Follow-up: Transliteracy, Theory, and Scholarly Language

I was bit surprised at the response to my post about Libraries and Transliteracy.

As long as I’m spouting off opinions on topics that have little substance other than opinion, I may as well go whole-hog and respond to some of the reponses.

Marcus Banks writes:

“…David goes too far in his highly conservative defense of the English language…this idea that we need to keep a tight lid on the language, or even that this is possible, is foolhardy.”

I’m not attempting to defend the English language.  A beast as powerful as the English language doesn’t need me to defend it. Besides, I happily torture the language when it suits me. I use silly semi-words like ‘geekery’ and ‘libraryfolk.’Though you’ll note not a single person has ever asked what either of those words mean.

This comment from Marcus, though, underlines a problem I saw in the post shortly after I published it.

It isn’t the word, it’s the way the word is used

I didn’t intend to say that the word “transliteracy” has no place in the worldIt might, it might not. As it is pure theory with no apparent practical implications, I can’t bring myself to care enough to read more than the four articles on the the topic I’ve read., just that I have yet to see libraryfolk using it in a way that adds something previously missing from discussions in librarianship and LISI’m willing to buy that the former is a profession and the latter is an academic field. Thus far, it seems to me that the (admittedly cool-sounding) term is thrown around by libraryfolk who (1)admit that they can’t define it, (2)define it so vaguely and variously that it fails to have any coherent meaning, or (3)define it in a way that makes it redundant to a wide assortment of existing terms.

What I find baffling is that librarians would use words they cannot define. I had thought (perhaps mistakenly) that librarians tended to be lovably pedantic and semantic nitpickers.

I’d like to see some clear indication that libraryfolk are talking about this word for any reason other than novelty or self-promotion. I have nothing against self-promotion per se, but some of the libraryfolk advocates of this term are telling us there’s a revolution going on. I don’t see a revolution, just an evolution. If they’re going to cry ‘wolf’, I want to see some fur and teeth. Or at least, for pity’s sake, some wolf footprints. So far, though? Nothing.

Marcus goes on to explain what he sees as the problem with ‘information literacy.’

“I’d argue that our conceptual notion of information literacy remains stuck in time. Sometimes we come dangerously close to suggesting that people blow the 1/2 inch of dust off the top of the Britannica and then read it, because this, dear students, is an ‘authoritative resource.’

Yes, I jest. And yes, I exaggerate. But not by as much as I’d like. We still lionize peer reviewed articles despite their manifold flaws, and keep an arms length view of Wikipedia and communally developed resources in general. Of course I support sharp and incisive critique of Wikipedia entries. But I don’t support the idea that Wikipedia is something other, alien or foreign.”

I agree that some libraryfolk are not adapting as fast as we might hope. That demonstrates a problem with some libraryfolk, not that ‘information literacy’ has ceased to be a useful term. As information changes (it always has, always does, and always will), information professionals need to adapt to keep their skills up-to-date and maintain their information literacy (and their value…and their jobs). Again, where’s the need for a new word?

Marcus continues:

“In that light, it seems to me that transliteracy, as a concept, is an attempt to label what we are already doing–linking up traditional notions of authority with the realities of how people obtain information today. This is valuable, and much less overblown than the Library 2.0 hooha back in the day.”

Right! “…an attempt to label what we are already doing.” As we already have labels for this, why slap on a new one?

Diane Cordell writes:

“Medical librarian David Rothman questions whether this concept is any more than a new buzzword for the same type of information literacy with which librarians have always been concerned.”

No. What I said was that the definition of information literacy is easily flexible enough to continue to serve nicely as technology changes. I did not say that changes in technology don’t matter. I’m pretty well on record stating my belief that little should matter more to libraryfolk than the changes technology is making in our world.I’m sort of put off by Diane’s clumsy straw man, though- so I thought I’d to mention here the excellent example she povides of irrational enthusiasm for technology. She has a QR code for the link to her Flickr stream on the sidebar of her blog. Let’s assume that someone visiting her blog WANTS to see her Flickr stream. Which is more likely to be convenient for the visitor? To whip out his/her smartphone, turn on the scan/photo function and take a snap…or to CLICK A LINK? What purpose does the QR code serve here? None. Its presence suggests that Diane is the sort who embraces a new technology even if it offers the user nothing useful. I am, however, amused by Diane’s repeated implications that I am somehow change-resistant or that I threaten the future of libraries because of my rejection of this buzzword. Remind anyone else of the “Library 2.0” hysteria?

So you just don’t like buzzwords?

I have to admit that I feel similarly (though less strongly) about EBLIP and ‘Blended Librarianship’.

Here’s a definition for EBLIP that I think summarizes well how most people think of it:

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) seeks to improve library andinformation services and practice by bringing together the best available evidence and insights derived from working experience, moderated by user needs and preferences. EBLIP involves asking answerable questions, finding, critically appraising and then utilising research evidence from relevant disciplines in daily practice. It thus attempts to integrate user-reported, practitioner-observed and research-derived evidence as an explicit basis for decision-making.

That’s great. Libraries SHOULD apply the best available evidence in making decisions about the practice of their profession- but don’t good libraries already do this? Is the purpose of the term just to underline the importance of these activities? Collecting usage data, tracking reference encounters, doing needs analyses, keeping up with the literature of librarianship…these things were all a part of good practice long before “EBLIP” was talked about, weren’t they?See also: Marcus Banks’ remarks on evidence based librarianship

As for Blended Librarianship, I love the idea of communities of learning and I agree that technology skills and instructional design are essential (especially for instruction librarians). But learning communities (online or offline) aren’t new ideas and incorporating technology skills and instructional design into one’s work is what any good instruction librarian should be doing. Unless it is just for the purpose of naming an online community (which is perfectly sensible), why make up a new term for what good instruction librarians should obviously be doing?

Theoretically Speaking

John Jackson writes:

“Great post, David! But I was sorry to see that you concluded by writing off theory in lieu of practical concerns for libraries. I know this doesn’t apply for all libraries, but for academic librarians, having a concise definition and theoretical framework is necessary not only for the work they do on a daily basis, but in the scholarly activities that they try to pursue both through publishing and through on-campus research… not to mention it can serve as a legitimizing factor when working with faculty.”

Sure, academic librarians may need to understand theoretical frameworks of particular topics if they support programs that rely heavily on critical theory.Though my impression from the academics I know is that critical theory began its domination of the humanities in the 60s, peaked in the 80s, and is now (thankfully) in decline. After all, I can’t imagine a Women’s Studies department that doesn’t rely heavily on critical theory and the subject specialist that serves that program’s needs should understand that body of theory and be able to speak in the terms that are familiar to scholars of that discipline.

To paraphrase a librarian friend, theories from other academic fields can be (and are) applied to information services…and librarianship/LIS can be said to have a set of values/ethics/principles that is different from other professions, but there’s no unified/unifying theoretical framework for library practice that I can see.

I agree with Neil Postman that “social sciences” (including Postman’s own field of Media Ecology) are not sciences.From the same 1988 article: “…[T]he purpose of media ecology is to tell stories about the consequences of technology; to tell how media environments create contexts that may change the way we think or organize our social life, or make us better or worse, or smarter or dumber, or freer or more enslaved. I feel sure the reader will pardon a touch of bias when I say that the stories media ecologists have to tell are rather more important than those of other academic story tellers—because the power of communication technology to give shape to people’s lives is not a matter that comes easily to the forefront of people’s consciousness, though we live in an age when our lives—whether we like it or not—have been submitted to the demanding sovereignty of new media. And so we are obliged, in the interest of a humane survival, to tell tales about what sort of paradise may be gained, and what sort lost. We will not have been the first to tell such tales. But unless our stories ring true, we may be the last.” Talk about there being nothing new under the sun.

“To put it plainly, all of the so-called social sciences are merely subdivisions of moral theology. It is true, of course, that social researchers rarely base their claims to knowledge on the indisputability of sacred texts, and even less so on revelation. But you must not be dazzled or deluded by differences in method between preachers and scholars.”

I can only guess how maddening scholars find this statement, but even just guessing makes me smile.

Insufficiently Academic

Maybe I’m insufficiently educated and don’t properly understand the academic world of LIS, but I think that theories outside of the hard sciences are, at best, interesting ideas with which to think. I think that Very Smart People are most valuable (and most valued) when they solve problems, not when they wax intellectually about them.

Changes in technology create all kinds of new and interesting challenges for libraries. All comers who have something coherent to say about how to go about tackling these challenges should be welcomed- but while matters of epistemology (like learning theory, neuroscience, or media ecology) should be important to libraryfolk, let’s not pretend to be scholars of those disciplinesUnless the individual librarian actually *is* a scholar of one of these disciplines…in which case I suggest getting out of librarianship and back in a profession with a few more potential rewards..

‘Scholarly’ Language

Kudos and full credit to Lane Wilkinson for blowing off his previous “academic” style of writing and writing a post describing his perspective in English, but I think Stephen Francoeur nails exactly what is lacking about it:.

“I’m with you on the need to be more expansive in what we teach and how we teach in our information literacy efforts, but I’m not sure this merits a new term for the effort. It seems like transliteracy so narrowly focused in your blog post that it can be defined simply as ‘doing information literacy instruction really well.’There are many reasons I like Stephen Francoeur. This is only the most recent. Meredith Farkas, by the way, reaches the very same conclusion: “I figure what you describe is just good engaging information literacy instruction incorporating (possibly) instructional tech and active learning.”

Wilkinson admits that this is a fair summary for his definition of ‘transliteracy’ but defends the use of the term as a ‘placeholder’.

Why use a ‘placeholder’ when we could say ‘do information literacy instruction really well’?

Check out this response post from John Jackson in which he takes seven paragraphs (625 words!) to say pretty much what I said in my first two paragraphs (60 words) – albeit in a much more ‘scholarly’ manner.

I’ve often wondered why so many self-described academics use language seemingly intended to make the ideas harder to access through an obtuse vocabulary or tortured phrasing. I was kvetching about this once to a friend who offered a theory. “Perhaps,” said my friend, “the value that academics offer in a market economy is the value of their ideas…and by making it harder to access their ideas, the market value of what they’re selling is driven up.”

That’s as good an explanation as any I’ve ever seen.

I encourage people (especially information professionals) to avoid this sort of writing at all times. It doesn’t matter if academics in other disciplines embrace the practice. *Our* profession is about removing obstacles between the user and the information that user seeks. I’m going to repeat that in a larger font now. Feel free to imagine me yelling this:

Our profession is about removing obstacles between the user and the information that user seeks.

This includes obstacles like obtuse, redundant, or vague language.

No arguments

Among all the response posts is not a whiff of an actual response.

Bobbi Newman writes:

“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.”

Here’s how I read that:

Transliteracy is a newish scholarly buzzword and we are working on milking it for publication purposes in the LIS world (we’ve been working on it for a year so far). I understand that many people want to know what the word means. They think that librarians should probably avoid using words they can’t define. I can’t help them there because I’m too busy. I did have time to create a blog based on the concept, but I don’t have time to define it.

Really, Bobbi. That’s how it reads to me.

The nonsense continues

I have no illusions that my comments will stop anyone from using terms foolishly, but I can hope that it may spare a few individuals from the anxieties associated with fears that they’re not on top of this ‘new thing.’

Meanwhile, the nonsense continues unabated. Check out Buffy Hamilton’s presentation “Participatory Librarianship: Creating Possibilities Through Transliteracy, Learning, and Linchpins”

Here’s the text of slide #51- try reading it aloud.

“transliteracy provides us a way of theorizing how these literacies transact with each other for meaning making”

Here’s the text of slide #52. Again, try reading it aloud.

“transliteracy is the conceptualization of how we use these literacies than the tools or containers although certainly the ways we access information, share, and create it have taken on new forms”

Text of slide #54 (you know what to do).

“as sponsors of transliteracy, libraries can close the participation gap.”

Try to get past the syntactical problems with these statements and tell me what they mean. Tell me that ‘transliteracy’ is used here in a meaningful way. I’d enjoy being proven wrong.

25 thoughts on “Follow-up: Transliteracy, Theory, and Scholarly Language

  1. David,

    As one of the original commenters on your previous post, I had hoped you would have given my post on the topic that covered almost all of your points months in advance more credence. Instead, you seem to have ignored it since it doesn’t agree with your views.

    Yes, transliteracy can be considered an evolution of the literacy discussion rather than a revolution. I don’t consider that a bad thing in the least.

    More importantly, Information Literacy is incompatible with the notion of transliteracy. Since IL is mostly a critical ability, whereas the definitions you provide for literacy (ability to read and write, knowledge of a particular field) are not, trying to encapsulate transliteracy as IL skills, as such, is impossible. UNESCO cites Jones and Hull, many years ago, with the same criticisms. I add to that the pedantic deconstruction of “information literacy” as a redundant term at best, and a hopelessly meaningless one at worst. It’s a bad name for good concepts. And it’s not like any literacy definitions outside of the LIS field, especially before 1974.

  2. Hi Brad.

    I apologize if my failure to have publicly noted having read your post and found it interesting was rude or hurtful in some way. I didn’t find anything in it with which I particularly disagreed. Thanks for both comments.

  3. Congrats David you’ve crossed into personal attack and insult with this post. While you may not agree with me, perhaps due to failure on your part or mine or both, I don’t think it is ok to state that my intentions are less than sincere. I’m offended and hurt by your accusation.

  4. I’m sorry you feel personally attacked, Bobbi- that certainly isn’t my intention and I regret that anything I’ve written makes you feel hurt.

    I don’t think I’ve said anything in this post that I haven’t said previously, though. You’ve been repeatedly (and politely) asked to define the term you’re using, but have declined to do so. Pretend someone else wrote the follow line:

    “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…Not in a mean way but in a I-can’t-do-everything-at-once sort of way.”

    If someone else wrote that, how would you read it?

    It isn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing. When asked to define what they mean by ‘transliteracy’, you and your co-contributors (with the notable exception of Lane Wilkinson’s Why Transliteracy post) have declined to do so, saying that it doesn’t need to be defined or that you’re too busy to define it.

    I reject the notion that a term can sensibly be used before it is defined and can’t believe that, in the year the blog has existed, you’ve never had the time to define of the three words that make up the title of the blog. Given these circumstances, what other conclusions could be drawn?

    Regardless, I apologize for having hurt your feelings. I look forward to eating crow when you define the term.

  5. I think in your search for a definition, you’re forgetting about connotation. We use words every day that don’t have distinct definitions but do have distinct connotations — connotations that can vary from community to community.

    Transliteracy isn’t a term that resonates with me, but neither is Information Literacy. If Transliteracy brings a connotation of interconnectedness that Information Literacy does not, that seems as valid a reason for using it as are our reasons for picking from synonyms as we form nearly every sentence we compose.

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  7. David, I don’t know Bobbi very well and I can’t speak for her, but if I were her, I wouldn’t take your critique of the lack of a precise definition personally, but I would take it personally the way you are assigning motives.

    When you say you hear her saying “Transliteracy is a newish scholarly buzzword and we are working on milking it for publication purposes in the LIS world (we’ve been working on it for a year so far),” I wonder where your evidence for these supposed motives comes from. Isn’t it safer to simply assume that people who are writing about transliteracy are motivated by a genuine curiosity and excitement about what they see as a change in conceptions of literacy or new opportunities for teaching or research?

    With your posts, one could easily assign all kinds of motives as for why you have devoted so many words to a concept you don’t like or respect lately. I could say that I hear you saying “I am jealous of all the attention transliteracy is getting,” or “My feelings of self-worth are wrapped up in tearing down other people’s ideas,” or “I wasn’t potty trained properly, so I over-intellectualize things on my blog.” These motivations are all obviously bullshit, or at least not provable given what you have written.

    So, unless you have actual evidence to point to crass motives on the part of those who write about transliterarcy, I think you should just assume that they are trying to be better teachers. In the meantime, I’ll assume that you just really care about precise use of language.

  8. Hi Steve.

    I’ll try to clarify and will hope that Bobbi regards this as critique of her writing and ideas, not of her person.

    Bobbi and her co-contributors welcomed (very graciously) the criticism that they hadn’t defined the term. Except for Lane (see above), they then claimed that it didn’t need to be defined or that (as Bobbi wrote) she didn’t have time to define it. I’m not putting words in her mouth here- that’s what she wrote in more than one place. Examples include:

    From her recent post:
    “Unfortunately, as they say, life trumps blogging and my time and energy is consumed by other issues right now.”

    “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…Not in a mean way but in a I-can’t-do-everything-at-once sort of way.”

    From Bobbi’s comments on my previous post:

    “I’ve been thinking I need to write that blog post [defining transliteracy] for months and I’ve been putting it off.”

    They’ve been using the term for about a year now. I can’t bring myself to believe that in that time, neither Bobbi nor her collaborators have had time to attempt a definition, so I categorize that as false.

    In explaining how I read her paragraph, I intended not to ascribe motive, but to actually describe how it reads to me in the absence of an actual definition despite the copious opportunities to offer one.

    See comment above:

    “I reject the notion that a term can sensibly be used before it is defined and can’t believe that, in the year the blog has existed, you’ve never had the time to define of the three words that make up the title of the blog. Given these circumstances, what other conclusions could be drawn?”

    If you have an alternative answer to that question, Steve, I’d sincerely like to hear it.

    What motivated me to write these posts (after blogging very little for months and months) is that I don’t want more of the “Library 2.0”-type hysteria. I think that, in order to avoid it, we should look for familiar patterns and opportunities to prevent our previous mistakes. That includes calling each other on it when we fall into an echo chamber of buzzwords.

    I think the biggest result of “Library 2.0” was that a lot of people got to publish and speak because of it. Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk literally wrote the book on Library 2.0, but the blog created to support it, like so many sites created in the Library 2.0 hysteria, was abandoned. It was only updated from March through October 2007.

    I was looking for for the folks at Libraries and Transliteracy to give me reason to think that their use of the term *isn’t* just a way to gain opportunities for publishing and speaking. That it *isn’t* just more hype. I haven’t seen that reason yet (except maybe for Iris’ argument above), so I’m left thinking that it is hype that will lead only to some publishing and speaking.

    You may be right, though. The more I think about it, the more I regret my phrasing.

    And now, I think I am done writing on the topic. Thanks for the comment, Steve.

  9. I’m sure David will readily admit that his interpretation of Bobbi’s response was not the “charitable reading” interpretation, but I’ll also readily admit that her response to me seemed rather flippant and dismissive. The whole “I understand that many people… want clear rules, definitions guidelines, and measures and pie charts” just felt really dismissive and belittling of my concerns (and the concerns of others). Perhaps Bobbi didn’t mean it that way, but that’s how it felt to me when I read it.

    I completely agree with Iris that there are many ideas and terms that are defined differently by different people and cultures. However, they are DEFINED. I may not define information literacy the same as someone else (and definitely not the same way as ACRL), but I do have a definition of some kind in my own head (and a picture of what an information literate student looks like) that I can readily communicate to others. It doesn’t make it the “be all end all” definition (just like it sounds like a lot of folks disagreed with Lane’s applying transliteracy to information literacy instruction), but I don’t know how anyone writing and giving talks about a topic for around a year could not easily state what transliteracy is and what a transliterate person looks like to them.

    And I really can’t disagree with David when he writes that there was a lot of rather icky shameless self-promotion around the whole Library 2.0 thing from a few people who did little-to-nothing to improve the profession, but did a lot to further their own careers/name recognition. Creating Five Weeks to a Social Library didn’t get me and my co-organizers better jobs or any money, but it did benefit a whole bunch of librarians (and their libraries) and lead to our online learning model being replicated by other institutions. Same with the Learning 2.0 project. That really HELPED people. I used to think that all librarians speaking and writing and all that were doing it because they cared about making libraries better, and have been burned by a couple of people who used me to get ahead. And that whole 2.0 episode has made me very suspicious of people’s motives as well, though I really do want to believe that everyone does things to make the profession and our services to patrons better.

  10. David, thank you for restoring my vim on this lazy vacation morning [note: it was morning when I began composing this]. Where two mugs of coffee and 20 mg of Ritalin have failed, your blog post successfully kick started my lazy, lackadaisical, languorous little grey cells into some semblance of coherent, directed activity. So, hooray for that!

    I’ve been following the work of transliteracy folks with interest. I admit that the term didn’t initially and immediately convey clear, inherent meaning to me, but I also haven’t been able to come up with a better term to represent the set of skills and competencies necessary to be able to use the constantly and rapidly evolving set of technological tools to find, access, publish and disseminate information (using the term in its very broadest sense to include not only text, but images, video, data, etc.). Transliteracy is a piece of jargon. Sure, jargon is irksome and problematic. By its very existence, it creates groups of insiders (the initiated who know what the term means within the context of a certain community) and outsiders (to whom the meaning of the term is obscure). It also serves to quickly communicate a set of ideas within the context of a particular professional or scholarly community. We can deride jargon all we want, but it is still useful. Let’s look at another well-known piece of library jargon: “information literacy”. I use information literacy all the time, even though its meaning is somewhat murky and some people find its connotations pejorative. The thing is, I haven’t been able to come up with a better term to describe the set of skills and competencies necessary to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”. (American Library Association. Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.) I mean, really, is “information fluency” any better? Information literacy, despite its limitations, means something and is thus useful within my professional community. If transliteracy ultimately turns out not to be a useful piece of terminology, it will naturally go the way of Library 2.0. Until a more useful term emerges, I’ll continue to use transliteracy when it serves my purposes.

    [As a side note, I think one of the reasons that a term such as transliteracy is needed is that the ALA and ACRL conceptions of information literacy are outdated. The original ALA definition was crafted in 1989 and the ACRL Competency Standards for Higher Education (from 2000) do not sufficiently address the current challenges of using and adapting to constantly changing information technologies.]

    I empathize with Bobbi in this situation. I’ve never met Bobbi and don’t know her well beyond very brief online interactions, but I attended some of her presentations at CiL last year and have read some of her writing. I respect her work. From looking at her list of presentations and publications (, it looks like she indeed works on solving real problems; for example, investigating models for incorporating ebooks and ereaders into libraries, reducing the digital divide, creating library tools for mobile devices, using online technologies for training, etc. This all strikes me as significant work that addresses the real needs of patrons. More importantly, I feel very uncomfortable when people assign motives to my actions. It is one thing to object to what I do or say, but quite another to assume that you know my motivations. Steve beat me to saying this (the cad!), but, as he points out, when you say “Transliteracy is a newish scholarly buzzword and we are working on milking it for publication purposes in the LIS world (we’ve been working on it for a year so far)”, you assign to Bobbi motives for her actions and rather negative ones at that. If I were Bobbi, I would be annoyed indeed.

    Personally, I welcome and applaud the speaking and publishing that Bobbi and many others have done regarding transliteracy. Terminology aside, libraryfolk need to be thinking about and discussing how we can best prepare our patrons for the evolving information landscape. In order for folks to effectively access information, communicate, obtain higher education and get jobs, they simply must be able to access, assess, organize, ethically use, create, publish and disseminate information (and creative works, media, etc.) across a variety of traditional (e.g., print) and emerging, digital media and they need to be able to adapt to such new technologies as they emerge in the future. Libraryfolk who discuss, present and write about how to best support our library patrons in learning these skills are engaged in meaningful, important and necessary intellectual activities that support our day-to-day work in libraries.

    Now that I’ve said my piece and gotten my little grey cells working productively, I can spend my day addressing any of the tasks at hand: preparing for a panel presentation on broadband and digital literacy initiatives in Minnesota; rewriting learning objectives for my information literacy class; writing a proposal for a workshop on advanced Web searching; gathering resources regarding maintaining privacy and control over one’s online identity on the Web for people with basic-to-no computer skills, digital literacy &/or transliteracy skills; and, creating an outline for an online tutorial on finding full text of scholarly articles. As you point out, there is real work to do. Then, I’m going to shovel the ridge in my driveway, take Duncan to the dog park, watch the Doctor Who Christmas special and eat as much crack(er) candy ( as I want.


  11. I share your discomfort with the vagueness that seems to surround most talk of ‘transliteracy’. But, just to clarify, in the comment you reference I use the term ‘transliteracy’ “as a placeholder term for just one out of many effective instructional practices for librarians.” Not, as you write, as a placeholder for “do information literacy instruction really well.” You also seem to go back and forth over whether my “Why Transliteracy?” post was a response or not (“Among all the response posts [there] is not a whiff of an actual response” vs. “with the notable exception of Lane Wilkinson’s Why Transliteracy post…”). If it wasn’t a response, I’d be happy to try again. Rock on!

  12. Thanks for the response, David.

    David & Meredith, I think the thing that bothered me most about l’affaire Library 2.0 wasn’t that some people got book deals or speaking opportunities out of it. I think it’s natural for people to look for those opportunities when they think that they have identified something new that will help librarians and library users (wikis, unconferences, online tools for doc, whatever). If sometimes the desire to publish, speak, whatever gets ahead of the desire to help, that seems like life in the big city to me, and anyone who puts image over substance will likely reap what she or he has sown in the long run.

    No, the thing that bothered me most about Library 2.0 was that it became something to fight over for its own sake, and I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on here. How much time and how many words does it really take to say “transliteracy as a word and as a concept really doesn’t do it for me, mostly because I think it is unnecessary and because the people writing about it haven’t defined it properly?” I have no argument there. But it seems like that’s not enough for David. It seems that he won’t rest until Bobbi and company recant, convert, and publicly apologize to him, David Rothman, for forcing him to write these blog posts. And it just isn’t that big a deal.

  13. Steve, what bothered me most about the whole Library 2.0 thing is that lots of libraries became frantic in their efforts to be 2.0, focusing more on incorporating 2.0 tools rather than actually figuring out what their patrons need and working on that. And that’s because so much of the rhetoric was “be 2.0 or become irrelevant” and “if you’re not 2.0 you’re anti-change.” There also was a backlash against very legitimate uses of social technologies by some librarians who basically closed their ears to anything “2.0”. I worry that buzz words often take the focus away from what’s important and polarize people to the point where folks either uncritically accept everything or reject everything based on where they stand vis a vis the buzz word. I don’t want to go back there and that’s my impetus for asking questions. I can’t speak for David, but given our conversations about Library 2.0 in the past, I would guess that’s where he’s coming from too.

    I have no problem with there being greater focus on literacy skills (whether it be information gathering and evaluation, reading or content creation) that reflect the world we live in today. This is certainly a big part of my instructional mission and I feel should be a big part of our work in every library. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the people who are promoting this term to define it; to let us know what they think a transliterate person looks like. I really like and respect a lot of the people promoting transliteracy in our profession, so I’m not looking to break anyone down, hurt them, or make them apologize. I really just want to have a constructive conversation about transliteracy where we can get to a place where librarians can actually understand it and do something with it to benefit their patrons.

  14. I think I have strayed from what I really came here to talk about. Participating in too much more discussion here makes it looks like I am ignoring my own comments about fighting over precious little, so I’m gonna sign out for now. Thanks for the opportunity to comment, David.

  15. Steve-

    You chastise me for reaching a conclusion about motivations based on the available evidence (which is fine- that’s a fair criticism and I think my wording was regrettable), then you put words in my mouth (“It seems that he won’t rest until Bobbi and company recant, convert, and publicly apologize to him, David Rothman, for forcing him to write these blog posts.”) after I’ve explicitly spelled out my goals and motivations and said I was done writing on the topic.

    You are an extemely argumentative person (and I’ve always liked that about you- we have that in common). And you (see linked quote below), are chastising me for arguing about something you think isn’t a big deal?

    “You keep changing what you tell us, Jenica, so it’s pointless to discuss this with you. Quit bullshitting with us and go get your staff to think it was their idea in the first place”

    Aren’t you being just a bit hypocritical in both instances? I mean, I can take the crticism, that’s fine- I’m just not understanding the how or why of your holding the two of us to two different standards.

    Or you’re being ironic, maybe?

  16. David, you are right. I did make it personal when I said that bit that you quote from my comment here. It was a mistake to say that, and that’s what I was thinking about when I said I needed to take my own advice and stop arguing about it here.

    Why you are bringing up a regrettable FriendFeed comment from six months ago –one which I apologized for publicly and also privately — is a mystery to me.

  17. Steve-

    What it looks like to me is that you’ve gone from being sarcastic and hypocritical to being disingenuous.

    But as we have agreed, this is only how it looks to me. We can’t ever really know what motivates anyone- so I’ll take you at your word that why I referenced that comment is a mystery to you. I referenced it because it supported my assertion that you were being hypocritical.

    Thanks for the comments.

  18. If you think that I took seven paragraphs to say the *exact same thing* that you did in two, then either (1) I did not explain myself clearly or (2) you did not understand me. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume my “scholarly” language was the culprit.

    For the record, I was not attempting to say the same as you when you discussed the two definitions of literacy. I wanted to go further and explode those definitions by highlighting the underlying cognitive biases beneath them. It was a method used by Roman Jakobson to explore how some people or cultures have a tendency to prefer one type of language (metaphorical or metonymical) in speech and writing. This, in turn, can illustrate how we think about the world around us… and the more we know about how we USE language and THINK about the world, the better we will be able to define the words and thoughts we live by.

  19. John, I noticed that your Master’s Thesis (you have an MA in English- awesome!) was titled “Vertiginous Possibilities: A Case for Metonymic Analysis in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales”, so metonymy is clearly an interesting and important subject for you.

    What does it add to the conversation about libraries?

    You started with the dictionary entries and ended with the two common definitions I did…but you took seven paragraphs. I’m curious to know what was added to the conversation by bringing in your interest in metonomy and metaphor…especially when you started and ended at the same points I did.

    And yes, your style of writing is not to my own taste. To each his own, though.



  20. Hi, colleagues; hope the end of the year will not be the end of this thread.

    Iris #5: I’m very curious about the ‘interconnectedness’ brought by ‘transliteracy’ but not by ‘information literacy’. Iris, could you please elaborate a little bit more on this so that we could understand the difference between both constructs in this respect?

    Steve #7 and Martha #10: sorry, but I guess ‘critical discourse analysis’ (not to mention Gee’s Discourse/discourses dichotomy) does entitle David to speculate on the ‘discourse’ behind the ‘transliteracy’ literature (or any other ‘literature’ on any other subject, including ‘information literacy’, of course). If IL is about something, it is about questioning everyone’s Discourse/discourses, including our own!

    Martha #10: well, everything in our lives needs continuous updating; so why not the ALA/ACRL Standards? My problem with so many colleagues (mainly 2.0) asserting that the ALA definition and the standards (nor the CILIP’s definition for that matter) do not address the latest technological changes lies in that they think in terms of technology (channels, means, registration devices, etc.), while IL is to do with content, irrespective of the modes and tools used to create, store, preserve and communicate it acros history, past, present and future. There is a difference, I think.

  21. David,

    I define transliteracy as “the ability to create, express, participate or interpret abstract representations of knowledge or thought, via whatever medium they prefer, so that one may more fully participate in the society, community, legacy or political system in which they reside.”

    Yes this is a rather academic, but one must remember that literacy and orality are totally made up. They are abstract representations of abstract representations of the world.

    It is also important to note that literacy’s definition is evolved. The National Council of of Teachers of Education and the International Reading Association have expanded literacy to include viewing and visual representation.

    If you are looking for examples of transliteracy, I would draw your attention to digital media labs, YouMedia at the Chicago Public Library in specific. The success there has spurred praise from President Obama, and the IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation to fund an additional 30 labs. Much of this is due to the IMLS 21st Century Skill report in which you find no less than 10 literacies listed.

    In a practical sense, I approach transliteracy as the overarching theme for the 21st Century Skills outlined by the IMLS.

    I wish you, your wife, and your family a Happy New Years!

  22. All the best for everyone in 2011.

    Anthony #22: sorry, but I find a substantial flaw in your definition: we do not “create, express, participate or interpret … via whatever medium they prefer”; rather we do this first through a ‘mode of representation’ (language, if you want: written, oral, visual, tactile, spatial, …); and only when we know the type of text/message/content we want to communicate for a particular situation/purpose, as well as the mode/language of communication we want to use, will we be in a position to select the medium best suited to convey our meaning to the intended receiver/audience, be it the oldest or the newest device, technological or not. The fact that we take these decisions most of the time and for most everydaylife situations in nanoseconds does not make this process less true, even if unconscious. And, of course, both the mode and the medium we select for our ‘text’ will have to be credited for its final shape/meaning/interpretation by the audience.

    The implications of this for our “information literacy training activities” as librarians, as well as for our new approaches (the “multiliteracies” is the one I find the most useful and comprehensive) to “literacy” education across the lifespan in our ’21st-Century Society’ (which, by the way, doesn’t mean the same for different regions of the world, nor for different segments of society within a particular country, state, city, quarter or even community), are self-evident, in my opinion.

  23. Pingback: “Beginnings Are Always Messy”: Thoughts on Transliteracy and Inquiry from a Learning Advocate « The Unquiet Librarian