Libraries Need to Focus on Transliteracy

Trying new coffee shopsLibraries have focused on literacy, the ability to read, write and interact, for years. It is an important service to our patrons and our communities.  People need to be literate in order to be involved in and contribute to society. Times are changing, technologies are evolving rapidly,  it’s no longer enough to focus on the ability to read and write alone. If we only focus on literacy we are doing a disservice to our patrons.  Just as libraries took on the task of helping to ensure all people  are literate, now we need to take on the task of ensure all people are transliterate.

What is transliteracy?

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. – wikipedia

Soon people will need to be transliterate in order to be involved in and contribute to society. It is already a requirement to participate in some aspects of our society and it will only become more so.  Government agencies are no longer issuing print forms, you have to access them online.  Your health insurance plan was a website and you have an account, when you call they will tell you to go there to get information. Banks are sending alerts and account balance information via text messages. Facebook privacy settings are complex and change frequently. The price of computers is dropping allowing more people to own one. Free WiFi access points are increasing, allowing more people internet access.

For many people all of the above are new experiences. Experiences they can have with no training, no supervision and no support.

In order to best serve our patrons we need to move from literacy to transliteracy. Add it to  your strategic plan, mission, statement and goals.  Commit to it.  Talk with your coworkers and colleagues about it.

Read more about transliteracy.

14 thoughts on “Libraries Need to Focus on Transliteracy

  1. I couldn’t agree more as a fan of all the different mediums. However, I think this is where you will find peers who perpetuate the false controversy of “saving books” (which really translates into “saving print books”). This is a banner of hysteria that is raised when people like yourself talk about expanding the library offerings into mediums other than the standard printed word. It’s a strawman to the purposes of your post, but it will be brought forth as a legitimate rebuttal to what you are championing. I would sincerely hope that people would be able to see that they can co-exist (and potentially thrive) together.

    On a more positive tact, when I present a patron of myriad of mediums to choose from, I try to take the time to show them how the more unfamiliar technology works. Everyone should feel comfortable with the results they are presented at the reference desk.


    1. I know some people see any digital or technology focused service as a challenge to books, but I don’t see it that way. They can and should coexist.

      I truly believe if we don’t shift our focus to transliteracy we are doing a disservice to our patrons. They need it. Sitting back and declaring we’re about books is narrow minded. We’re about information and knowledge and education. Books have been the only road to those for years but no longer. Putting our heads in the sand and pretending that the world is not evolving, that technology is not here to stay doesn’t help anyone.


  2. Lightbulb on! Yes! Thank you Bobbi – you’ve given a word, voice and multi-dimensional environment to a concept I’ve been struggling to describe for my colleagues and community members. I’m fascinated by the research that has begun in this area, too. Ties in with the Knight Foundation report that came out a couple days ago. Can’t wait to find out more.


  3. @librarianbyday perhaps i will use this for my class reading- yep i am putting it into the information literacy segment of the class 😛


  4. RT @librarianbyday: hard to believe its been over a year since I wrote this, we’ve come a long way Libraries Need to Focus on Transliter …


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