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.