I regret not posting anything here in a while, but I was busy working on my presentation for LOEX in Fort Worth. Oh, and it was the end of the semester library rush. Oh, and tornadoes knocked our power out for five days. Anyway…LOEX.
I started writing about transliteracy last November, and little did I know how controversial the topic would become in the ensuing months. There’s no need to rehash the details of that silly, internet feud between librarians, but it was clear as I entered the standing-room only presentation room that there was a lot of lingering doubt and skepticism about transliteracy. I even polled the room, “How many of you think ‘transliteracy’ is just a meaningless buzzword with no substance behind it?” Almost half the audience raised their hands.
I raised my hand, too.
You see, ‘transliteracy’ is a buzzword and every day I see the term applied to increasingly irrelevant and unrelated topics. I won’t quote directly, but there are a lot of people slapping the label “transliteracy” on their posts just because they are talking about technology or social media or the future of libraries. It’s like, “I just bought a Kindle! #transliteracy!” or “The future of libraries is uncertain! #transliteracy!” It’s a lot of hand-waving, wishy-washy, meaningless drivel with little to no substance behind it. It’s “Library 2.0” all over again.
Then again, in the Library 2.0 era, there were a lot of librarians who really did want to look into the practical applications of social media in librarianship. Similarly, there are a lot of librarians who are interested in whether and, if so, how the concept of transliteracy might be applied. These librarians look to the research into transliteracy and see how it might inform librarianship. I like to think I fall into this latter category, though I can’t say for sure. I just try to keep in mind that transliteracy is a concept being discussed quite independently of libraries and that most of the substantive research is not library-oriented. Transliteracy is a theory being actively discussed in the social sciences, humanities, education, and other fields. Rather than throw the term around as meaningless jargon, some of us are keeping just to the research and letting that guide us. I don’t see what’s so controversial about that.
So, as I told my audience, yes, ‘transliteracy’ is frequently used as just a cool-sounding buzzword with nothing substantive behind it. But, it is also frequently used as a legitimate area of inquiry into how new communications media are affecting traditional notions of literacy. For my part, I don’t care one bit about this vague ability to “read and write across a range of platforms, tools, and media.” But, I do care about the ability to research across a range of platforms, tools, and media, and if transliteracy lets me get at that, then I’m all in favor of studying transliteracy. If another term already exists to cover the same territory, then I’ll use that instead. I don’t care about words, I only care about the concepts.
Anyway, I’ve posted a brief summary of the presentation (and the slides) over at Libraries and Transliteracy, so check it out if you feel inclined. I’ll let you decide where I fall between buzzword and substance.