On Being a Librarian

Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives

Transliteracy on My Mind

Defining transliteracy is important for those professionals who are driven to develop actions based on a prescript definition. However, defining transliteracy seems to be a slippery endeavour.

Can you explain or define transliteracy?  Let’s start with some rudimentary etymology.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the prefix ‘trans’ as:

1: With the sense ‘across, through, over, to or on the other side of, beyond, outside of, from one place, person, thing, or state to another’ and when operating as an adjective ‘beyond, surpassing, transcending’.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘literacy’ as:

1: The quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write.

Would ‘transliteracy’ then be defined as the ability to read and write across various formats moving beyond the original condition?  Is that enough?  Is there any meaning in such a pedestrian definition?

While you think about how you might define transliteracy, here are a few statements about transliteracy from a few leading experts in various fields of study.

“ [T]he point of being transliterate does not have an end point. Instead, I like to think of the transliteracy process as being like a nautilus that is constantly growing and adding chambers to its shell.”

Jamie Hollier, Project Coordinator for Public Computing Centers at Colorado State Library

“. . .  thinking linearly about literacy is seldom a good idea.  Literacy should be thought of as a holistic ecology, not a linear series of events and changes . . .”

“transliteracy is a shape-shifting eco-system of behaviour 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 is in constant motion. This means recognising the limits of your own knowledge and accepting a degree of messiness and uncertainty.”

Professor Sue Thomas, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

“Transliteracy is concerned with mapping meaning across different media and not with developing particular literacies about various media.  It is not about learning text literacy and visual literacy and digital literacy in isolation from one another but about the interaction among all these literacies.”

Tom Ipri, Liaison Librarian to the College of Media Arts and Design at W.W. Hagerty Library at Drexel University

“The most fundamental notion of transliteracy is the ability to adapt.  It’s creating a literacy and fluidity between mediums that’s not tied to space of modality.”

Ryan Nadel , founder of 8 Leaf Digital Productions and an instructor at the Vancouver Film School, Interviewed by Josh Karp

“Transliteracy is a ‘convergence of literacies’ (Lippincott, 2007:17) as the boundaries between media literacy, digital literacy, technology literacy and information literacy become blurred when individuals evolve from consumers of information to producers of content.”“Transliteracy is an umbrella term encompassing different literacies and multiple communication channels that require active participation with and across a range of platforms, and embracing both linear and non-linear messages.”

Dr. Susie Andretta, London Metropolitan University [Prezi]


Transliteracy and Web 2.0 on Prezi

The Lippincott reference is available here:

Lippincott, J.K. ‘Student content creators: convergence of literacies’.

Educause Review, 42(6) Nov/Dec. 2007: 16-17. Available at:


The Association of Colleges and Research Libraries has acknowledged transliteracy as a legitimate concept, model, and subject of inquiry and identifies that “more work needs to be done to formalize what relationship libraries will have with transliteracy” (ACRL, http://bit.ly/afZTEd).

I have written about defining transliteracy in earlier posts yet an exact definition of transliteracy is still unwritten.  Perhaps that reflects essence of transliteracy. It is changeable and adoptable expanding and constricting to the situation in which literacies are explored.

Alan Liu, Chair and Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, introduced the term in 2005 with the establishment of a collaborative research group, the Transliteracies: Research in the Technological, Social, and Cultural Practices of Online Reading – The Transliteracies Project.

Professor Sue Thomas became interested in the concept and began working on transliteracy based on a tight working definition: “Transliteracy is 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” (Transliteracy.com).

The environment of transliteracy is not new.  The ‘new’ part of transliteracy is in the development of the term not of the experience or concept.

In August 2009, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) held a conference in Milan, Italy.  Susie Andretta of London Metropolitan Unversity, London, UK, delivered a paper exploring the position of transliteracy within the profession of librarians. In her paper,   Transliteracy: take a walk on the wild side , Andrettapresents findings from a literature search and interviews with information professionals. At that time, her findings revealed that transliteracy was a term and concept unknown in the profession.  In her conclusions, she states that transliteracy is changing library from being a space for contemplative study or a sanctuary for book lovers, to a library “defined by any activity that the users find relevant” (p 12).  Even though the four professionals interviewed had not known of transliteracy before the interview, they  understood that they engage in transliteracy within their respective areas of expertise.

It has been 7 years since Alan Liu developed the term ‘transliteracy’.  It was a little known concept in 2009.   I wonder how far transliteracy has reached within the profession now, in 2012.  Perhaps I’d best conduct some research.

2 comments on “Transliteracy on My Mind

  1. Pingback: Web2.0 | Pearltrees

  2. Pingback: Culture de l'information | Pearltrees

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