Transliteracy for librarians
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Transliteracy (related terms: media literacy, metaliteracy) refers to a range of literacies needed to function in the Internet age because of mobile devices, social networking and different forms of media. According to Sue Thomas from DeMontfort University in the UK, 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...". Transliteracy is debated with vigour among educators and new media specialists such as the Production and Research in Transliteracy (PART) group at the Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT) and librarians such as Bobbi L. Newman, Buffy Hamilton and Marcus Banks. Transliteracy comes from the verb ‘to transliterate’ -- to change (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language. For example, to transliterate the Greek letter Χ as ch. While not a new concept, transliteracy is an extension of previous ideas and applies the notion of literacy to a range of electronic communication tools. Transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from print-centred debates (e.g. text bound or analogue) versus the digital. Further, the debate is an attempt to move us towards a more unified ecology that is relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture in the digital age.
In 2010, transliteracy was described in the CRL News as "...recent terminology gaining currency in the library world. It is a broad term encompassing and transcending many existing concepts. Because transliteracy is not a library-centric concept, many in the profession are unsure what the term means and how it relates to libraries’ instructional mission and to other existing ideas about various literacies. Transliteracy is such a new concept that its working definition is still evolving and many of its tenets can easily be misinterpreted. Although this term is in flux, academic librarians should watch developments in this new field to continually assess and understand what impact it may have on the ways they assist and interact with their patrons and each other."
The American enigmatic digital academic Howard Rheingold is working with Sue Thomas on transliteracy-related projects.
Where does the term originate? In 2005, the Transliteracies conference (Conversation Roundtables on Online Reading) assembled a group of theorists and practitioners from the humanities, arts, social sciences, computer science and industry to discuss reading in the "new media" age. The conference was the beginning of what became the Transliteracies research initiative. ("Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of Online Reading," June 17, 2005.)
Some synonyms related to transliteracy include information literacy, digital literacy and (trans)media literacy. Some media experts use the term meta-literacy (many literacies). There are undoubtedly others.
Is another literacy term needed?
Transliteracy refers to an expansion of literacy skills because of multimedia or to describe the ability to navigate across media, platforms and networks. To support this notion further, think of Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" in the context of social media circa 2011. McLuhan's idea here can be translated roughly as "...each medium has its own language and grammer, asking us to bring our own unique skills, knowledge and abilities to bear on what we are seeing... it codifies reality in a specific way; moreover, different types of media may report on the same event, but create vastly different textual and visual impressions not to mention different messages..." Being able to critique those ideas surely requires more than a text-based literacy of reading and writing.
What seems clear to me is that the distinctive skills we use in navigating ‘new media' are not articulated or fully understood, especially how new media is changing educational practices and literacy. In an effort to understand what exactly is "new", some librarians have suggested that new media is connected to previous literacies - so why come up with a new idea? It seems critical for librarians to pursue a line of questioning that says "what is new about new media, and how does it form the basis of ‘new literacies' and 'new learning’".
The plural ‘transliteracies’ was coined by Alan Liu at the Transcriptions Research Project, University of California at Santa Barbara, and predates transliteracy. Liu spearheaded the Transliteracies Project and explores technological, social, and cultural practices of online reading. In 2006, the UK Production and Research in Transliteracy (PART) group was formed which is based at the Institute of Creative Technologies. The IOCT undertakes research work at the intersection of e–Science, the Digital Arts, and Humanities. It is an interdisciplinary laboratory at the heart of an infrastructure grid that connects significant research centers across the university and providing a faculty–neutral space for transdisciplinary projects.
For a greater understanding of why another literacy term might be needed, listen to Sue Thomas from UK's IOCT speak clearly about it http://vimeo.com/2831405.
What makes transliteracy different?
see also Henry Jenkins on Transmedia