Beginner’s Guide to Transliteracy

Where did the term transliteracy come from?

The Transliteracies Research Project, directed by Alan Liu from the Department of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, first introduced the term “transliteracies.” The focus of this group is on online reading by establishing

working groups to study online reading from different perspectives; bring those groups into conjunction behind a shared technology development initiative; publish research and demonstration software; and train graduate students working at the intersections of the humanistic, social, and technological disciplines.

The Transliteracies Research Project defines online reading as

the experience of “text-plus” media by individuals and groups in digital, networked information environments. The “plus” indicates the zone of negotiation—of mutation, adaptation, cooptation, hybridization, etc.—by which the older dialogue among print, writing, orality, and audiovisual media commonly called “text” enters into new relations with digital media and with networked communication technologies.

They provide more details about their definition at their site.

Based on her experience at the first transliteracies conference, Sue Thomas from the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University was inspired to form the PART Group (Production and Research in Transliteracy). Initially PART was

a small group of researchers based in the Faculty of Humanities but researching in the Institute of Creative Technologies. The IOCT, which opened in 2006, undertakes research work in emerging areas at the intersection of e–Science, the Digital Arts, and Humanities. It comprises an interdisciplinary laboratory at the heart of an infrastructure grid connecting significant research centers across the university and providing a faculty–neutral space for the development of transdisciplinary projects. It is, therefore, the ideal cultural medium for transliterate practice. As well as analyzing transliteracy in general terms, the PART group also observes, responds to, and advises transdisciplinary projects within the IOCT, where the concept has become embedded in the discourse of the Institute. –Thomas, et al.

PART has since evolved into the Transliteracy Research Group.

Thomas, et al, posit a very specific origin to the term transliteracy:

The word ‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language. This of course is nothing new, but transliteracy extends the act of transliteration and applies it to the increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools at our disposal. From early signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV and film to networked digital media, the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present.

What is transliteracy?

Sue Thomas and her group use this working 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.

The definition of transliteracy continues to be expanded and refined, but, as Ipri points out:

Basically, transliteracy is concerned with what it means to be literate in the 21st century. It analyzes the relationship between people and technology, most specifically social networking, but is fluid enough to not be tied to any particular technology. It focuses more on the social uses of technology, whatever that technology may be.

How is transliteracy different than media literacy, digital literacy or technology literacy?

Transliteracy is an over-arching concept that is not meant to replace any of the other more specific studies of format-specific literacies. It sits on top of these other literacies in an attempt to understand the relationship among them. As Thomas, et al write, transliteracy

offers a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures, transliteracy does not replace, but rather contains, “media literacy” and also “digital literacy.”

They go on to posit that

transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present. It is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides.

Unlike many literacies that have a particular focus, transliteracy attempts to be all-inclusive. According to Thomas

transliteracy is not just about computer-based materials, but about all communication types across time and culture. It does not privilege one above the other but treats all as of equal value and moves between and across them.

Is transliteracy new?

Many of the underlying concepts are not new. What is new is the attempt to develop an understanding of this unifying ecology, of the relationship between individuals and expression, of the convergence of media. We are not seeing any new communication styles, only new ways of capturing and sharing those communications. We are now using video and audio equipment to capture content that could once only have been witnessed live. We are using computers, smart phones and other technology to share information that we would have previously shared over the phone, in letters, or face-to-face. We are getting information from reliable social networks rather than from traditional information sources.

In a report titled, “Technologies of Cooperation,” the Institute for the Future writes:

What we are witnessing today is thus the acceleration of a trend that has been building for thousands of years. When technologies like alphabets and Internets amplify the right cognitive or social capabilities, old trends take new twists and people build things that never could be built before.

Transliteracy attempts to understand how people behave in these new social and information sharing environments.

Why transliteracy & libraries?

Libraries are uniquely situated to be at the forefront of appreciating how transliteracy manifests in the real world. They already have a developed understanding of the underlying concepts. Susie Andretta from London Metropolitan University observes:

libraries are already meeting the challenges of transliteracy by crossing the divide between printed, digital and virtual worlds to address the constantly changing needs of the learners they support.

Libraries have to keep in mind that transliteracy is not a library-centric concept; it has its origins outside of libraries and will continue to evolve independently.

How does transliteracy relate to information literacy?

Because transliteracy has its origins outside of libraries, the original thinkers in no way intended it to challenge nor replace information literacy. Transliteracy began as a descriptive concept, designed to understand how people navigate their way across various media. Transliteracy can help inform and supplement a successful information literacy program. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive and share quite a bit of common ground.

Articles:

Transliteracy: take a walk on the wild side“, 75th Ifla General Conference And Council, 23-27 August 2009

Transliteracy: Crossing Divides“. Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Mills, Simon Perril, Kate Pullinger, First Monday, Volume 12 Number 12 – 3 December 2007

Introducing transliteracy: What does it mean to academic libraries?“, Tom Ipri, College and Research Library News, November 2010

by Tom Ipri & Bobbi Newman

23 Responses to “Beginner’s Guide to Transliteracy”

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