Unifying the Literacies (Can It Really Be Done?)

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The ACRL is in the process of redefining information literacy as a metaliteracy, based largely on work by Mackey and Jacobson (2011): “Metaliteracy is an overarching and self-referential framework that integrates emerging technologies and unifies multiple literacy types…Metaliteracy challenges traditional skills-based approaches to information literacy by recognizing related literacy types and incorporating emerging technologies.”

On an official level, this new perspective is a welcome change. But, truth be told librarians have been grappling with these multiple literacies since…well…as long as information literacy has been a library thing. It’s kind of hard not to, since so many of these literacies are intricately connected (e.g. digital literacy, media literacy, critical literacy).

The question I ask is, what does a unified term like metaliteracy really mean? Will it be another library buzzword? Or will it be adopted on a larger scale? And how does one become metaliterate? Is it an objective or a learning outcome?

Here are my thoughts (and I’m looking at it through the lens of literacy as a social practice):

  • If literacy is practiced within social, cultural, historical and institutional settings, then the idea of information literacy as a metaliteracy should be defined separately within each of those settings. The ACRL’s view of metaliteracy is institutional (i.e. academic).
  • To teach metaliteracy in an institutional setting would require some consensus on which literacies should make up metaliteracy.
  • A thorough understanding of the origins and practices of each literacy within the metaliteracy framework would need to be developed.
  • A pedagogy of multiliteracies would need to be established. (How can they be fully integrated in the teaching and learning process?)
  • Metaliteracy would need to be viewed as a learning outcome, with separate, yet integrated objectives touching on the agreed upon literacies that make up metaliteracy.

As I see it, the ACRL’s recognition of multiple literacies is long overdue. However, when looking at it from a sociocultural perspective, the ACRL’s metaliteracy cannot be viewed as a single unified literacy, but more as an integrated version of academic literacy. And metaliteracy should be viewed more as a learning outcome, rather than a learning objective.

Can the literacies really be unified? On a broad scale, no. We can only unify some literacies within a specific setting, and only when they all share a common objective.



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