Transliteracy…or Metaliteracy?

One of the goals here at Libraries and Translitercy is to situate transliteracy within an increasingly diverse array of competing “literacies”. While information literacy has persisted for decades as a core concept in librarianship, we now also have to grapple with digital literacy, visual literacy, cyberliteracy, new media literacy, and a host of other responses to defining literacy in the digital age. Keeping track of these literacies is rather confusing, so the recent article1 by Mackey and Jacobson in College and Research Libraries is sorely needed.

In a nutshell, Mackey and Jacobson argue that information literacy needs to be recast as a unifying concept providing the framework for different literacy types. ‘Metaliteracy’ is offered as this unifying concept. As they write,

“metaliteracy provides a conceptual framework for information literacy that diminishes theoretical differences, builds practical connections, and reinforces central lifelong learning goals among different literacy types.  Rather than envision these methods as unrelated or disconnected, we see information literacy as the essential framework that informs and unifies additional literacy types.  Through this approach we recognize the standard information literacy characteristics (determine, access, evaluate, incorporate, use, understand) as integral to related literacy formats.” (p. 76)

The authors even briefly mention transliteracy, correctly describing it as a unifying approach to literacies that has been developed outside of the library world (p.69).  In fact, the authors’ description of metaliteracy is so strikingly similar to those given to transliteracy that I feel I have to ask…do ‘metaliteracy’ and ‘transliteracy’ refer to the same concept? If so, which term should we use?  If they are different, how are they different?

I, for one, have no problem with using either term so long as the same practical concerns are addressed, but I’m curious to see what others think. Are transliteracy and metaliteracy (as described by Mackey and Jacobson) the same thing?

1Mackey, Thomas and Trudi Jacobson. “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” College and Research Libraries 72, no. 1 (2011): 62-78.

Two Free Books on Digital Literacies

Thanks to Sheila Webber at the Information Literacy Weblog for pointing me towards these. I haven’t only discovered them this morning so I can’t provide any sort of review. From her blog

… for those interested in digital literacies, there are substantial resources from established researchers in this field, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. There are two books which can be accessed as complete pdfs: A New Literacies Sampler and Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices.

These can both be accessed from here:

Lankshear and Knobel’s blog is Everyday literacies at A recent post highlights the open-access Nordic journal of digital literacy which has English language articles as well as ones in Nordic languages.

A New Literacies Sampler (pdf)

Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. (pdf)

At 323 and 263 pages these are just one more reason I wish I had a Kindle for reading PDFs. :-) I’ll post more on them once I’ve finished in the meantime I would love to hear what you think.

Transliteracy and Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search


"Concept Mapping" (2009). CC image courtesy of yish on Flickr

One of the common criticisms of transliteracy is that “we can’t describe what a transliterate person looks like.” As far as I’m concerned, this is criticism is rooted in a simple category mistake: people aren’t transliterate, transliteracy is a cognitive function. That is, transliteracy is best understood as a cognitive skill or ability, one that can and should be emphasized in our information literacy curriculum. This is why I think that Lucy Holman’s recent article1 in The Journal of Academic Librarianship is especially important for those interested in transliteracy.

In the latest issue of the JAL, Holman has provided valuable, empirical research into the nature and content of the mental models used by student researchers. The concept of mental models has a long history in information literacy. For example, Holman references Brandt’s (1997) constructivist approach2 of “connecting students’ existing mental models (for example, use of a telephone directory) to that of an online index” (p. 20). Appealing to mental models is a core aspect of successful information literacy. Yet, as Holman’s research suggests, the most common approaches to information literacy instruction are rooted in a print-based mental model of online searching that is at odds with “millennials’ own mental models of Internet-based information retrieval with engines that more accurately and effectively parse a simpler, more natural language query” (pp. 25-26). Holman concludes by advocating that information literacy instruction shift focus from search strategies to evaluation, which is nothing new, but in rooting this shift in mental models she has provided an excellent proving ground for transliteracy-based instruction.

Put simply, students’ mental models of effective research practices are both poorly constructed and wildly divergent. Library instructors need to address this, and many do: the idea of connecting mental models (the telephone directory to online index example) is well-established in information literacy, but the increasing complexity (and the increasing number) of research avenues has lead to a need for a more nuanced approach that is independent of any particular mental model. If we could address how students construct and apply these models, it may make a world of difference in library instruction.

Elsewhere, I have argued that transliteracy is about linguistic competency, and one of the basic features of linguistic competency is the ability to construct mental models. Moreover, with each new information system or domain we encounter, we add to our available mental models. Google, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, Quora, JSTOR, etc…each either creates a new mental model, or affects an existing mental model, of how an information system behaves. For example, my mental model of how Wikipedia works is playing a part in how I approach Quora. In turn, Quora itself might lead me to a new model of understanding information-seeking behavior. The ability to construct and evaluate effective mental models is key in transliteracy instruction, so it follows that transliteracy may yet prove itself as that more nuanced approach to addressing the problems Holman identifies.

Whether you like the term ‘transliteracy’ or not, Holman’s research provides substantive evidence that the underlying concepts are important.

1Holman, Lucy. “Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search: Implications for Academic Librarians and Database Developers.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 37, no. 1 (2011): 19-27.

2Brandt, D. Scott. “Constructivism: Teaching for Understanding of the Internet.” Communications of the ACM 40, no. 10 (1997): 112-117.

8 Facebook Pages You Should Follow

I’m stealing this idea from the Ten Facebook Pages Every Techie Should Follow post over on AllFacebook.

If you’re interested in the issues and ideas we discus here at Libraries and Transliteracy you’ll find these Facebook pages useful too

1. Libraries and TransliteracyObviously :-) Official page of this site

2. Transliteracy - page of the Transliteracy Research Group

3. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation In conjunction with the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program has released several key reports and papers over the last year including Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of ActionInforming Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age and A Sensible Approach to Universal Broadband

4. Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy Official page of the report mentioned in number 3, it “aims to maximize the availability and flow of credible local information; to enhance access and capacity to use new tools of knowledge and exchange; and to encourage people to engage with information and each other.”

5. ALA OITP - ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) works to ensure a library voice in information policy debates and to promote full and equitable intellectual participation by the public.  You don’t have to be a member of ALA to be fan of their divisions or pages on Facebook. OITP regularly posts about broadband, mobile access and other issues related to technology.

6. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Projectproduces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life.

7. The New Media Consortium - The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an international not-for-profit consortium of hundreds of learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies.

8. Broadband for America – Brought to you by over 300 companies and organizations dedicated to expanding the discussion of BROADBAND for AMERICA.

Libraries in a Transliterate, Technology Fluent World at Internet Librarian #intlib10


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