Constructing knowledge and networks (MN ARLD Day 2012)

This past week I was fortunate enough to attend the Minnesota Library Association’s Academic and Research Library Day (MN ARLD Day). I was invited to deliver the keynote address on the topic of transliteracy and I’d say it went fairly well. Granted, I was incredibly nervous and I forgot my “script” once or twice, which is unusual. Still, it was a good crowd and I really appreciate the opportunity.

Anyway, here are the slides from the keynote, with a few explanatory notes:

Slides 1-24: The existential crisis of an academic librarian
It’s Springtime, and all around the country students are donning their caps and gowns for graduation. I always attend commencement and I’m always pleased to see so many students that I’ve helped. But, of late, I’ve been deeply concerned with what I’m doing to help these students after graduation. What skills do librarians impart that will remain relevant when school is over? Dwell on the question long enough and you run right into an existential crisis: are academic librarians just handmaidens to annotated bibliographies or are we teachers in our own rights? I’d like it to be the latter, so we need to focus on skills that will apply outside of the academic library. We need to focus on skills that will transfer across platforms, tools, and media. In short, we need to focus on transliteracy.
Slides 25-36: A brief history of transliteracy
Transliteracy has been a subject of inquiry since at least 2005, though it has changed quite a bit in the meantime. The working definition is the most common expression of transliteracy, but when you look through what people are saying and writing about it, the definition of ‘transliteracy’ is remarkably unstable. To that end, I decided to look at some of the major accounts of transliteracy and identify any commonalities. I found three. First, every definition of transliteracy makes reference to a multiplicity of media types. Second, every definition involves the communication (reading, writing, typing, talking, etc.) of information. Third, and finally, every definition revolves around the interplay or interaction between multiple literacies and/or media types.
Slides 37-45: Why is transliteracy relevant to librarians?
It’s  fairly straight forward syllogism: Libraries promote literacy, literacy is mediated by technology, so libraries have an interest in promoting information technologies. Transliteracy is a part (a small part, mind you) of promoting literacy across technologies.
Slides 46-63: A multiplicity of media types
Every definition of transliteracy includes reference to multiple media types. Sure, we’ve always had choices with respect to how we consume information. We’ve just never had quite so many. The problem arises when we fail to appreciate new media and instead circle our wagons and cling for dear life to the media with which we’re comfortable. Transliteracy is about breaking down artificial hierarchies of information production and consumption, and acknowledging that effective information use requires multiple information sources.
Slides 64-80: Communication
I’ve covered this in detail in previous presentations, but the idea is worth repeating: transliteracy is not a replacement for information literacy. Transliteracy is a complement to information literacy. Whereas information literacy directly addresses how we are supposed to evaluate information, transliteracy addresses how we use information. What good is being information literate if you don’t have the skills necessary to transfer meaning across a range of platforms? Likewise, what good is being able to read and write across a range of platforms if you lack the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate the information you’re consuming and producing? So, I like to say that transliteracy covers how we use information and information literacy covers how we evaluate information. We need both.
Slides 81-106: Interaction
Finally, every definition of transliteracy includes the idea of interaction, interplay, or integration. The idea is that the current information ecosystem requires a multiplicity of information resources that do not just stand alone, they actively work together. As I like to put it, transliteracy is less about the “platforms, tools, and media” and more about that little preposition “across.” Transliteracy is a skill that is founded in the “between-ness” of information use. And how do we, as librarians, address the interplay between media types? I think we do it by embracing transferable skills as a core part of our teaching goals. Transfer of learning is all about understanding skills that can transfer into new and different domains, which is vital for transliteracy to succeed. By teaching through analogy, dropping the “click here” mentality, and focusing on play and experimentation, we can more effectively and efficiently teach the skills needed to move between media.
Slides 107-end: What can librarians do?
I like to say that librarians can encourage transliteracy by adopting programming and teaching strategies that promote skill transfer across media. You see, there are two dominant approaches to library instruction. On the one hand, we try to raise student skill-levels to match our resources. We teach about databases, catalogs, proper citation, etc.. On the other hand, we try to adjust our resources to match students’ pre-existing skill-levels. We embrace discovery layers, alphabetize the DVDs, and offer services via social media outlets. Transliteracy helps us do both more efficiently. It’s about demonstrating where the library fits in our patrons’ networks of information sources. It’s about teaching skills that will transfer to new and different domains.
So, there you have it. A quick rundown of a keynote in Minnesota and, incidentally, my last formal presentation on transliteracy. Thanks to the Minnesota Library Association for having me and feel free to leave feedback in the comments.

IFLA Media and Information Literacy Recommendations

Great statement from IFLA about the importance of media and information literary followed by some recommendations.

IFLA Media and Information Literacy Recommendations:

In order to survive and develop, make decisions, and solve problems in every facet of life – personal, social, educational, and professional, individuals, communities, and nations need information about themselves as well as their physical and their social environments. This information is available via three processes: observation and experimentation, conversation (with other persons), and consultation (with memory institutions). The competence to do this effectively and efficiently is called Media and Information Literacy.

Media and Information Literacy consists of the knowledge, the attitudes, and the sum of the skills needed to know when and what information is needed; where and how to obtain that information; how to evaluate it critically and organise it once it is found; and how to use it in an ethical way. The concept extends beyond communication and information technologies to encompass learning, critical thinking, and interpretative skills across and beyond professional and educational boundaries. Media and Information Literacy includes all types of information resources: oral, print, and digital.

Media and Information Literacy is a basic human right in an increasingly digital, interdependent, and global world, and promotes greater social inclusion. It can bridge the gap between the information rich and the information poor. Media and Information Literacy empowers and endows individuals with knowledge of the functions of the media and information systems and the conditions under which these functions are performed. Media and Information Literacy is closely related to Lifelong Learning. Lifelong Learning enables individuals, communities, and nations to attain their goals and to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the evolving global environment for the shared benefit of all individuals, not just a few. It assists them and their institutions and organisations to meet their technological, economic, and social challenges, to redress disadvantages, and to advance every individual’s well-being.

Under the umbrella of the developing information/knowledge society at all levels – local, regional, national, and international, we urge governments and intergovernmental organizations as well as private institutions and organisations to pursue policies and programs that advocate for and promote Media and Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning for all. In so doing, they will provide the vital foundation for fulfilling the goals of the United Nations Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on the Information Society.

In particular, IFLA recommends that governments and organisations to do the following:

  • Commission research on the state of Media and Information Literacy and produce reports, using the Media and Information Literacy indicators as a base, so that experts, educators, and practitioners are able to design effective initiatives;
  • Support professional development for education, library, information, archive, and health and human services personnel in the principles and practices of Media and Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning;
  • Embed Media and Information Literacy education in all Lifelong Learning curricula;
  • Recognise Media and Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning as key elements for the development of generic capabilities which must be demonstrated for accreditation of all education and training programs;
  • Include Media and Information Literacy in the core and continuing education of information professionals, educators, economic and government policymakers and administrators, as well as in the practice of advisors to the business, industry and agriculture sectors;
  • Implement Media and Information Literacy programs to increase the employability and entrepreneurial capacities of women and disadvantaged groups, including migrants, the underemployed and the unemployed; and,
  • Support thematic meetings which will facilitate the acquisition of Media and Information and Lifelong Learning strategies within specific regions, sectors, and population groups.

Endorsed by the Governing Board of IFLA, at its meeting in Den Haag, The Netherlands, 7 December 2011

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