Transliteracies and Libraries

Good school libraries value the social, distributed nature of meaning making. Good school libraries facilitate the mobility of people and things. In this spirit, they are natural sites for nurturing transliteracies.

In the current issue of the Journal of Literacy Research, Amy Stornaiuolo, Anna Smith, and Nathan C. Phillips author a piece called “Developing a Transliteracies Framework for a Connected World.” In it, they offer four analytical tools that could be used to investigate transliteracies and mobility, namely: emergence, uptake, resonance, and scale. While these concepts are aimed at researchers, I found that they could be helpful guides for librarians as we think about complex, contemporary literacy practices, reflect on library programs, and start to set goals for the next school year.

But what are transliteracies? On the way to their expanded definition, Stornaiuolo et al. reference an earlier designation (Thomas, 2007):

The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

Stornaiuolo et al. maintain a focus on multimodality, but they propose a definition that is both broader and more specific:

Critical and creative social semiotic practices arising within complex ideological networks and characterized by the movement of people and things.

This definition is broader in that it replaces the ability to “read, write, and interact” with a whole host of meaningful communication practices. It is more specific in that it “highlights how meaning making and power are intertwined in and distributed across social and material relationships.” That is, it pays attention to power dynamics and the context in addition to skill and mode.

This definition is also helpful because it de-emphasizes the individual and focuses on the network of “social and material relationships.” This is perfect for libraries because we think about our audiences, our resources, and how we can get these best to work together. Schools often mistake the individual as the golden standard, but the more we can emphasize the sociocultural aspects of education, the more readily we will be able to establish programs that equitably serve our entire community.

Below are the authors’ four analytical tools, a list of questions the authors propose to help think about each area, and a brief paragraph to explain how I see these ideas playing out in my library space.


  • How do people create/assemble/feel/experience meaning from resources at their disposal (e.g., human body, material objects, emotions, virtualities)?
  • How do meanings shift, transform, and travel over time and across spaces in relation to these differentially available resources?
  • What pathways emerge from people’s meaning-making practices, and how are these shaped in/by/through interaction within and across spaces?
  • What trajectories are opened up as possibilities that are followed (or not), and how do possibilities emerge/open/close and reemerge/reopen/re-close in practice?
  • What emerges in action that is surprising, new, interruptive, and unexpected?
  • How are microanalytic interactions assembled into practices?

Emergence seems to describe the educational aspects of literacy practices. If I could get a good sense of emergence even with one student across their four years at my school, I would be able to present a compelling case study of a young person’s literacy practices in my context. The library would be an interesting space to compare or contrast with the classroom, dorm, quad, dining hall, online, or home—especially in regards to the question of resources and meaning making.


  • How does meaning shift in relation to other texts, people, and contexts, both historically and proleptically?
  • How do people take each other into account and signal their understandings to one another?
  • What are the textualizing processes at play, and how are these recognized, acknowledged, and made socially significant?
  • What roles do people and objects play in relation to one another in making meaning visible/invisible?
  • How do people and things allocate their attention in activity, and what resources do people make use of in these processes?

Uptake seems to refer to the social life of the text and the way in which meaning is negotiated, developed, and expressed. I see students doing this social work daily, in seemingly casual ways. The question of allocation of attention frequently gets brought up—are students able to multitask and split their attention? How might a library be set up to facilitate meaning-making? How might our current set up hinder potential for meaning making?


  • What “takes hold” for participants (individuals and objects) in interactions?
  • What resonates both within and across groups and networks, and how does that build and wane over time?
  • How are phenomena resonating differently across spaces and times, and how are phenomena differently situated?
  • How is the question of “what resonates” reflective of mainstream and subaltern perspectives and beliefs, and how might analysis reveal patterns about what becomes privileged in interaction?

This section brings to mind questions of culture. I like that it asks the question of what resonates “both within and across groups and networks.” I can think of this question within the context of the many social groups within the library and the school, but I can also wonder how students are able to resonate with groups outside of our community. The question of what “takes hold” or what sticks is always on my mind. We try a bunch of experiments and some take off, while we struggle with others.


  • How are sociotemporal scales constructed in activity?
  • How do these scaling practices position people and things in relationship?
  • How are these scalar relations inscribed and articulated in and across texts and objects?
  • How is sociogenesis accomplished microgenetically across contexts, space, and time?

Whenever I hear presentations about independent study, STEAM, and/or entrepreneurial endeavors in school, people stress the sense of scale. That is, in success stories students and teachers are able to exceed the limits of their typical scale and make connections with institutions, employers, universities, and/or the community. These scaling opportunities display ability and power. These questions can also be taken in the opposite direction and inquire into instances when scales are constrained and movement is limited.

As I continue to make my library a center for literacies and exploration, I find these concepts to be inspiring tools. They ignite thought. Perhaps one of these resonates with you and your library. Perhaps one (or more) completely confounds you. Leave your comments below and let’s see what we can figure out.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

1 reply

  1. Mark,

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to reach out to our communities across literacies, and for the skills to do just that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *