Until just a few weeks ago, I had never across the term “transliteracy”, though as I quickly discovered, the concept unlike the term is not a new one. In my confusion, Bobbi Newman of librarianbyday.net heard my cry and introduced me to some useful resources. Before you go any further in this post, I recommend you read her recent post on defining transliteracy. The difficulty of defining transliteracy was the source of my initial confusion. I encountered the term as I was researching information on the differences between information literacy, technological proficiency, and critical thinking skills. What I could not quite determine was whether transliteracy should fall somewhere within that triad or be defined theoretically and conceptually as its own type of literacy.
Sue Thomas and the people at transliteracy.com define it 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.” At the risk of sounding trite, it is Literacy 2.0 in much the same way as Web 2.0 is the read/write/interact version of Web 1.0 (the read-only Web); it is literacy with a social, communicative aspect. It assumes information literacy and technological know-how and it is a necessary requirement for being an active citizen in digital communities (and our increasingly digital global community).
This definition suggests to me that transliteracy is used to denote concepts related to information literacy (the ability to understand/analyze/use information), technological proficiency (the ability to use technological tools, primarily digital), and social literacy (the ability to interact with other human beings and interpret their communicative signals). In some sense, transliteracy is used much like the term “intelligence” has been used in the last few decades to suggest more than just cognitive skills but also emotional and social skills. It is meta-literacy defined specifically for the digital world albeit not exclusively.
In my opinion, the danger lies in the slippery slope of definition. At heart, I think many librarians would agree there is a need for increased attention to issues of transliteracies and we as librarians are in a position to make a difference in this regard. But if transliteracy comes to mean the entirety of human communicative experience, are we willing and able to take on that responsibility?
Regardless of your answer to that question (I will not even try to provide one at this time), transliteracy is an issue worth investigating if you are a reference and instruction librarian. For those in the academic and school library fields, we have a captive audience eager to engage with information in innovative and reciprocal ways through web technologies that require certain technological, social, and information skills. If we should take it upon ourselves to teach these skills to our users, we have the opportunity.