We need to transliterate, practically

(to ‘transliterate’: to transfer the meaning of an idea as accurately as possible to a different alphabet or language)

The information landscape is changing, evolving in response to technological advances, the proliferation of information in new media and formats, as well as the changed information behaviour of users.

A new approach to literacy is needed in order to ensure that our students are prepared to successfully interact with this evolving landscape in the 21st century. Transliteracy is a framework that assumes a fluidly transferable skill-set that can be applied to a variety of settings and contexts that may arise in the evolving information landscape (Thomas et al., 2007).   The term ‘transliteracy’ was derived from ‘transliterate’: to transfer the meaning of an idea as accurately as possible to a different alphabet or language.

Can this be the answer to literacy in the future?

Transliteracy is presented as an over-arching concept, a unifying perspective, encompassing different literacies and communication channels, capturing in essence our capacity to interact with information as both linear and non-linear message (Andretta, 2009, p. 3). Sukovic (2016) listed creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration as the main skill and knowledge components of transliteracy.

This concept clearly has potential for application in the educational and school environments where we introduce our students to concepts and ideas, assist them to develop the necessary skills to master the concepts, but also to be able to transfer and adapt these skills to new situations and contexts. It is unfortunate that major collaborative projects such as the Transliteracy Research Group and Libraries and Transliteracy have been abandoned. The only recent publications on the topic seems to be by Sokuvic. Transliteracy needs educators and librarians to roll up their sleeves and produce an applicable implementable scope and sequence for this approach to really classify as a framework.

Transliteracy does not yet offer a complete and directly applicable proposal to develop the literacies of the future, but on reflection there is evidence of intuitive implementation of transliteracy by teacher librarians (Gogan & Marcus, 2013, p. 42). School libraries are in fact ideal places to develop transliterate skills, because its collections facilitate access to information sources in many different modalities: print on paper, digital print media, images, audio and video recordings, as well as access to different technological tools and platforms. Learners are exposed to a wide range of source and encouraged to investigate different media and environments (Jaeger, 2011, p. 46).

Teacher librarians understand that reading on paper is different to digital reading and can facilitate and encourage transfer of “reading” skills from one medium to another (Jaeger, 2011, p.45).  They support traditional literacy development, but also support students to interact with material in different formats: A book can be made available in paper, e-reader and audiobook format (encouraging transfer of coding and decoding skills to new content platforms). Social media book discussions and email contact with an author provides context, adding multi-modality and facilitating deeper and more authentic interaction with the content.

Teacher librarians create media- and resource rich environments and assist students in creating print, digital or multi-modal information artefacts, choosing the most suitable medium, tools or platforms, for the product. They encourage students to go beyond the ability to interact with specific modalities but includes the intentional follow through of repeated and transferred learning behaviour related to knowledge building and communication (Bush, 2012, p.5). They create opportunities, and provide scaffolding, for the development and execution of transliterate skills.

School libraries build collections of information sources that portray different cultures and can be accessed through different languages, helping students to develop a global consciousness, local purpose or intentional neutrality where appropriate (Bush, 2012, p. 6).

The transliterate learner is encouraged to maintain a critical approach to information and evaluate the authority of the source.

It is essential for the teacher librarian to be transliterate, to keep up with the development of new media and transfer skills to newer media in order to model and teach students and fellow educators. They do not teach use of a medium, but the skill to evaluate, produce, communicate, organise, encouraging higher order thinking skills and transfer of skills.

Transliteracy offers valuable conceptual guidelines that teacher librarians can interpret and implement as approaches to future proof our students in terms of skills and insight and prepare them to effectively and safely navigate the changing information landscape.

The school library is the ideal venue for students to acquire and develop the skills and insights needed to become transliterate users and creators of information products. It will serve us well to keep this concept in mind as we support and scaffold literacy development in our students.

NOTE: This post is based on an assignment submitted for ETL401 201830 and has been submitted in another format to the ETL523 discussion forum on Module 2.


Andretta, S. (2009, August). Transliteracy: Take a walk on the wild side. Paper presented at World Library and Information Congress: 75th IFLA General Conference and Assembly, Milan, Italy. Retrieved from http://eprints.rclis.org/14868/1/94-andretta-en.pdf

Bush, G. (2012, September/October). The transliterate learner. School Library Monthly, 29(1), 5-7.

Gogan, B., & Marcus, A. (2013, May/June). Lost in transliteracy. Knowledge Quest, 41(5), 40-45. Retrieved from https://primo.csu.edu.au/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=proquest1355895189&context=PC&vid=61CSU_INST:61CSU&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&tab=Everything&lang=en

Ipri, T., & Newman, B. (2011, February 27). Farewell and thanks for the memories [Blog post]. Retrieved from Libraries and Transliteracy website: https://librariesandtransliteracy.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/farewell-and-thanks-for-the-memories/

Jaeger, P. (2011, October). Transliteracy – new library lingo and what it means for instruction. Library Media Connection, 30(2), 44-47.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robinson, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from MacArthur website: http://www.clubofamsterdam.com/contentarticles/47%20Children/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Librarianbyday. (2009, October 7). Libraries and transliteracy [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk4Cw8vrDuM

Sukovic, S. (2016, September 15). What exactly is transliteracy? Retrieved March 26, 2018, from Elsevier SciTech Connect website: http://scitechconnect.elsevier.com/what-exactly-is-transliteracy/

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S., & Pullinger, K. (2007). Transliteracy: Crossing divides. First Monday, 12(12). Retrieved from http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2060/1908

Transliteracies project. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2018, from University of California Santa Barbara website: http://transliteracies.english.ucsb.edu/category/research-project

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2 thoughts on “We need to transliterate, practically

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8yQPoTcZ78
    You might find this interesting and related – The essential elements of digital literacies

    • Thank you Liz! I very much agree with Dough Belshaw that it is about “remix” today and not about “consumption” only (elegant or otherwise) – our information environment is not one of consumption alone, but open, social and participatory! This is why we have such a problem to teach our students about intellectual property and copyright – it just does not feel natural to them – take it -remix it – post it, move on. Did you blog about this TedTalk and your thoughts? I’d love to hear your comments about his 8 essential elements of digital literacies and the socially negotiated nature of digital literacy.

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