Jul 5 2011

Supporting Transliteracy (Part 1)


Below is the first half of my presentation at ALA 2011 called “Working Toward Transliteracy“. It was a great panel filled with wonderful presenters and I am honored to have had the opportunity to share the stage with such a great group.

Supporting people through the difficulty of the change cycle

Transliteracy is great, right? So many ways to learn, so much information at our fingertips and it is available in so many formats. For information junkies this is wonderful.

But it is not so great for everyone. For many, it is overwhelming and more than a little frightening.

My Uncle recently passed away, so my dad fly down to Louisiana recently to be with family and got a rental car.
This car had all the newest features, but my dad had a lot going on and all he needed was to get where he was going and have a little peace getting there.

My dad is by no means digitally illiterate, in fact he is pretty high functioning as far as tech things go, but this car had so many bells and whistles it was just overwhelming. This little voice kept talking about all sorts of things and trying to tell him how to get around Cajun county, something he knows all too well.

Needless to say, the experience with that car was not a good one. It overwhelmed him and confused him in a time when he needed to feel secure. My dad was dealing with change, grief, and a tool in an environment that made him uneasy.

Unfortunately, this is the story for many people that libraries help with their transliteracy needs, such as learning to use specific software, trying to find information online, or even just learning to use a computer. We often get those individuals that are going through transformational periods in their lives like the loss of a job, medical issues, etc. Add to that the natural change cycle and fear that occurs in people related to our ever changing world and you can see that learning to be transliterate is pretty daunting for many.

This is hard for people.

Our role is not only to offer the classes, the tutoring, and the technical expertise. Our role is also about supporting people during the ongoing process of change and learning that is imperative to success today. This goes not only for our users, but also for our staff and community partners.

How do you help support people through the difficulty of the change cycle?

Here are a few thoughts from the train the tech trainer series we are working on in Colorado for the Public Computer Centers Project. Keep in mind that these are valid both in a classroom setting and also for one-on-one interactions.

  • Be friendly, smile, etc: This is the first step in building rapport and connection.
  • Have a sense of humor: It is hard to be stressed when you are smiling and laughing.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously: This reassures people that perfection is not required and we are all just human.
  • Be patient: Give people the time and space they need. Build buy-in until moving to the next step and take time where needed.
  • Be on another’s agenda: Be aware and observant of your user. Practice active listening. Understanding where they are coming from emotionally and what they may be feeling.
  • Recognize the skills of others: Just because someone isn’t adept with technology doesn’t mean they’re incompetent in other areas of life; treat people with respect and acknowledge them and their strengths. for example, when working on a resume with someone that lacks computer skills comment on other valuable skills they have.
  • Be open to the knowledge of others: Don’t be threatened by people who know more than you do. We are all learning from one another and no one knows everything.
  • Understand Fears: People are afraid to look foolish or dumb. Reassure that the process of change is unsteady ground for everyone and they are not alone. This is a good place to share your own stories about learning experiences, especially when you had your own reservations or fears.
  • Acknowledge Values: Adults already have somewhat firm values in place, or understanding of the world, learning new stuff is threatening – esp. with technology. Be conscious of this.
  • Draw parallels: Drawing analogies between what they are learning and what they already know will help to make things easier to grasp.
  • Focus on Motivation: Find what motivates them and focus on that element. Put things in context of the payoff. If a person is there to keep in touch with family, focus on that benefit.
  • Prepare: respect that other people are taking the time to learn, and make it worth their time.
  • Your ideas: I know these are not all of them, so if you have others to share, please comment below.

So how do you help co-workers, staff, colleagues, etc feel comfortable with change and learning new things?


  • Be friendly, smile, etc: This is the first step in building rapport and connection.
  • Have a sense of humor: It is hard to be stressed when you are smiling and laughing.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously: This reassures people that perfection is not required and we are all just human.

You get the idea. The same methods we employ when working with users should apply when working with one another.

Because of the ongoing nature of literacy today, transliteracy is not a one and done process. It is very common to talk about “bridging the digital divide.” In fact, that is the wording associated with the grant I am working on.

However, I am starting to become disenchanted with that analogy because it gives the impression that being digitally literate (or even transliterate) is about getting from point A to B.
Instead, the process 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.

Literacy today is a cycle and a way of life and at any time anyone can be in a different stage of the cycle of learning and change. That is why supporting all people during this process is important.

However, don’t try to be information masters, or expect others to know it all, in a time when it is, quite frankly, impossible to know everything or even to keep up. Be curious and foster curiosity, knowing how to find information, is be the best way to succeed.

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