On Defining Transliteracy and Why Transliteracy Matters

I’d like to bring your attention to a post by Lane Wilkinson. Most of the post is about the definition of the word transliteracy and if we need to redefine it.  Lane takes an indepth look at the the why, how and need of defining or redefining including covering extensional and intensional definitions, concluding in part

… there is nothing yet to be gained by specifying the precise necessary and sufficient conditions for being an instance of transliteracy. Why? Well, transliteracy is in its infancy, and part of the fun in tracking its development is that there really is no consensus about what, exactly, ‘transliteracy’ means.

The whole post is worth a read if you are interested in the definition of transliteacy. Even if you are comfortable with the term, you may want to pay attention to his final paragraph where he raises the question: “One last thing…why should librarians be involved in transliteracy?”

It’s simple, really. Libraries are on the front lines of traditional literacy initiatives. But, libraries are also the vanguard for information literacy and digital literacy. In fact, if you can call it a type of literacy, you’ll probably find it in a library. This is important because it follows that libraries should be the natural proving grounds for exemplary instances of transliteracy. As a reference and instruction librarian, I see potential transliteracy every day. Whether it’s the cognitive code-switching when students effortlessly glide between touch-screens, keyboards, and pencils, or it’s the cognitive effects of 140-character constraints, or it’s the preference for digital access over print, or any other activity I see daily in the library, I can tell that that something is happening to our conception of literacy. Some sort of information related cognitive process is very well-developed in some patrons, and not so well developed in others. I can’t give a precise definition yet, but I can point to similarities, and, for the moment, that is how we should be approaching ‘transliteracy’. Librarians are perfectly situated to contribute to the extension of ‘transliteracy’ and, moreover, once a sufficient understanding of exemplary cases is reached, librarians are perfectly situated to explain why transliteracy matters.

I really like what Lane has to say, my only point of contention would be that since we are seeing transliteracy everyday, and “libraries should be the natural proving grounds for exemplary instances of transliteracy” we should not wait to explain why transliteracy matters.  Transliteracy matters because it reflects the demonstrated change in the needs of our communities whether that community is school, public, academic or special library.

2 Responses to “On Defining Transliteracy and Why Transliteracy Matters”

  1. Lane Wilkinson Says:

    Thank you so much for linking to my humble little blog.

    I also realize now that the last sentence or two are a bit ambiguous. I absolutely agree with you that we shouldn’t wait to explain why transliteracy matters. My intended point was that we should be focusing on explaining why it matters, and the lack of a strict definition is not really an obstacle. Oh well, at least I said something.

    • Bobbi Newman Says:

      Lane you’re welcome! I’ve been impressed with your posts, thank you for contributing to the discussion in such a well thought out, civil way.


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