Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011)


This past week-end I had the honor of presenting to the Greater New York Metropolitan Chapter of the ACRL at their annual ACRL/NY Symposium.  This year’s theme was “the global librarian” and, as you’ve probably guessed, I presented on transliteracy. My slides are posted below, but, unfortunately, at 80 megabytes, the original PowerPoint file was too large for the free version of SlideShare to handle. So, the slides are in PDF format which does not allow for speaker notes. Granted, even with speaker notes attached, slides shows are not meant to stand on their own. Still, I can at least give a quick rundown of the presentation…

Slides 1-9: Introduction. What is a global librarian?

Slides 10-14: Is transliteracy a buzzword?

I wanted to get right out in front of the common objection that transliteracy is just a silly buzzword. Yes. Absolutely. Transliteracy is a buzzword. From ebooks to digital literacy to libraries on Google+, transliteracy is showing up in all sorts of conversations and often without much context. Just to get it out of everyone’s systems, I went so far as to make an alternate title slide with every library buzzword I could think of crammed into one awkward title. It got a few laughs. However, my point was simple: just because something is used as a buzzword does not mean that it is meaningless. To me, transliteracy is not the future of libraries, a cure-all for what ails us, or a great revolution. Instead, it’s a simple, intuitive concept that, when embraced, can get us more mileage out of instruction, staff training, and resource management.

Slides 15-21: Defining ‘transliteracy’

Regular readers of this blog will recognize the standard definitions and quotes. The main points here were that transliteracy is (1) an incredible simple, intuitive term, and (2) it isn’t something we teach. You don’t teach first-graders ‘literacy’; you teach them how to read and write. Literacy describes a certain threshold level with respect to reading and writing. Likewise, you don’t teach transliteracy, you teach about best practices for making use of information resources. Transliteracy describes a certain facility and threshold level with respect to that information technology use.

Slides 22-28: Transliteracy and Information Literacy

I’ve written about the difference between transliteracy and information literacy before, and it is such a common objection that it needs to be addressed. Elsewhere, I’ve described the distinction between literacy as communication and literacy as evaluation, so I stuck to that line of thinking. However, it works just as well to open up a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and look at the definitions of literacy which are both descriptive (“ability to read and write”) as well as figurative (“competence or knowledge in a particular area”). The general thrust of my argument was that we have been focusing on information literacy to the exclusion of simpler, communicative literacies. With the explosion of information resources available in the 21st Century, it’s time to rethink the vast array of communication-based literacies, hence, transliteracy is a complement to information literacy, not a replacement.

Courtesy of Jonas_K on Flickr

Slides 29-32: Transliteracy as a framework

It was here that I started to build out a pedagogical approach based on transliteracy. Maybe it’s just a holdover my previous career as a philosopher, but I wanted to stick strictly to those things that logically follow from the definition of ‘transliteracy’. Rather than explore every possible way in which transliteracy can benefit librarianship, I wanted to keep it simple and uncontroversial. So, I introduced three principles that logically follow from transliteracy. First, effective information use requires multiple information sources. Second, information sources don’t stand alone, they interact. Third, and finally, we need to focus on skills that transfer across tools, platforms, and media.

Slides 33-38: Effective information use requires multiple information sources

If  we’re going to move across or between multiple tools, platforms, and media, then it’s trivially true that there need to be multiple tools, platforms and media. Yet, we often do a funny thing and only focus on library resources, forgetting that students are going to be using whatever they get their hands on. Rather than wall ourselves off from the world outside the library, transliteracy encourages us to go directly to where our students are. I included examples from the instruction program here at UT-Chattanooga, such as our active presence on Facebook and Twitter, our integration of Wikipedia and Google Scholar into library instruction, and our popular workshops and classes on Google, free online tools, Facebook, and building your own online “brand”.

Slides 39-42: Information resources don’t stand alone, they interact

It isn’t enough to simply embrace multiple tools, platforms, and media. We have to look at how they interact. Again, the definition of transliteracy involves reading and writing across or between resources, so we have to think in terms of interaction. Many programs that do include non-library resources do so in a predictable way: a librarian talks about Wikipedia for a few minutes, then moves on. She talks about Google for a few minutes, and then moves on. The librarian introduces a non-library resource, says a few words about it, and then leaves it behind to get to the “serious” stuff. Unless we give students a bridge between the popular resources and the library, they’re going to struggle to understand academic research. So, at UTC we encourage our students to use Wikipedia and Google. We go so far as to make it a required activity in library instruction. Prior to coming to the library, students are asked to look-up their topic in Wikipedia and write down anything that looks interesting. The students are more than willing to participate because, to them, it’s a “blow off” assignment. They don’t realize that they’ve just created a list of keywords and gained some useful background information on their research question.

Slides 43-55: Identify skills that transfer

This, I think, is the real meat of transliteracy: embracing transfer of learning as a pedagogical approach to library instruction. Transfer of learning is well-trodden territory in psychology and education, though it is rarely encountered in library literature. In fact, only nine articles in LISA have the subject heading “transferable skills”. This, compared to thousands of articles in ERIC and PsycINFO under their subject headings “transfer of training” and “transfer of learning”. Put simply, transfer of learning is the application of skills learned in one domain to a new and different domain. It’s all about teaching in such a way that the skills taught will apply in future situations. Following the literature coming out of education and cognitive psychology, an effective way to teach for transfer is through analogical reasoning. There’s too much to adequately summarize here, but the goal is to teach skills that will actively assist in understanding new technologies, tools, platforms, and media. So, teach how a database works, not just how to use one. Teach about the editing process, not just what a scholarly journal is. Teach so that the next time a database changes its interface, or the next time a new resource is invented, students don’t have to relearn everything from scratch.

Slide 56-66: Conclusion

One way of thinking about transliteracy is as transfer of learning applied to communication and information technology skills.  It is teaching with an eye towards adaptability. Interfaces change. Social media sites come and go. Students graduate and lose access to your library’s resources. Transliteracy simply asks us to prepare for these inevitabilities by asking whether we’re teaching skills that move across the diversity of information resources. If we’re going to be global librarians, we need the mobile, flexible, and adaptable skills hinted at by transliteracy.


So, there you have it. A quick and dirty rundown of the presentation. The Q&A that followed was incredibly instructive and enlightening and I thank everyone that asked questions (assuming you’re reading this). For more on the subjects of transliteracy, mental models, transfer, and analogical reasoning, please see the selected reading list at the end of the presentation slides.

11 Responses to “Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011)”

  1. Thoughts and Doubts on Transliteracy » A Librarian's Folly Says:

    […] a post that I began writing late last semester and never finished, after seeing Lane Wilkinson’s presentation on libraries and transliteracy. It’s a very interesting presentation and I recommend following […]

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  4. Skills That Transfer: Transliteracy and the Global Librarian (ACRL/NY 2011 Symposium) | Information Literacy @ CUNY Says:

    […] presentation  notes and slides are posted here: This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink. ← ACRL Intentional Teacher […]

  5. Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011) | Learning Commons Examples | Says:

    […] Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011) Skills That Transfer: Transliteracy and the Global Librarian (ACRL/NY 2011 Symposium) View more presentations from Lane Wilkinson   This past week-end I had the honor of presenting to… Source: […]

  6. ReadingPower1 12/06/2011 « READINGPOWER Says:

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  7. Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011) | InformationFluencyTransliteracyResearchTools | Says:

    […] Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011) Skills That Transfer: Transliteracy and the Global Librarian (ACRL/NY 2011 Symposium) View more presentations from Lane Wilkinson   This past week-end I had the honor of presenting to… Source: […]

  8. halfpintofwisdom Says:

    Excellent overview, thank you – wish I could have heard the real deal and all its nuances…
    I have been following the blog with deep interest, and am doing my best to get the topic on the radar in libraries in New Zealand… will keep trying, and referencing your excellent work as I go.
    Thanks again for your thought-provoking and relevant post.

    Kind regards

    • Lane Wilkinson Says:

      Thanks Donna. Though, I should warn you that this is only my take on transliteracy. For my part, I see transliteracy as the application of contemporary educational/psychological theories of transfer to the concept of literacy. However, there are a wealth of alternate interpretations available both on this blog and around the Web. I tend to start from the work done by the Transliteracies Project at UC-Santa Barbara (though I admit it does veer towards incoherent, post-structuralism at times). Other researchers start from the PART team, from New Librarianship, from the work of Henry Jenkins, or other standpoints (none of which I’m particularly fond of). I guess it’s still a concept in flux and far from a unified front. Hopefully, with some of your Antipodean help, we’ll get everything sorted out before too long!

  9. Transliteracy vs information literacy: Why it is important that we understand the connection | Half pint of wisdom Says:

    […] on the Libraries and Transliteracy blog, and is best digested after a read of that explanatory post, which provides […]

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