NOTES: Libraries in a Transliterate World

Presenter: Bobbi Newman

Presented to NGAL on April 13, 2011

If anything here inaccurately portrays Bobbi’s message, I blame a combination of bad paraphrasing on my part and / or my poor handwriting skills. That’s right, I can’t even read my own handwriting half the time.

Bobbi just started a new position as Learning Engagement Manager at the Richland County Public Library (Columbia, SC).  The position title was changed from Training Manager because, and I love this, “Learning is something you do; training is something that happens to you.”

Transliteracy is about the role of librarians in the 21st century. It’s the ability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media.  It puts the focus on patrons, rather than ourselves. (For more on transliteracy in general, see the Transliteracies Project, though it is not library-focused. Many national conversations exclude libraries, even though the subject lies squarely in our areas of expertise, so it is incumbant upon us to insert ourselves into those conversations.)

Librarians have to be ready for the 21st century because things are changing quickly. Everything is moving online: insurance documents, gov docs, tax forms, homework help, bill pay, et al.  Online access is not essential to life but improves quality of life.  Social networking helps keep us connected to the world, both personally and professionally, and people need connections.  While the US Government should be lauded for instituting the National Broadband Planit is just laying broadband lines and doesn’t address the ability of people to access it.  Digital Divide: 65% of American households have broadband access, which has created a new second class citizen.

Transliteracy is not a destination. Identify your audience and the best way to communicate with them. How do people determine the authority of websites? It’s a critical skill to know when browsing the web, but not everyone knows it. Sometimes patrons feel like there’s too much information available, but as Clay Shirky says, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

If libraries don’t address these issues, then who? Some people in the library profession like to grouse about how “I didn’t go to library school for this.” Well, it’s your job now, just like unjamming the copier is your job.  Stop fighting technology; it’s about what the patron wants and needs.

Change is hard.  You need to have a clear process with specific goals to move forward with transliteracy. 23 Things, developed by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, is a fantastic framework for easing staff into transliteracy.  The 21st Century is no place for a timid librarian, so it’s time for us to be bold and tackle these new challenges head on.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, USArmy


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