we are aware of what educators are talking about in case it becomes a big buzz word that we can use to promote information literacy, digital literacy, etc.
I like what you say about transliteracy being “the ability to map skills learned in one medium to another.” That definition speaks to me and I think it’s at the center of what good information literacy instruction SHOULD accomplish. We should be focused more on helping students develop information seeking and evaluation skills that will serve them no matter what tools they are using to get to that information. Focusing just on teaching them the finer details of academic databases is doing students a grave disservice.
Developing transferrable info lit skills speaks to me more than any of the other rhetoric surrounding transliteracy. THAT makes sense to me. You’re right that it’s nothing new, but like I said in the post, if it gets faculty to realize that information literacy is more than just teaching students the library databases, then it’s a good thing.
@Marcus – thanks for your thoughts. My issue is that what’s 1.0 at one library may be 2.0 at another. At some libraries, the reference desk is a concept and piece of furniture that works for their users. At others, it’s a barrier. A good librarian assesses their users and finds out what is working for them and what isn’t and then makes changes.
IMHO, Library 2.0 became less about being user-focused and more about what the 2.0 library should look like. The fact is, what works for the patrons at a major metropolitan public library may not work for students at my small rural private military college and vice versa. My feeling about buzzwords (and even many theoretical perspectives that I was familiar with as a psychotherapist) is that they often become prescriptive or constraining. And maybe that’s just my bias (actually it definitely is), but I do think Library 2.0 definitely went that way in the way it was sold by many proponents and adopted by many libraries.
@Mark – you can agree with some of what I said and disagree with other parts. 🙂
Personally, I see the library as a student support service. Sure, we play an instructional role, but so does the Academic Achievement Center on our campus and the Career Center. We may have faculty status at some institutions and what we do is certainly central to the educational mission of the university, but I do see what we do as an academic support service. What we do is different from what regular teaching faculty do, though sometimes there is overlap (such as when we teach).
@Bobbi – I think what I’m looking for in terms of “proof” is this: what does the transliterate individual look like?
When you have so many people taking different spins on this, it’s hard for me (and I’d assume other people too) to wrap my mind around it. To me, starting from the end point makes it much clearer and also easier to figure out how we can get there. When I work with an academic department at Norwich, I ask them what information literacy skills a student graduating with a major in their department should look like. Then I can work backwards with faculty and figure out how we can build appropriate instruction into the curriculum. Everything we do in libraries should be informed my specific goals or how do we know we were ever successful?
And I’m not saying that there needs to be one single definition of what the transliterate person looks like that everyone must embrace. Not everyone buys 100% into ACRL’s definition of the information literate individual, but I think everyone in our profession has some conception in their head of what an information literate individual looks like and there are certain traits common to all of those definitions and other areas that overlap. I can’t picture a transliterate individual right now.
I’m not looking for the prescription on how to make people transliterate, but I feel like if the people writing about transliteracy can’t tell me what they think a transliterate individual looks like, it’s very hard for me to buy into the term being anything more than a buzzword.
I like this blog post. So far as I can determine, transliteracy is a garbage term.
[…] by respect librarians spurred on a recent debate. Meredith Farkas wrote a post entitled “Transliteracy from the perspective of an information literacy advocate“. In this thoughtful and through-provoking post, Farkas compares transliteracy to the […]
Hi, colleagues: I can not claim to be an expert in “transliteracy”, but having been engaged now for several years in trying to have our library colleagues convinced that “multiliteracies” (New London Group, of course) is all about libraries’ contribution to the lifelong learning agenda, what strikes me about all this ‘transliteracy’ literature is their failing to cite and comment extensively on the seminal contributions of say Kalantzis, Cope, Kress, Gee, et al.
They have been doing extensive action research and publishing over the last fifteen years on the same issues dealt with lately by the ‘transliteracy’ academic niche (sorry if this proves to be an inaccurate description). And I know very well how respected the NLG scholars and practitioners are among the Northamerican IL community.
All this said, I welcome the ‘transliteracy’ approach and contributions, especially after so many clarifications in this post (thanks). My only problem will be how to translate this construct into Spanish for my library -and education- colleagues.
I’ve been waiting for your take on this, Meredith, as I knew it would be thoughtful. I have to say, my initial reading of the C&RL article and the L&T blog were not met with much agreement on my part, mainly stemming form the lack of a full definition.
My first thought when seeing the word “transliteracy” was “transliteration,” a common concept among those of who deal with multiple alphabets. And yet, the first time I saw that connection mentioned is here in the comments section of your post.
The irony is that transliteration does not help you understand the other language, but merely be able to pronounce it. It’s basically a cheat sheet, not a path to literacy. Which is why I find the term Transliteracy sort of odd, especially without a concrete use of it.
It’s the same issue I had with Library 2.0: There was a large call to “do this” without showing the how and why. It’s great to host a blog at your library or develop a podcast, but what do you need to do with it to make it work? That’s never mentioned in that call. We only ever saw a few bona-fide case results of 2.0 really making a difference.
I hate to be the curmudgeonly type, but if Lane W. and all are saying that many of us already practice transliteracy (and I believe most of us do), then the next step is not talk about it in the abstract as a pedagogical tool, but show a marked demonstration of how it has been successful is both libraries and other organizations.
[…] Lane Wilkinson’s post Transliteracy and Incommensurability, further implied by Rothman’s, and elaborated upon by Meredith Farkas, Lane Wilkinson, and […]
Here is my favorite blog that touches on transliteracy (or more specifically media literacies).
I particularly liked the series on video remixes:
Hi, ‘transliterate’ colleagues: Happy New Year.
Ellie #22: thanks to let us know that our longbeloved Henry is an ‘aca-fan’ of ‘transliteracy’. Is Henry himself aware of the fact that what he has been doing for such a long time (analogical + digital) has been ‘transliteracy avant-la-lettre’?
The answer seems to be no, since a simple search for “transliteracy” in his ‘aca-fan’tastic blog gives no results whatsoever (hope I did the right search -will try again in a few minutes). Perhaps you can offer us further evidence.
My last question: ¿are ‘transliteracy’ promoters happy with your equation of transliteracy with media literacy? Thanks for your feedback.
@Cristobal – It was my own conflation. I see many similarities, like I do between information literacy and transliteracy. Since transliteracy seems to me to be an interdisciplinary endeavor, I imagine the promoters would be happy to include media literacy and information literacy in their discourse. If I offended though, many apologies.
[…] heated online discussion with challenges and questions about the term “transliteracy” and it’s place in Library Land seems to have […]
[…] In the end, I felt like the whole Library 2.0 thing was a distraction. So many libraries jumped on t… […]
[…] View the original article here […]
[…] However, there is at least one really good objection to transliteracy as it is currently being applied by libraries, namely, that the concept of transliteracy is redundant…it’s already covered under existing information literacy standards. As Meredith Farkas wrote several months ago, “The way librarians and other instructors teach information literacy instruction has grown and changed in response to the changing information ecosystem…And while there are librarians who don’t change the way they teach, that’s just being a bad instructor. It has nothing to do with information literacy instruction somehow being insufficient.” (12/21/2010) […]
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[…] 延伸閱讀： Information Wants To Be Free － Transliteracy from the perspective of an information literacy advocate […]
[…] What does transliteracy mean to you? What is its place in your classroom? Answers vary. Academic librarians Bobbi Newman and Tom Ipri provide a succinct introduction of the background and use of transliteracy in their “Beginner’s Guide.” Newman, the Librarian by Day who writes with Ipri and others at the blog Libraries and Transliteracy, has created a 2012 slideshare to update ideas surrounding transliteracy, stressing the scope and inclusiveness of transliteracy encompassing other literacies. In part, the piece responds to some of the concerns on the usefulness of the word. […]