Transliteracy and Making Your Own Luck – A Guest Post by Jamie Hollier

A Libraries and Transliteracy guest post from Jamie Hollier

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

Many people think I have been pretty lucky in my life, and in many ways they are right. I recently started a great new job, found a wonderful home in a great neighborhood when we moved for that job, and could not have done it all without my amazing husband.

So yeah, I am pretty lucky; but like all luck, these things stem from preparation and opportunities that came my way because of my digital literacy and internet access.

I got my masters online and stayed up with things happening in library land through resources such as this blog to help me prepare for getting the job when the opportunity came through my RSS feed.

I researched neighborhoods and found a great house at a great price from afar thanks to knowing were to look online and how to spot a scam. In fact, I even met my husband online.

Digital literacy has been the key to success for me and that is what this blog and the job I have now are all about. Bringing internet access and transliteracy to people is bringing them the ability to prepare and find opportunities to live a lucky life.

So what is this great job where I help people prepare and find great opportunities?? I am the project coordinator for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) that is being administered by the Colorado State Library. The goal of this project is to establish 77 new and enhanced public computer centers where people can get access to the internet and training on all the diverse benefits and uses that come with access.

These centers will be used by libraries, community centers, and tons of different community partners to make sure that the people of their community have the same opportunities as others. The main target of these centers are the unserved and underserved in their area: the people that have not been lucky enough to have easy access to computers, affordable internet, instruction with these new resources, and the environment that fosters an understanding of the value of digital literacy.

Our project is one of many happening all over the nation. In fact, the project I am working on is just one of seven happening in Colorado alone. BTOP grants were funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and are administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The goals of these project, as stated on the BTOP website are as follows:

“In the long term, these Recovery Act investments will help bridge the digital divide, improve access to education and healthcare services, and boost economic development for communities held back by limited or no access to broadband – communities that would otherwise be left behind. For example, the investments made in broadband infrastructure, public computer centers, and sustainable adoption will:

• provide job training to the unemployed or under-employed,
• help school children access the materials they need to learn,
• allow rural doctors to connect to more specialized medical centers, and
• allow small businesses to offer their services to national and international markets.”

Some of these projects are geared toward infrastructure itself and increasing broadband capacity for those communities with little or no access to the internet at all. Right now, according to the national broadband map (, it is estimated that about 5-10% of all Americans do not have internet access available to them that is fast enough to download basic websites.

These projects are the first stage in building digital literacy across the nation by first making sure all people have access to the necessary tools to benefit from online resources.

The other types of grants that were funded are Public Computer Centers and Sustainable Broadband Adoption. These projects are focused on digital literacy education and assuring that people have the knowledge and skills to utilize online resources and opportunities.

This is becoming increasingly important as the internet and digital access consumes more and more media forms, making literacy in most media reliant on digital literacy first. Below are a just a few examples of how BTOP projects across the nation are approaching different aspects of digital literacy:

Health Information Literacy –

The Colorado State Library and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine are partnering to bring more knowledge and understanding about online health resources to the people of Colorado. As a part of the Public Computer Centers project, trainers and medical librarians will be working together to provide online and in person trainings about what to look for in medical resources and the best sites for trustworthy information. (

Financial Literacy –

Tech Goes Home is a great project in Boston that is providing computer and digital literacy training along with incredibly affordable netbooks and internet access for low income families so that they continue to use the resources they are learning at home. Their trainings cover a range of topics, including tutorials for online tools to help manage finances (

Education Literacy –

Connect Your Community is a program that is providing computers and training for 26,000 low-income families. One of the really empowering elements of their program is the inclusion of tutorials for online parent resources. These classes allow parents to play a more active role in their children’s education and build stronger connections between home and school lives. (

Social Media Literacy –

New Mexico, through a Sustainable Adoption grant, is providing training in many areas, including social media marketing for businesses. The New Mexico State Library reports that one of the most empowering areas of their training is the work they are doing with small businesses, especially the cultural entrepreneurs (jewelers, musicians, painters, etc.) that are so vital to the economy of the state. (

Cultural Literacy –

Colorado State Library – Southern Ute  Cultural Center and Museum will be opening in May. As a part of the Colorado State Library’s BTOP project, they have a computer lab going into their new center. This lab will be equipped with computers and software to assist tribal members with recording and cataloging culturally significant artifacts and items. This project will help to build understanding of culture and history for the tribe.

This is just a very small sampling of the examples of the many different projects taking place. The list of training being developed and given across the country through BTOP projects is extensive. Visit the BTOP site ( to see examples of other ways in which local communities are getting involved in bridging the digital divide and fostering transliteracy in their communities.

The work of the BTOP projects and all the similar projects being undertaken by libraries, schools, and other community organizations to bring greater digital literacy to our nation is incredibly important. Being able to provide people with the skills and resources to prepare and find opportunities for their lives is an amazing experience and I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity.


We are living in the middle of a major paradigm shift that is transforming the way people interact with information and libraries. Jamie’s position at the Colorado State Library as the Project Coordinator for Public Computer Centers allows her to work with many diverse libraries and help them flourish as they strive to meet their goals to provide information and training to communities. Jamie brings a unique perspective to the challenges facing libraries today via her partnership in an internet marketing agency. She has previously worked in libraries as a branch manager at a rural library and as a visual resource librarian for an education publishing company. More about Jamie can be found at

YouMedia Success

As a die-hard Chicagoan, I write extensively on the YouMedia experiment.    YouMedia, for those of you who don’t know, is an experiment between the Chicago Public Library, Depaul University, and the Digital Youth Network.  It is funded, in part, by a MacArthur Foundation grant. This grant is being replicated for an additional 50 labs throughout the country (have you considered applying?)

The YouMedia experiment is a 21st century teen learning space.  It is really a digital media lab.  But it is so much more.  The YouMedia folks recognize that technology alone will not save us.  The success of this experiment lies in the team that YouMedia has built.  Not only do the kids who use the space have access to librarians and library staff, but they also have access to mentors and instructors.  The mentors and instructors have expertise in the tools, in tapping into creativity, or in just listening to the kids.  They all have the goal of helping these patrons find their voices.  It is in these people that the success of YouMedia is built.

So why do I write about YouMedia again.  YouMedia recently witnessed a major milestone.  While the research findings on the success or the failure of the experiment will take years to construct, the kids recently began providing solid anecdotal evidence pointing towards success.  One example of that evidence is the recent results of the Louder than a Bomb Youth Poetry Festival.  The winner of the contest was a young man who represents a YouMedia team of teens, and he even gives them credit.

To understand what the kids are learning at YouMedia, you must check out Malcolm London’s winning poem. This library certainly understands the principles of transliteracy and the role it plays in spurring creativity and content creation among patrons.

Knowledgeable to Knowledge-ABLE

I finally had a chance to watch Michael Wesch’s new TEDxKC talk (October, 2010).

When I went to find the code for the video, I came across this article he wrote on the same subject here in the Academic Commons.

This new media environment can be enormously disruptive to our current teaching methods and philosophies. As we increasingly move toward an environment of instant and infinite information, it becomes less important for students to know, memorize, or recall information, and more important for them to be able to find, sort, analyze, share, discuss, critique, and create information. They need to move from being simply knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.

His argument that we need to be able to find, sort, analyze and even create new information in a new media landscape is perfectly in line with the principles of Transliteracy, but the section I was most struck by was around 6:30 when he talks about students seeking meaning in their lives. Near the end he states, “meaning is not just something you find, but ultimately something you create.” As someone also working with young people, I know he’s absolutely right and I find myself thinking more about context.

Knowledge Ability changes over time, based on the communication environment they are in.

Media are not just tools, they mediate relationships and allow us to connect with each other. When media change, our relationships change. Does that sound familiar to anyone who read Transliteracy: Crossing Divides?

The literacies (digital, numerate, oral) may be different, but the transliteracies (social, economic, political) often transect them in similar ways, depending on cultural context.

Wesch says learning is not a one-way conversation anymore – I say neither is librarianship! The old model with youth was “sit-down, be quiet and take in what I tell/give you.” We need to find ways to transform the one-way into two-way conversations.

But here is my great challenge as a children’s librarian in a public library. How do I help teach this in my informal learning environment? How can I help students learn outside the classroom? Wesch’s quote from Neil Postman, “You will do nothing” is not an option for public librarians!

So, what AM I doing? I’m going to do a quick self-audit of Wesch’s criteria to make young people knowledge-able:

  • Connect – We bring together students from across the district with shared interests through our programs and with their friends in the physical space. We’re working toward making our website/catalog (SOPAC) to become a social space where members can connect with each other through the site.
  • Organize – I don’t think I’m doing much of anything to help them organize.
  • Share – Our kids and teens have a voice. They can write comments on the website, write reviews in the catalog and I work hard to hire staff that listens and encourages the kids to share their stories and ideas.
  • Collect – I guess we help kids collect their research, but most often kids come in when they’ve finished their web research and the teacher is making them use a book. The nature of our work as Librarians allows us ample opportunity to collect resources and make them available, but I don’t see us having much of a role in our patrons experience of collecting anything.
  • Collaborate – Staff collaborates all the time using tools like google docs (I have introduced staff in other departments to these tools too) to plan summer reading programs, big events or preparing resource lists. Our Teen and  Kids Advisory Boards collaborate to plan events and collaborate with staff, and sometimes they may work together on a game or craft, but nothing I can identify as an organized effort in our department.
  • Publish – We are experimenting with an elementary school class to digitally publish their personal narratives and make them available on the library’s website. Close, but an unfinished project. Some of us try to “publish” content the kids and teens make in programs, but there isn’t much more I see us doing to publish kids’ creations at the moment. I see lots of potential in this area for public librarians.

Sadly, this makes me realize I am doing a better job of providing this structure for my staff than I am for my patrons. The places I see this type of work happening in a public library are through programming and through our Reference/Reader’s Adivsory with the public. I guess I need to think about those services with an eye toward this concept.

I will take his statement to heart and continue to keep this in my mind:

Knowledge-ability is a practice

I shall practice making more opportunities for my patrons that’s for sure!

My Tuppence Worth

The heated online discussion with challenges and questions about the term “transliteracy” and it’s place in Library Land seems to have subsided, but I had yet to chime in with my two cents to respond to the request for definitions and desire to see results.

A Brief Background:

When I decided to go to library school, I was drawn to children’s librarianship and found that storytelling was a natural fit for me with my theatrical background. While in the MLS program at Pratt, that interest began to cross into multi-media. My professors opened my eyes to see that Stories exist through forms of media. It wasn’t something that was taught. It wasn’t something that was even discussed (that I remember). It didn’t have a name and I couldn’t identify it, but knew it excited me.

A year or so later I attended a presentation by Bobbi at Computers in Libraries on Transliteracy and it clicked for me. This was a concept that aligned with my ideas! It helps me frame discussions with patrons and staff in my everyday work.


I do agree that there are many similar qualities between the two terms Transliteracy and Information Literacy, but I don’t see them as equal. To me, the term Information Literacy is very academic, with a focus on formal instruction. My work in a public library does not include or require formal instruction. In fact, I am not sure that I know of a public library anywhere that requires continuing education for librarians. What I do know is that there are still librarians who lack basic technology skills (I recently heard a story from a colleague of visiting a library where she had to demo how to cut and paste – no joke) and my thinking is that we have to keep exploring and presenting new ways of thinking about learning and literacy in the hopes that something will click for them too.

girl reading on laptop screen

photo by Flickr user yohann.aberkane

Transliteracy allows me to include fun, art, creativity, playfulness and what brought me here to begin with…Story. The definition from works just fine for me – “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media…” Sure there are other terms that are very similar like 21st Century Learning, e-literacy, and transmedia, but like Buffy J. Hamilton, I think Transliteracy is an umbrella term that allows us to explore the possibilities of communication and creation through many media forms (not necessarily just electronic) and quite frankly, I just like it!


Here is where the challenge lies. I don’t work in conducting research and formal studies with large groups. I work with a large cross-section of people, but in small groups. My task is to encourage and assist them in using modern tools to access information and entertainment as well as tools from the past.

My hope through working with this group is that I can share my own projects of exploration in my everyday work and hear stories of other libraries facing this challenge. Clearly formal educational environments provide more opportunities for exploring the concept while the absence of a classroom makes it difficult for those of us in public libraries to measure the effectiveness of an initiative. What a shame since public libraries have the potential to reach the largest audience!

So, I’m curious to know how public librarians are exploring multiple literacies at their libraries? How are you teaching transliteracy at your institution?

Transliteracy…or Metaliteracy?

One of the goals here at Libraries and Translitercy is to situate transliteracy within an increasingly diverse array of competing “literacies”. While information literacy has persisted for decades as a core concept in librarianship, we now also have to grapple with digital literacy, visual literacy, cyberliteracy, new media literacy, and a host of other responses to defining literacy in the digital age. Keeping track of these literacies is rather confusing, so the recent article1 by Mackey and Jacobson in College and Research Libraries is sorely needed.

In a nutshell, Mackey and Jacobson argue that information literacy needs to be recast as a unifying concept providing the framework for different literacy types. ‘Metaliteracy’ is offered as this unifying concept. As they write,

“metaliteracy provides a conceptual framework for information literacy that diminishes theoretical differences, builds practical connections, and reinforces central lifelong learning goals among different literacy types.  Rather than envision these methods as unrelated or disconnected, we see information literacy as the essential framework that informs and unifies additional literacy types.  Through this approach we recognize the standard information literacy characteristics (determine, access, evaluate, incorporate, use, understand) as integral to related literacy formats.” (p. 76)

The authors even briefly mention transliteracy, correctly describing it as a unifying approach to literacies that has been developed outside of the library world (p.69).  In fact, the authors’ description of metaliteracy is so strikingly similar to those given to transliteracy that I feel I have to ask…do ‘metaliteracy’ and ‘transliteracy’ refer to the same concept? If so, which term should we use?  If they are different, how are they different?

I, for one, have no problem with using either term so long as the same practical concerns are addressed, but I’m curious to see what others think. Are transliteracy and metaliteracy (as described by Mackey and Jacobson) the same thing?

1Mackey, Thomas and Trudi Jacobson. “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” College and Research Libraries 72, no. 1 (2011): 62-78.

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