Transliteracy (pl. transliteracies) is the ability to understand and communicate—to be "literate"—across all communications platforms, from sign language and speaking, to reading and writing, to the mass media, to digital communication and social networking. The term was first coined in 2005 by a University of California group called the Transliteracies Research Project. It is put forth as a "21st century literacy," closely related to media literacy and digital literacy. Distinguishing transliteracy from traditional literacy is thought to shift focus from reading and writing onto the wide range of communications skills necessary to be successful in modern society. Transliteracy is the subject of both academic research and scholarly debate. Scholars are still trying to determine the value of the term, how it relates to other literacy terms and ideas, and the best way teach transliteracy skills to students. In practice, much of the research in transliteracy is concentrated on the study of digital and online reading skills and how they differ from print literacy. Academia, libraries and schools are all engaged with transliteracy in different ways.
While the term appears to come from the prefix "trans-" (across) and the word "literacy," the scholars who coined it say they developed it from the practice of transliteration, which means to use the letters of one language to write down a different language. In the foundational paper on the topic, "Transliteracy: crossing divides," authors Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, and others explain:
The word ‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language.... transliteracy extends the act of transliteration and applies it to the increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools at our disposal. From early signing and orality [speaking] through handwriting, print, TV and film to networked digital media, the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present.
The concept of transliteracy was first developed in 2005 by the Transliteracies Research Project, directed by University of California at Santa Barabara professor Alan Liu. It was shared and refined at Transliteracies conference, held at UC Santa Barbara in 2005. The Transliteracies Research Project is still operating today and is focused on the study of online reading. The conference inspired De Monfort University professor Sue Thomas to create the Production in Research and Translitearacy (PART) group, which has now evolved into the Transliteracy Research Group. The Transliteracies Research Project and the Transliteracy Research Group are continuing to develop and refine the concept of transliteracy.
Relationship to other terms
The terms "transliteracy," "information literacy," "media literacy," "digital (or online) reading" and "digital literacy" have overlapping definitions. The working definition of "transliteracy" is "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." Different academic disciplines have developed these and many other terms to refer to these and concepts. For example, the terms "digital literacy" or "information literacy" are in common use in library science to refer to literacy that requires both cognitive and technical skills.
According to Sue Thomas and other transliteracy researchers, transliteracy is designed to encompass all of these literacies and provide framework for research and discussion. In "Transliteracy: crossing divides," Thomas writes that transliteracy "offers a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures, transliteracy does not replace, but rather contains, “media literacy” and also “digital literacy...it is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides.”  Here, "transliteracy" is similar to another "new literacy" term, metaliteracy. Put forth by scholars at the State University of New York (SUNY) metaliteracy is designed to encompass all of the "new literacies," including transliteracy, under one term. Transliteracy and metaliteracy may refer to the same set of ideas. Both terms are still being developed and may be used interchangeably.
- Ipri, Tom (11 May 2011). "Introducing transliteracy: what does it mean to academic libraries?". College & Research Libraries News. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
- Thomast, Sue; et al. (3 December 2007). "Transliteracy: crossing divides". First Monday 12 (12). Retrieved 23 March 2014.
- Trimm, Nancy (2011). "Not just literate, but transliterate: encouraging transliteracy adoption in library services". Colorado Libraries 36 (1). Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Thomas, Sue (November 2005). "Transliteracy--reading in the digital age". The Higher Education Academy English Subject Center Newsletter (9). ISSN 1479-7089. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Ipri, Tom; Bobbi Newman (2011). "Beginner’s guide to transliteracy: where did the term transliteracy come from?". Libraries and Transliteracy. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Visser, Marijke (2 April 2012). "Defining digital literacy". District dispatch: the official ALA Washington office blog. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Mackey, Thomas P.; Trudi Jacobson (January 2011). "Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy". College & Research Libraries. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Wilkinson, Lane (1 February 2011). "Transliteracy…or Metaliteracy?". Libraries and Transliteracy. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Transliteracies Research Project, University of California Santa Barbara
- Transliteracy Research Group (static site)
- Transliteracies Conference, UCSB, July 2005
- Libraries and Transliteracy Blog