Oct 26 2010

Transliteracy and the Enthusiasm Gap

Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of a panel about the future of public media for our local public radio station’s annual meeting.

It was a good discussion with many wonderful contributors and ideas, but there was one element of the conversation that really bothered me.

Some members of the audience, and even the panel, felt that the radio needed to move a little slower than the rest of the country with embracing and utilizing new technologies because the people in our community move at “a glacial pace” when it comes to adopting new technology.

In a time when I strongly believe the haves and the have-nots will increasingly be defined by the access to, and adeptness with, technology tools and resources, just saying ‘we are a slower adopting community’ and leaving it at that is not acceptable.

Transliteracy, or the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks, is a big topic on the minds of many people that work in fields related to education today and community development.

This is for one main reason. In the climate of our current culture, saying you are not comfortable with tech can be equated with saying “I don’t know how to read.” What’s worse is that many members seem to take pride in the fact they they are anti-tech, as though this is some silly little fad that will blow over in time, or “for the kids.”

Every day in my library I see how the digital divide determines which members of our community have which opportunities and the impact those opportunities create for individuals and, in turn, our entire community.

Just last week, I had someone come into the library looking for tools for learning excel, word, etc. I pointed this person to classes, websites, and books only to discover that she was not computer literate and had only 45 minutes to become so and learn Microsoft office before taking a test that would determine her employment future.

Obviously, I did the best I could to assist but my guess is that the test did not go well. The problem, in part, was that this person did not see the need to learn these skills until the day her employer decided she had to have them to continue on.  

It is my belief that strong communities foster personal growth and the personal betterment of all their members, including physical health, community involvement, and continuing education. The leaders of our communities, including non-profits, political and business leaders, local businesses, and libraries have a responsibility to lead the charge to bridge the gap of the digital divide.

It is not serving our community to say, “yeah, we know these tools are out there, but our community is slow to learn them and use them so let’s just deal with that later on.” We should be the leaders by not only offering tech classes to those that seek them out but by reaching into our communities and educating people why they need them.

We have a responsibility to lift up our communities and bring them closer to their life goals, to ask them what they want from their lives and show them the tools to get them a little closer to realizing their desires.  

Next up: so how do we build enthusiasm?

4 Responses to “Transliteracy and the Enthusiasm Gap”

  • Dana Longley

    This is a great post! One thing that a librarian colleague on twitter suggested (when I tweeted about this post) was a call for some kind of chart to differentiate (to we librarians to start) information literacy and transliteracy. If we can overcome some of the confusion and ambiguity, we might get more librarians to take up this kind of call to arms to literacies beyond the somewhat narrowly defined information literacy.

    • valentinelulu

      Hi Dana,

      I agree completely that we need to clarify information literacy vs. transliteracy and expound on their different meanings, roles, needs, etc. Maybe this is something I can work on for a future post. Thanks for the comment and the RT!


  • Bob Kosovsky

    Clearly you are not familiar with community diversity, such as senior citizens, disabled persons, people whose first language is not English, and whose level of literacy might be at one’s expections (to name a few). You can’t just plunge these people into a sink-or-swim environment, but must make allowances that there will need to be training, and people learn different things in different ways and at different speeds. After all, if the democritizing feature of the web is not reaching a large segment of the population, then its democritization is false hope.

    Maybe it’s time for diversity training.

    • valentinelulu

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your comment. Actually, I am very familiar with diversity as the library that I manage has a diverse group of users and we make a point ot offer programming and services for all of our community members, such as citizenship classes, basic computer classes for the elderly, ESL classes, bilingual story times, etc. Additionally, I worked at an educational publishing company where we specialized in students that were behind the curve on reading and comprehension skills and ESL students before working at my library. Lastly, I strive to understand the needs of our disabled populations, especially since I am the daughter of a former teacher of deaf blind and multi handicapped students and basically grew up in her classroom and I have disabled people on my staff currently at the library.  

      In fact, I would love for you to clarify why you believe my post comes off as a sink-or-swim for community members with diverse needs since that was in no way my intent. What I am actualy calling for is a diverse approach to transliteracy training so that we can get ALL members of our community to a more equalized playing field with technology. I believe that many emerging technologies have great hopes to provide a democratizing effect on our society, just look at the work of Kurzweil and Blio as an example. I do however, believe that the equal access will come from a consorted effort to provide training to get people up to speed and, most importantly, keep people up to speed. People do not become literate without training and a community effort to create literacy and the same is true for transliteracy.


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