Trans-what? A Day of Literacies at the ALA Annual Conference
Transliteracy is a trendy word these days, and much like the Web 2.0 debate that took place a few years ago, there are those who question whether or not transliteracy is just a new, fancier term for information literacy.
According to Bobbi Newman, one of the speakers on the Why Transliteracy panel that took place Saturday, June 25, the concept is “not about the words that you like, but about what our communities need from us.” But let’s back up a second: What exactly is transliteracy?
The panel defined it this way: “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,” they made it clear to the audience that this definition actually comes from Sue Thomas of the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University—someone who works outside of the library world.
What was interesting about this panel discussion was that the speakers were from all different walks of librarianship. Gretchen Caserotti is a children’s librarian who said that “a library needs to be a place to create, so I think about all the different ways that people communicate—all the different mediums they interact with—and I use these same mediums to enhance existing programs like the summer reading program and computer classes in my library.”
Tom Ipri, head of media services at the University of Nevada library, explained his understanding of the concept as the, “idea that people map meaning across different media. People don’t experience a medium in isolation and no media is more important or authoritative than another. At its core, transliteracy is about moving across and through all these different mediums. ”
While much of the focus of the panel was about the mediums through which people communicate, the final speaker, Lane Wilkinson, reference and instruction librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, spoke about literacy. Coming from an instruction background, Wilkinson focused on how to incorporate transliteracy into the classroom and into students’ lives: “Right now, students do not incorporate the library into their network of how they use information, and we’re not necessarily teaching them skills that will take them beyond the four years they spend in college. Almost none of them will have access to JSTOR once they leave college, so I try to think in terms of transferable skills. It’s [transliteracy] about combining and moving across literacies. ”
Digital literacy is important too.
Literacy was truly the theme of the day, with the National Telecommunications Information Act roundtable discussion on the new digitalliteracy.gov portal taking place earlier in the afternoon. Ironically enough, the convention center was having Wi-Fi problems that day, so the presenters were unable to show us what the portal looked like or how it worked until the very end of the presentation, but they did offer their own insight and opinions into why it was needed.
The portal was created to leverage the government’s investment in broadband expansion throughout the country and the new tool is intended to be a resource for librarians, teachers, and other practitioners who teach digital literacy skills in their communities.
Much like the Why Transliteracy program presenters, this panel pointed out that not only are people communicating through more mediums than ever, but that our country is lagging in providing sufficient broadband access to allow for that communication. The portal launch will coincide with the broadband expansion in an effort to close the gap between the haves and have-nots when it comes to access to digital information.
Towards the end of the Why Transliteracy presentation, I couldn’t help but notice how connected these two panels had been. One panel provided access to information and the other taught people the skills to use it.
I must not have been alone in my observations because as Bobbi Newman rather aptly pointed out: “I had to take a bunch of classes to learn how to drive my car, which was great because you can do a lot of damage with a car, but you can also do a lot of damage to yourself online. So, it’s not just about the hardware, which is important, but also about the skills you need to use the hardware and skills you need to close the divide.”