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.

Transliteracy and Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search


"Concept Mapping" (2009). CC image courtesy of yish on Flickr

One of the common criticisms of transliteracy is that “we can’t describe what a transliterate person looks like.” As far as I’m concerned, this is criticism is rooted in a simple category mistake: people aren’t transliterate, transliteracy is a cognitive function. That is, transliteracy is best understood as a cognitive skill or ability, one that can and should be emphasized in our information literacy curriculum. This is why I think that Lucy Holman’s recent article1 in The Journal of Academic Librarianship is especially important for those interested in transliteracy.

In the latest issue of the JAL, Holman has provided valuable, empirical research into the nature and content of the mental models used by student researchers. The concept of mental models has a long history in information literacy. For example, Holman references Brandt’s (1997) constructivist approach2 of “connecting students’ existing mental models (for example, use of a telephone directory) to that of an online index” (p. 20). Appealing to mental models is a core aspect of successful information literacy. Yet, as Holman’s research suggests, the most common approaches to information literacy instruction are rooted in a print-based mental model of online searching that is at odds with “millennials’ own mental models of Internet-based information retrieval with engines that more accurately and effectively parse a simpler, more natural language query” (pp. 25-26). Holman concludes by advocating that information literacy instruction shift focus from search strategies to evaluation, which is nothing new, but in rooting this shift in mental models she has provided an excellent proving ground for transliteracy-based instruction.

Put simply, students’ mental models of effective research practices are both poorly constructed and wildly divergent. Library instructors need to address this, and many do: the idea of connecting mental models (the telephone directory to online index example) is well-established in information literacy, but the increasing complexity (and the increasing number) of research avenues has lead to a need for a more nuanced approach that is independent of any particular mental model. If we could address how students construct and apply these models, it may make a world of difference in library instruction.

Elsewhere, I have argued that transliteracy is about linguistic competency, and one of the basic features of linguistic competency is the ability to construct mental models. Moreover, with each new information system or domain we encounter, we add to our available mental models. Google, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, Quora, JSTOR, etc…each either creates a new mental model, or affects an existing mental model, of how an information system behaves. For example, my mental model of how Wikipedia works is playing a part in how I approach Quora. In turn, Quora itself might lead me to a new model of understanding information-seeking behavior. The ability to construct and evaluate effective mental models is key in transliteracy instruction, so it follows that transliteracy may yet prove itself as that more nuanced approach to addressing the problems Holman identifies.

Whether you like the term ‘transliteracy’ or not, Holman’s research provides substantive evidence that the underlying concepts are important.

1Holman, Lucy. “Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search: Implications for Academic Librarians and Database Developers.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 37, no. 1 (2011): 19-27.

2Brandt, D. Scott. “Constructivism: Teaching for Understanding of the Internet.” Communications of the ACM 40, no. 10 (1997): 112-117.

Sue Thomas Weighs in on the Transliteracy Debate Among Librarians

I wondered if she was following the recent conversation and it turns out she was and blogged her take on it:

So transliteracy is a shape-shifting eco-system of behaviours and it is probably neither possible nor desirable for anyone to understand enough to know the whole elephant. The vital thing is to remember it is always there and in constant motion. This means recognising the limits of your own knowledge andaccepting a degree of messiness and uncertainty.

I appreciate that some people are uncomfortable with that and prefer to use concepts which are locked down and straightforward, but that’s not likely to happen with transliteracy and could even diminish its flexible strength.  Those who need that kind of tool should probably look for something else. But I hope they will occasionally set aside a moment or two to consider the elephant in all its complexity.

For those who aren’t familiar with Sue Thomas  some background:

Transliteracies was introduced by the Transliteracies Research Projectdirected by Alan Liu, Dept of English, University of California at Santa Barbara.

“Established in 2005, the Transliteracies Project includes scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and engineering in the University of California system (and in the future other research programs). It will establish working groups to study online reading from different perspectives; bring those groups into conjunction behind a shared technology development initiative; publish research and demonstration software; and train graduate students working at the intersections of the humanistic, social, and technological disciplines.”

Sue Thomas attended the first transliteracies conference and was inspired to form the PART Group (Production and Research in Transliteracy, now

PART is a small group of researchers based in the Faculty of Humanities but researching in the Institute of Creative Technologies. The IOCT, which opened in 2006, undertakes research work in emerging areas at the intersection of e–Science, the Digital Arts, and Humanities”. – Thomas, et al.

Thomas and others, authored the First Monday paper Transliteracy: Crossing Divides.


Why Transliteracy? Bobbi’s Two Cents (or less)

The Fine Print:
First let me say that I’d would love to write an articulate well thought out response to all of the conversations I’ve seen popping up over libraryland the last couple of days (see list below).  I think these conversation are important and I apologize for not giving each of them the individual response and attention they deserve. Unfortunately, as they say, life trumps blogging and my time and energy is consumed by other issues right now. But I do feel I need to post something to here it goes…

Thank you Lane
I want to thank Lane for joining us here at L&T, he ha’s been a resounding success.

Our Goal(s)
When putting this project together I had two goals: 1. to bring in people who were smarter than me to work on it and 2. to bring in contributors from a wide range of prospectives, backgrounds and disciplines.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job of both if I do say so myself.   When we started this project the we said

Our goal is to be an ongoing resource for those interested in libraries and transliteracy. We will be sharing information related to transliteracy (the new literacies, media literacy, digital literacy, 21st century literacies).
If you are already interested in libraries and transliteracy we hope you’ll find useful information here. If you are not familiar with transliteracy we hope you will find the information you need to become as enthusiastic about the importance to libraries as we are.

Over the past year we have seen it develop into something more. One of the goals for the new year is more substantial posts addressing some of the issues that have been raised and Lane has us off to a great start.

What is and Why Transliteracy?
What appeals to me about transliteracy is that it is a unifying concept of literacy that encompasses all variations of literacy and does not value one form of literacy above the others.

As Renee Hobbs points out:

New types of texts and new types of literacies have been emerging over a period of more than 50 years. Many closely interrelated terms describe the new set of competencies required for success in contemporary society. These include terms like information literacy, media literacy, media education, visual literacy, news literacy,health media literacy, and digital literacy, among others. Each term is associated with a particular body of scholarship, practice and intellectual heritage, with some ideas stretching back to the middle of the 20th century and other ideas emerging in the past couple of years. These terms reflect both the disciplinary backgrounds of the stakeholders and the wide scope of the knowledge and skills involved.

These concepts must not be treated as competitors.

We can consider different types of literacy to be part of the same family. For example, information literacy has typically been associated with research skills.Media literacy typically has been associated with critical analysis of news, advertising and mass media entertainment. Health media literacy has been associated with exploring media’s impact on making positive choices related to nutrition, exercise,body image, violence and substance abuse prevention. Digital literacy is associated with the ability to use computers, social media, and the Internet”. – Digital and Media Literacy by Renee Hobbs

As for Meredith’s question:  “What real impact will it have on our patrons? How will it change the way we serve them? I feel like a cynical jerk sometimes, but I want to see results.”

Let me post a modification of my response on her blog – What sort of proof do you want?(real question, not snark) Transliteracy is a new concept in general and we are working to apply it and I’m ok with it being a work in progress (the blog is less than a year old). I understand that many people aren’t. They want clear rules, definitions guidelines, and measures and pie charts, but I’m not sure I am able to help them at this point. I’m ok with that too. Not in a mean way but in a I-can’t-do-everything-at-once sort of way.

We are reaching people and we are making them think about the needs of patrons in the 21st century and that is making a difference in the lives of our patrons or I wouldn’t be spending so much of my own time on it.

When I think about transliteracy I worry about the second class citizens the  Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, writes about:

“The information revolution is benefitting those in the middle class and up and, in a different way, many young residents of urban and suburban communities. They have never had greater access to more relevant information. But many Americans are in danger of remaining or becoming second-class citizens in the digital age, whether because of low income, language barriers, lack of access to technology, limited skills and training, community norms, or lack of personal motivation. The poor, the elderly, rural and small town residents, and some young people are most at risk. Those who belong to more than one of these groups are especially vulnerable. To take perhaps the most dramatic example of an enduring divide: “Only sixty-eight percent of households on Tribal lands have a telephone; only eight Tribes own and operate telephone companies; and broadband penetration on Indian lands is estimated at less than ten percent.” – Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age

The participation gap Jenkis et. al talk about in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins

The participation gap The unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youths for full participation in the world of tomorrow

and the digital divide and the vast number of organizations and institution that are talking about these issues and looking for solutions and never mention libraries. I think about the professional organizations both inside and outside of libraries creating standards for all the different literacies, they are all so disconnected but they are working towards a common goal. For me transliteracy is a way to bring them all together under one roof without favoring one over the other.

More on transliteracy in general:
Transliteracy lecture by Sue Thomas from IOCT on Vimeo.

Related Reading:

Why transliteracy?

I think I’ll back off the technical writing from the previous post and go from the gut in response to a common concern that keeps on cropping up in the general discussion about transliteracy. David Rothman frames the issue this way:

I can’t find anything on Libraries and Transliteracy that makes a compelling case for why the word should matter to librarians or what it means to you all aside from the need for libraries to be active in working with patrons in the use of new technologies (which is right, good, and almost universally agreed-upon without the need for the word ‘transliteracy’).

I can’t speak for everyone at Libraries and Transliteracy, but I can at least give a justification for why I am interested in transliteracy and why I think it is an important concept for librarians.

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