Metaliteracy

boy studying in library with headphones

Students must now engage with, critique, and create from many information sources at once.

, PCC Faculty Librarian

February 4, 2011

In the January 2011 issue of College & Research Libraries, Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson make the argument that metaliteracy is a framework that can unite the various competencies and literacies (visual (2), digital (3), information (4), that we would like our students to have in order to be informed and engaged citizens. Metaliteracy takes the critical thinking and analysis components of media, visual, and information literacies and combines them with the technological components of digital literacy.

I would argue that what Mackey and Jacobson are calling metaliteracy, others have described as transliteracy (6) -- “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media” – with a critical thinking component added. It is useful to remember that information literacy, among some of the other literacies, came into being well before what is variously known as Web 2.0 (7), the read-write web (8), and the social web (9). Information literacy essentially prepares students to become active, intelligent consumers of information. Realistically, many of them are already engaged in the technological components of metaliteracy: producing and sharing content online through social media and online communities. Are we merely trying to teach students what they already know, then?

Mackey and Jacobson argue that it behooves us as educators to do more: repackaging information literacy as metaliteracy allows us to do just that, as we bring the different theoretical and pedagogical positions together under one umbrella. Whether we are librarians, artists, computer scientists, or writing instructors, we want our students to have a critical eye that can analyze the multitude of images, signs, and messages around them. For some students, metaliteracy may be a way to augment their practice of the tools they already use by encouraging them to evaluate user feedback and dynamic content critically, create contexts for user-generated information, and understand privacy, ethics, and intellectual property issues in a shifting information landscape.

For others, the framework of metaliteracy creates an imperative for educators to increase student access to and understanding of the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to succeed in the world and to be active participants. Every day, I see students who are adept with mobile technology, but cannot attach a document to an email or complete tasks on a computer that would be assumed competencies in many workplace situations. Likewise, I also see students who are very good at finding information and fairly savvy about evaluating it, but feel disconnected from the idea that they themselves are information producers. Metaliteracy asks us to think about what constitutes a literate person in contemporary American society. It also asks us how we can reconfigure our pedagogical philosophy and teaching practices to ensure that our students leave our institutions equipped to access and participate in the many information communities available to them.

Works cited

Ipri, Tom. Introducing Transliteracy: What Does It Mean to Academic Libraries? College & Research Libraries News 71.10 (2010): 532-533, 567.
Mackey, Thomas P. and Trudi E. Jacobsen. “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” College & Research Libraries 72.1 (2011): 62-78.

Library & Learning
Vol. 2 Issue 3 February 2011