Reading is thus situated at the point where social stratification and poetic operations intersect: a social hierarchization seeks to make the reader conform to the “information” distributed” by an elite (or semi-elite); reading operations manipulate the reader by insinuating their inventiveness into the cracks of a cultural orthodoxy.
-Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.172
A general l rule, fundamental principle, aphorism, or axiom governing the systematic or scientific treatment of a subject…
“canon, n.1″. OED Online. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/27148?rskey=OpD2lb&result=3&isAdvanced=false
…a canon exists and is cherished for representing the solid core of work that centers activity in the field.
Anita Silvers, The Canon in Aesthetics. From “Canon,” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Oxford Art Online. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t234/e0100
It’s always trouble when you lead with definitions. In this case, I’ll make the argument with these definitions that much of what students experience in a classroom is canonical in nature. Not a canon in the contested, literary sense, but in any classroom, there are underlying structures of thought in the layout of a curriculum. That’s fine, otherwise the teaching of any class or session would be difficult at best. But one day, as I was killing time in the stacks, I saw a brightly colored stack of journals, and browsed my way to this quote:
Archival items are rarely or never communicated or interpreted….While the canon makes the past present and relevant, the archive preserves the past as past.
When the canon tends to stagnate or become instrumental, mythic or chauvinistic, the archive provides a critical corrective and invites the rediscovery of alternative sources.
Kristin B. Aavitsland, From Nationalism to Cosmopolitan Classicism: Harry Fett’s Concept of Cultural Capital p.29
Working backwards, I realized this encapsulated the potential the library has to upend canons, and more importantly, the way it opens up the possibility to challenge the great pyramid of bloom’s taxonomy. If we are going to take informed learning or critical literacy seriously, then the dated, hierarchical divide between acts of understanding and creation of knowledge shouldn’t be as drastic. Nor should one be prized above the other if the skills we want to teach are going to relevant in the much-hyped (over?) “2.0/3.0″ information ecosystem. Libraries are the places where students can create knowledge that can compliment or challenge what they learn in the classroom, so if the archives are going to have that kind of relationship to the canon, then creating needs to come into play much earlier in Bloom’s taxonomy than at the top.
I’m putting information literacy in quotes because what I’ll be talking about does not speak to being information literate in the traditional, five-standard-ACRL way. This is its opposite.
Outside of fiction’s fancies, feral animals tend to be hunted and despised. They kill stock and ruin crops, menace children and pets, spread disease between the domesticated world and the wild. And yet by wit and appetite, spirit and invention, the feral creature survives in an environment that is neither of its own making nor entirely familiar to its habits of perception.
There’s something more to this feral quality than the savor we find in stories. For what are we in the midst of networked, global, postmodern culture, all of us, but feral creatures of a kind? I’ve long been dissatisfied with the idea of the “digital native”; I’m not convinced that anything can properly be “native” to a habitat that changes so rapidly and thoroughly as networked culture. And the whole notion of nativity, after all, seems tainted with the romanticism of the Wild (a new state of nature is still the State of Nature). The qualities of the feral, by contrast, answer to a particular way of thriving amidst the vast clamor of the online world. The nameless maps onto the pseudonymity and anonymity of digital culture; cunning catches the furtive ways of memes; denying herself the full panoply social cues, the online imagination subsists in an uncanny solitude.
-Matthew Battles, The Call of the Feral.
Digital native is a fantasy invented by the fans of silicon valley to pigeonhole a generation for the sake of selling technology, but the truth is far less convenient. Not only the digital natives, but many people take on a feral state in their interactions with the internet, as it constantly shifts its boundaries, its cities and deserts. Likewise, the library is a place where we ought to allow for the feral. The ACRL information literacy standards are only useful to the domesticated to promote their efficient and purposeful use of the library. The truth is that most people do not experience the library as a city, but rather as a wilderness on the edge of civilization. Complex systems intermingle, sometimes fluidly, sometimes not. Some things happen like clockwork and others are highly irregular. Walking through all this highly unstable environment step by step on one’s way to standard five is less desirable not because it is difficult, but because it is quite boring. Designing information literacy instruction without understanding that feral place where many library users reside is about as effective as taming a wolf. We can do it, but what good does that do for the wolf?
There are always hints of dissatisfaction that surround domestication, and it sometimes comes close to romanticizing the “good old days.” A 21st century teacher’s lament:
When I was in high school, we sat in a chair and took notes. We talked about books in English, studied historical events, did labs in science, and did tons of problems in math. We learned and we went off to college and did well. We had almost no support programs in the building.
Now, as teachers, we differentiate, do projects, have students doing online enrichment work, have social workers, psychologists, tutoring and mentoring programs. Yet, students are apparently failing.
We have “improved” education, yet we are “failing”. I don’t get it. We do all this “reform” yet nothing is changing.
It just boggles my mind how we have some many support systems, great teachers, incredible lessons and resources, and yet we are “failing.”
Can anyone explain it?
-David Andrade, Wondering — Why is education suddenly “Failing”?
Maybe high school students were more feral back then? Maybe now that we have so many ways monitor, track, and correct students in the school environment, (but as the author laments, not their parents) it is easier to find and correct those feral students who don’t meet the standards. Is it that there are not more feral students, but that we find them more? Or is it that by investing so much in controls that we value that over other ways of being? There is nothing more frightening to those in control than someone who doesn’t need them. As librarians, we suffer from the same problem. The feral is not for everyone, but a better understanding of it will help us meet our patrons and students where they are, not where we expect them to be.
What many definitions of transliteracy fail to do is to apply themselves outside of the dryness that is our academic daily bread and into more creative and entertaining (gasp!) spaces. Consider Emily Temple’s casting of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History as a movie:
There are many wonderful books that very strangely haven’t been made into movies, and as equal parts book nerds and movie lovers, this gets us to thinking…….It’s an enthralling novel, to be sure, but its cinematic potential is based in its tense atmosphere, bizarre details and compelling storyline. Plus, Tartt’s characters are so wonderful and well-defined that it seems a shame not to have them represented on film. Here, we offer our humble casting suggestions.
Olly Alexander as Francis Abernathy
“Angular and elegant, he was precariously thin, with nervous hands and a shrewd albino face and a short, fiery mop of the reddest hair I had ever seen. I thought (erroneously) that he dressed like Alfred Douglas, or the Comte de Montesquiou: beautiful starchy shirts with French cuffs; magnificent neckties; a black greatcoat that billowed behind him as he walked and made him look like a cross between a student prince and Jack the Ripper. Once, to my delight, I even saw him wearing pince-nez.” Francis is the most refined of the group, handsome, mysterious and slightly fey. We’d probably have to slap some red hair dye on him, but we think Olly’s the man for the job.
The process of moving from a vision that you produce in your head and matching it to something you already know from a different medium (books to film) exemplifies the skill that lies at the heart of transliteracy: applying an understanding of one to the other while keeping the spirit of the idea being transferred alive. Translisteracy is not just an act of transcription, but an act that necessitates creation and conservation at the same time.
George Norlin, a former CU president, emblazoned this admonishment by Cicero on my undergraduate university’s library. Like the person who shot this photo, I admittedly spent no time here until my junior year, and as much as I love libraries, this one is still a maze of architectural pastiche, ridden with half-floors, secreted sections, and hairpin call-number shifts. For that reason, I think the librarians in Norlin understand what Cicero was talking about. Right underneath this gem is a quote by Norlin himself:
Given the labyrinthine depths that were rumored to be within, this one read like a dare, the sticking-out-his-tongue-at-you from a man who didn’t know how appropriate his words would one day become. Norlin (the library) provides you with views from the stacks that looked at what used to be the backside of the old building. You used to have to wind your way though tattered government documents to get to one computer lab, and to get to the other, you walked past either special collections or the children’s literature section. The new information commons rectified these issues, but the library still has jarring juxtapositions. It’s still an interesting place to read visually, as new library furniture settles down next to the wrought-iron window frames of the old exterior. This is not to romanticize the old. This is not to champion the new. Steven Johnson’s 1997 book, Interface Culture:
From its outset this book has been conceived as a kind of secular response to the twin religions of techno-boosterism and techno-phobia. On the most elemental level, I see it as a book of connections, a book of links — one in which desktop metaphors cohabit with Gothic cathedrals, and hypertext links rub shoulders with Victorian novels. Like the illuminations of McLuhan’s electric speed, the commingling of traditional culture and its digital descendants should be seen as a cause for celebration, and not outrage.
Thanks to Snarkmarket for the tip. I love the Norlin Library because it does just that. In reading Ann Blair’s book on Latin reference books, she makes the argument that many of the fears and complaints we have about new technologies are roughly the same as others had back then, which also echos Johnson’s sentiments:
The story of the management of textual information in personal notes and printer reference books, 1500-1700, could be presented as a decline narrative from the heights of great learning to an increasing reliance on shortcuts and substitutes, or alternatively, as a triumphalist account of new methods of democratized and made increasingly sophisticated. Similarly, among those reflecting on the current and future developments, the doomsayers on the one hand and the info-boosters on the other often seem to be the loudest voices. -Blair, Too Much to Know, p.267.
But what Blair finally argues is that these works “designed innovative methods of managing textual information in an era of exploding publications to which our own methods of reading and processing information are indebted.” (268) I would argue not only are we indebted to them for the methods, but also for the outlook: that new ways of managing information are not worth stressing out about, that innovation is shaky but helpful, and by looking at how things were done in the past, we can occasionally devise new ways of working for the future. There’s a lot of hoopla over new and “unprecedented” modes of communication, but I believe that a thoughtful understanding of the past will give a much better idea of how people actually use information and knowledge as opposed to how the creators of such products would like them to. Likewise, slavish obsession to the past isn’t going to actually solve new problems. As George’s library ended up, all of these things need to exists side-by-side in unexpected ways. It’s time to grow up.
When we can step back and compare different linguistic domains, we engage in a second-order literacy: a literacy about literacies. This, I contend, is the meat of transliteracy. It isn’t about learning how to use a particular digital tool. It isn’t about social media. It isn’t about new media, augmented reality, immersive story-telling, or any of that jazz. Transliteracy is about our ability to understand when and how we move across an ever-expanding realm of linguistic domains.
Wilk @ Sense and Reference
It’s nice when two things come together in unexpeced ways. First, Lane Wilkenson on Transliteracy and Incommensurability:
Transliteracy, by definition, is no party to the either/or approach to the digital future. In fact, incommensurability is anathema to the transliteracy project because transliteracy is predicated on the ability to maneuver between competing “paradigms” of literacy. From books to tweets, transliteracy as pedagogical practice seeks to encourage a literacy that crosses through several domains; rather than treat digital literacy as the successor to the analog, transliteracy sees digital literacy as a complement.
Second, Bob Stein at if:book with a defense of pagination:
Pagination works for long text, not because it has a real-world analogy to printed books or whatever, but because it maximises your interface: you read the entire screenful of text, then with a single command, you request an entirely new screenful of text. There’s very little wastage of attention or effort. You can safely blink as you turn.
All said and done, Bob illustrates Lane’s point. Instead of being stuck on one domain, the idea of transliteracy is not only the ability to read across them, but to apply lessons learned from one domain to the other.
After a short time in the profession, I quickly put myself into the reference/instruction camp of librarians. Near and dear to my heart is the concept of information literacy, which has its’ roots in authors like Shapiro and Hughes, who had “critical literacy” as a key component of information literacy. Like Shapiro and Hughes the American Association of School Librarians and Association of College and Research Libraries standards are process- and tool oriented, the emphasis is on the structure of information resources.
I think that anyone in reference understands that this is the backwards approach, so after a few months of slugging it out with the heavyweights of critical literacy, I dropped a search into EBSCO’s LISTA database and got this little gem from James Elmborg:
“Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice,” Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 32, Number 2, pages 192-199.
“Imagine going back 20 years and telling people they won’t make voice calls, but instead they’ll be sending tiny messages (SMS). It would sound insane. And these things cost $0.20 each! That’s an interesting question — why is this popular? It’s because it’s so lightweight, and it doesn’t have to interrupt you. We’re going to see more of that. It’s the pattern of Facebook and Twitter.” (via techcrunch)
That was Paul Buchheit; from Friendfeed on why lightweight is the future of “a lot of communications.” It’s like the telegraph or the calling card never existed. Sure, we never use them, but it still functions in largely the same way–a small, asynchronous, communication that acts as a link to another, more time-intensive activity (or, in the case of some, a series of small-intensive activities that could be mediated by actual face-time). The issue here is that we have always needed short and long form communication. Being able to determine which is the most appropriate for a given situation has become more complex, and being able to change how we communicate depending on the format is key. Clive Thompson’s article in Wired on the “new literacy” highlights the fact that “the kids” are writing more and more these days. As his resource, Andrea Lundsford points out, they’re better than ever at “what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across.” To those in the survey, good writing had to do with how well the point was made, and they felt that in-class writing “had no audience but the professor: It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade.” This startled me a little, being way to huge of a research nerd thanks to over-education, I thought back to Barzun, who reminded us to not start researching until you know whom you are writing to.
So what? It sounds like a disconnect in educational values. Students can’t fathom why teachers want them to write elaborate essays only for them, and teachers can’t understand why students don’t realize that they are trying to teach them how to communicate in particular brands of scholarly discourse, to practice writing for that particular audience. Critical literacy, anyone? Academic guerilla professor Christopher L. Schroeder takes critical literacy up several notches, but still gets tripped up by his own programme: he tries to deconstruct the academy before his students understand what the academy is and their role in it. Even his emails read like papers: has the man learned no kairos from his students?
But has Buchheit? Mostly, yes. He’s qualified himself by saying mostly, but of course the guy from Friendfeed is going to tell us that lightweight is good, that it doesn’t “interrupt you.” The problem is that we want to interrupt ourselves and our students. We need to demand attention. That is how we learn. In those “contact zones” where we create new meaning and understanding, there’s a lot to take in, otherwise no real understanding comes out of it. Relying on too light a medium probably won’t work, and who better than library-types to help people understand how the media we communicate with affects how people understand us.
There’s a lot going on with transliteracy, but it’s good to look back before going forward. After running through a quick selection of Friere (how can the words ‘critical literacy’ not appeal?) and skimmed some selections on visual literacy, it became pretty obvious that there’s a lot of backwards-compatibility with transliteracy.