I think I’ll back off the technical writing from the previous post and go from the gut in response to a common concern that keeps on cropping up in the general discussion about transliteracy. David Rothman frames the issue this way:
I can’t find anything on Libraries and Transliteracy that makes a compelling case for why the word should matter to librarians or what it means to you all aside from the need for libraries to be active in working with patrons in the use of new technologies (which is right, good, and almost universally agreed-upon without the need for the word ‘transliteracy’).
I can’t speak for everyone at Libraries and Transliteracy, but I can at least give a justification for why I am interested in transliteracy and why I think it is an important concept for librarians.
Most of my actual library work is centered around instruction. Every semester brings over 200 instruction sessions into our library, of which I usually handle 30 to 40. These are generally freshman composition classes and the name of the game is instruction in research methods. Now, library instruction takes many forms, and there are still quite a few academic libraries that focus their instruction efforts exclusively on database demos, Boolean searching, popular vs. scholarly, and similar aspects of “serious research”. What I like about my library is that we make a concerted effort to break down the artificial division between “The Library” and “The Internet”. Whether it’s activities that send students to Wikipedia or open discussions about the sheer awesomeness of Google, we attempt to engage the students on their own turf and harness their existing internet “literacies” for use in the library and beyond. We show students how to make the most out of Google and library resources both in terms of the technical “where do I click?” sort of skills and in terms of the best times to use different resources. In sum, we teach information literacy, plain and simple. But, wait! Doesn’t that take the wind out of the sails of transliteracy? Are you admitting that ‘transliteracy’ is just a silly buzzword for the same old stuff?
Nope. Not at all…
Look at it this way, students have no problem using Google, blogs, Twitter and other services to find every little detail about Justin Bieber…right down to the address of his elementary school (Jeanne Sauvé Catholic School, 8 Grange St., Stratford, Ontario, by the way). But, these same students are often completely lost and unable to comprehend the complexities of “library” research. Indexes? Keywords? Abstracts? OpenURL resolvers? Ack! Why can’t we just use Google?! Here’s a helpful chart that is probably familiar to library instructors:
The two spheres…normal and academic…both fall under “information literacy”, so, yeah, transliteracy is information literacy. But, as I see it (again, I’m only speaking for myself) information literacy is often needlessly segmented and compartmentalized. Popular vs. Scholarly. Library vs. Google. Print vs. Digital. You get the picture. Transliteracy comes into play as a pedagogical method, a way to break down the barrier between the student and the library. It encompasses established methods like transfer of learning and analogical reasoning in the library classroom. It’s using Wikipedia to find keywords for a search in CINAHL. It’s reading an academic journal article and then looking up the author’s personal blog for more context. It’s comparing hashtags to subject headings and Amazon reviews to abstracts. In a sense, the real force behind transliteracy is encompassed in one little word in the definition: across. For me, transliteracy is the bridge between isolated spheres of information literacy, it’s about bridging the gaps and showing students that there’s nothing to be afraid of…they already know how to do it.
Granted, this sort of approach has been around for a long time. From instruction to reference and beyond, librarians of all stripes are constantly in a teachable moment and many, if not most, librarians already engage in transliteracy (the way I’m approaching it). But the approach hasn’t really had a name yet. With the increasing divergence of our different spheres of information literacies, now is the ideal time to go ahead and give a name to what librarians have been dealing with for a long time. This may be a relatively narrow reading of transliteracy, but it’s what I’m comfortable with. If there’s another word I should be using, let me know.
[EDIT: The second sentence after the chart should read, “information literacy is often needlessly segmented and compartmentalized in our students’s minds.” ]