On Tuesday (10 July 2007) I was a co-faciliator of an ‘unconference’ session at a JISC Emerge meeting which aimed at helping to consolidate the Emerge community of practice.

Until a few weeks ago the term ‘unconference’ was new to me – indeed, as I joked at the event, I thought myself and Graham Atwell, my co-facilitator, had been invited to facilitate a UN-style conference, acting as peace-keepers between warring projects 🙂 Fortunately this turned out not to me the case. Wikipedia was my friend and helped to provide a definition of an unconference: “An unconference is a conference where the content of the sessions is driven and created by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by a single organizer, or small group of organizers, in advance.

So Graham and I had to prepare for an event driven by the participants and not by ourselves. The approach we took was to prepare for a number of ways of stimulating discussion, if this was needed. However on the day it turned out that this was not needed as two interesting discussions took place in our two sessions: one on transliteracy and one on the ethical aspects of use of social networks (a topic I’ll revisit in the future).

Professor Sue Thomas of De Montford University introduced the ‘transliteracy’ topic. Again looking at Wikipedia I find the definition of Transliteracy given as “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.“. (This has been taken from the PART (Production and Research in Transliteracy) Group Web site).

Although the term was new to me, it struck a cord chord with many of my interests, such as papers I’ve written on blended / holistic accessibility, in which myself and my co-authors have argued that, in the context of e-learning accessibility, the important aspect is the accessibility of the learning outcomes, rather than the accessibility of the digital resources.

I was thinking some more about transliteracy when I came across a recent blog post on “Battle lines” on the SINTO blog. This post suggests there’s a “battle raging for the hearts and minds of the library profession” between the “the Webbed [advocates] featuring General Phil Bradley and Karen Blakeman” who march under the slogan “Just do it” and “the web sceptics gathered around Field Marshall Tim Coates. Their battle cry is ‘Libraries are synonymous with books and reading. They always have been and they always will be’.

I would agree with the SINTO comment that “On reflection however, I feel that this image of a direct conflict is misleading. On the whole the webbed are not anti-book … Similarly the web sceptics are not all anti-computer“.

It is possible to engage with both the analogue and digital worlds – and anyone who has seen my collection of books, LPs and CDs will know that I am comfortable in living in both of these universes 🙂

And this holistic approach reflects many aspects of our lives, I feel. For example, when I travel I might walk, take the bus, car, train or fly. I do not class myself as a ‘driver’ to the exclusion of other forms of transport. Many of us will have a broad view of issues – although in the context of this example, Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson would be an exception. And maybe the are times or contexts in which we will take a narrowly focussed approach to issues. As someone who has worked in IT for many tears years 🙂 I am familiar with 7-layer models and the benefits of clear separation of functions when developing software. But don’t we now need to take a more holistic approach to development work, I wonder? And what are the implications of this?

I’m now pleased at having participated in the Unconference session and that Sue introduced me to ‘transliteracy’ – without the unconference, I suspect I would not have had the opportunity to hear this term and discuss its implications.

And returning to the tensions discussed in the SINTO blog post, perhaps the transliteracy community can give their thoughts on the arguments of the”Web 2.0: Just do it” and”Libraries are about books and reading (just read it?)” camps.

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