Farewell, and Thanks for the Memories

goodbyeThe time has some to retire the Libraries and Transliteracy project.

Our purpose was to introduce the concept of transliteracy to librarianship at large. There are now whole conferences and workshops dedicated to the idea of transliteracy in all types of libraries. It is included in job titles, job descriptions, and grant proposals, and of course it has sparked much discussion. With this permeation of the concept we feel the time has come to move on. The site will remain as a resource and reference point. Many of us will continue to work with the concept of transliteracy in our own work.

I would like to thank my current and past co-authors, it has been an honor working with them on such an important project.

But most importantly –  thank you to our readers over the years, we appreciate your support!

All the best

Questioning the Answer

In this short video, Dr. Gail Bush from National Louis University talks about information and literacy. She states we’ve moved beyond information literacy toward information transliteracy, where the format becomes “literally irrelevant.” Dr. Bush says that in the 20th Century we were taught to “answer the question” but now we must “question the answer”

She speaks of the great challenge teachers face when trying to move the model from cognitive authority toward a more open model where the student model the learning habits of instructors and it makes me think about how that happens – or doesn’t – in a public library.

A reasonable objection to transliteracy

'Disagreement' by cabbit, on Flickr

A legitimate criticism

‘Transliteracy.’ Is it a bold new concept or the current enfant terrible of librarianship? It’s no secret that transliteracy has a polarizing effect, with the past year’s worth of commentary ranging from uncritical acceptance to critical analysis to dogmatic skepticism, and everywhere between. Obviously, this blog leans towards a more positive approach to transliteracy, But, what of the objections to the concept? Are there substantive concerns that we should be addressing, or is it all just snark?

Given the novelty of the term, the enthusiasm of early-adopters, and the “almost-but-not-quite” similarity of transliteracy to other “literacies”, it’s only natural for librarians to be skeptical. Unfortunately, this skepticism frequently manifests itself as snarky comments on Twitter, false analogies with Library 2.0, or obsessively pedantic linguistic prescriptivism. Some critics hammer away at style rather than substance. Others object to any nontraditional uses of the word “literacy” or the prefix “trans-“. Yet others lament that librarians would be interested in a concept that doesn’t come pre-packaged with a precise, committee-approved definition and bulleted-list of standards, objectives, and outcomes. And, my personal favorite, the red herring that we’re just confusing our patrons. These are all common objections to transliteracy, but they don’t amount to much more than impassioned rhetoric.  (Of course, there’s also a lot of empty rhetoric in support of transliteracy, but that’s a topic I’ll save for another post).

However, there is at least one really good objection to transliteracy as it is currently being applied by libraries, namely, that the concept of transliteracy is redundant…it’s already covered under existing information literacy standards. As Meredith Farkas wrote several months ago,

“The way librarians and other instructors teach information literacy instruction has grown and changed in response to the changing information ecosystem…And while there are librarians who don’t change the way they teach, that’s just being a bad instructor. It has nothing to do with information literacy instruction somehow being insufficient.” (12/21/2010)

So, existing information literacy standards already have mechanisms in place to cover transliteracy. Moreover, any real or perceived failures to meet the stated goals of transliteracy (communicating across media, reading and writing across platforms, etc.) are failures on the part of lazy librarians who resist change, not on information literacy. So, why do we need some new, faddish term when we already cover the same concepts under information literacy? I think this is a fair criticism, though I’m not convinced that information literacy already covers transliteracy. So, here goes an attempt at addressing this legitimate criticism of transliteracy. I have two responses…

Read the rest of this entry »

The Future of Libraries is Transliteral – A Guest Post by Ned Potter

~A Libraries and Transliteracy Q&A with Ned Potter

How did you discover transliteracy?

Via Bobbi Newman and Buffy Hamilton, from their online output, and of course later via this very blog. 🙂

How does it have meaning for you personally?

For me personally, transliteracy is an umbrella term that encompasses all the relevant literacies – information literacy, digital literacy, technology literacy, media literacy, and, crucially, any yet to be determined literacies that become relevant in the future. It is both the sum of, and the constituent parts of, the understanding you need to interact and function successfully across the range of platforms that shape modern communication. I like the fact that transliteracy allows different literacies to exist together and have equal merit, rather than bow to the ‘ONLY ONE CAN LEAVE!’ mentality that is popular these days. (I sound like an old man…) Why anyone would have any hostility to all of that (as some people in the library community have shown towards the term) is pretty baffling to me.

This stuff is really important. One of the realities of the newly fragmentary society in which we live is that consensus is really hard to come by. So I can see why people have come up with other names that they feel better express the same concept, and I can see that no single name is likely to stick across the board. But it is the concept that is vital, not the name – personally I think transliteracy is the right name for it and I want to build on all the work around libraries and transliteracy, not undo it. But that said, I’ll be talking and thinking about it whatever it is called – I just wish more of us could back the same horse, in terms of giving it a label. We need to be on the same page to move forward, and it’s frustrating that we could very well be on the same page but not know it because we’re reading books with different titles.

Why is it important to libraries?

The future of libraries is transliteral. This is the stuff we need to be teaching, to be providing for our communities. The worlds of public library, academic library, special library and archive collide, or rather fall into sync, under the umbrella of transliteracy – because it’s vital to all the communities those disparate libraries represent.

People can get lost in the debate about the definition of transliteracy, and particularly who defines it. What matters is that people need to be literate in all sorts of ways, and libraries are best place to provide support for that. Certainly cognitive scientists and critical theorists may be better placed to discuss, define, and rationalise transliteracy – but how much use is that for the man off the street who’s afflicted by the digital divide? A library offers him a place to go and use the internet; a librarian supports him in the literacy required to do so effectively (plus, obviously, in many other ways too). Libraries are the on front-line, or should be.

How do we become transliterate?

For the normal person on the street, becoming transliterate involves becoming educated in all the literacies relevant to them. Not everyone needs to know about all types of literacy – ‘trans’ doesn’t mean ‘all’, it means ‘across’. Across all literacies. You can have a working knowledge of all the literacies you personally require, and consider yourself transliterate.

But for the Information Professional, the challenge is greater. We really do need, insofar as is possible, to become expert in all forms of literacy, in order to lead the way for others to follow. That means investigating new trends, becoming early adopters of new technologies and platforms, and not burning any bridges with more traditional information literacy either. Building on sound pedagogical principles is important, particularly in the academic community, but so is being flexible and able to move with change and encompass new developments.

There are few better ways to become transliterate than to immerse yourself in the world of each kind of literacy, and naviagte between them. Read, write, listen, watch, and interact.

What is your favorite example of transliteracy in action?

Can I have the new Google Art Project? It may not be the most obvious example of transliteracy, but I’ll make a case for it…

For me, transliteracy serves an extremely serious purpose – particularly in the online environment, it can help protect people and facilitate really important things such as being able to navigate financial or medical websites properly, or understand what privacy they are giving up by agreeing to a social network’s terms and conditions. But it can also serve a more joyous purpose, which is to allow people to experience the extraordinary new world we are entering now.

If you’re technically literate enough to use a PC, and digitially literate enough to go to the Google Art Project site and navigate, Street View style, through the museums and galleries, then a whole world is opened up to you. There are 17 galleries involved (all of them among the greatest in the world) and they allow you to experience art you could never hope to see all of in your lifetime. There is low-level interactivity involved in that you can move around the museums (and, unlike in real life, there are no other visitors to crowd the view) and you can even read the little plaques next to the paintings that explain what they are. What really makes it transliteral, for me, is the fact that the extreme high-res nature of the pictures is allowing people to notice hitherto undiscovered details about the paintings. For example in Pieter Bruegel’s painting The Harvesters (a 16th century masterpiece), you can make out a family playing a traditional game of throwing sticks at a tied up goose – it’s absolutely tiny, a minuscule detail in a massive picture, so most people were completely unaware of it. Now people are going back to the original art, incredibly famous art that we’re almost overly familiar with, and viewing it with new knowledge, with fresh eyes. It’s the analogue becoming digital, and then the digital informing the analogue anew.

From this, new dialogues emerge; new interaction between scholars and between all of us. Some schools are teaching literacy using art now – asking students to construct narratives based on imagining what it would be like to be inside a painting. The Google Art Project facilitates that further, and makes it fun as you make your way around a deserted MoMA or Tate gallery.

There are two common assumptions – a general one that digital supersedes analogue, and a specific one that art is always better experienced in person than online. This new project blows both of those out of the water – the analogue and the digital aren’t competing with or replacing one another, they’re working together. Art is amazing in the physical domain, and it can be experienced via a digital surrogate in the online domain. But the two are now acting upon one another, to create something new – a new understanding based on both domains, based on the back and forth, based on the ability to interact across different platforms and media. It’s that relationship that makes it transliteral, for me.


Ned writes and presents on the subjects of library advocacy, technology, and new professionals. He is currently writing a book for Facet Publishing called The Library Marketing Toolkit and has been involved with various online movements, spearheading the campaign to get libraries out of the echo chamber ; creating a network for new library professionals calledLISNPN; and helping to run the Buy India Library Project. He has been named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker for 2011 as a marketer.

He works in higher education, as the Digitisation Coordinator for the University of Leeds in the UK. (Views expressed here and elsewhere are his own and not those of his employer.) His website can be found at www.thewikiman.org.

March Read – Transliteracy: Crossing Divides

Welcome to our first shared read! The idea is that we all read the same article and discuss it on the blog (like a book club, but with articles). This gives us a way to work through ideas related to transliteracy and libraries together and openly.  This month’s read is Transliteracy: Crossing Divides by Sue Thomas et. al. Remember the article is not written by librarian nor are librarians the intended audience.

How do you participate? Read the article. Leave a comment. Respond to other people’s comments. That’s it! Its easy. Oh and be polite and courteous to each other. I’ll keep a link on the right sidebar for easy access. Enjoy!


Transliteracy might provide a unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the twenty–first century. It is not a new behavior but has only been identified as a working concept since the Internet generated new ways of thinking about human communication. This article defines transliteracy as “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks” and opens the debate with examples from history, orality, philosophy, literature, and ethnography.


What is transliteracy?
Tracing transliteracy
Really new media
Writing and reading are not enough
Going across and beyond
Networking the book
Transliterate reading
Everyday life in a transliterate world
Future development and debate

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