Want to Entice Teens into Reading? Embrace Transmedia!

A few weeks ago, I read an NPR piece that reported on a group of studies from Common Sense Media concluding that teens aren’t reading for pleasure as much as they used to  — nearly half of 17-year-olds report reading for pleasure only one to two times a year. I’ve worked with teens in both the public and academic library arenas, so am fully aware of their (lack of) reading habits, but that statistic is even worse than I would have guessed.

What are teens doing instead? According to the studies, they’re on their phones or watching TV. Very likely, they’re also playing video games.

So how do you connect teens to reading through TV, Internet and digital games? Transmedia, of course!

How many of those teens who are watching TV are watching Game of Thrones? Or The Vampire Diaries? How many were introduced to Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or Twilight through the movies, not the books?

Hollywood has embraced transmedia storytelling in a very big way. And libraries need to do that too when promoting reading. That means more than promoting a book’s movie as a way to attract more readers. It’s a mindset change that requires looking at all forms of media as part of the bigger literary picture. It’s a multimedia, multi-literacy approach to promoting reading. It’s a way of bridging the gap between teens’ personal literacy practices with the kinds of literacy practices that promote college and career-readiness.

Instead of only putting up READ posters, put up movie posters too. Instead of limiting gameplaying in the library, create a space where teens can play the games that tie in with the books and the movies or TV series. Then create a reading-only zone that’s all about the books.

Transmedia storytelling is not only a Hollywood thing that extends books into movies and games and TV shows though. It’s a literary form in its own right. Inanimate Alice is an excellent example of that. And when you promote transmedia literature in your library, such as Inanimate Alice, you’re promoting a new kind of reading that fosters multi-modal literacy practices.

It’s summer. It’s the perfect time to explore and embrace transmedia storytelling @ your library!

Promoting Multiple Literacies (Principles of New Librarianship)

In my last post, I outlined 5 principles that I believe new librarianship encompasses. Today, I’m going to delve into the first principle a little further: promoting multiple literacies. Which literacies should new librarianship promote? How are the literacies inter-related? And how can they be promoted? I will attempt to answer those questions.

Which literacies should new librarianship promote?


There are 6 foundational literacies that I see as the root of all (or at least most) other literacies:

  • Critical literacy views readers as active participants in the reading process and invites them to move beyond passively accepting the text’s message to question, examine, or dispute the power relations that exist between readers and authors. It focuses on issues of power and promotes reflection, transformation, and action (Freire, 1970).” 
  • Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” (ALA)
  • Visual literacy has been defined as the “ability to understand, interpret and evaluate visual messages (Bristor & Drake, 1994).”
  • Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of forms-is interdisciplinary by nature.” (NAMLE)
  • Digital literacy is “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.” (also referred to as digital literacies)
  • Multimodal literacy is the ability to “interpret the intertextuality of communication events that include combinations of print, speech, images, sounds, movement, music, and animation”… and “the integration of multiple modes of communication and expression.” (NCTE)

How are the literacies inter-related?

The diagram above establishes the relationships between these foundational literacies (in my view).

Critical literacy is at the core of all the other literacies. The concept of critical literacy is tied to traditional literacy, but has evolved along with technology. It’s essential for participating in a digital culture. All the other literacies in the diagram are dependent upon critical literacy.

I see information literacy as being the most closely tied to critical literacy. Both are firmly rooted in critical thinking and both are applicable to traditional modes of literacy (i.e. print) as well as technology driven literacies.

Visual literacy is dependent upon critical and information literacy, but not necessarily digital or media literacy. Why? Visual literacy can be either print-dependent or technology-dependent.

Media literacy is dependent upon critical, information and visual literacy. It can also be print-dependent or technology-dependent, but is more commonly a combination of both.

Digital literacy is the only fully technology-dependent literacy on the diagram. Critical, information, visual and media literacy are all essential components of digital literacy. Often, people will refer to digital literacy when speaking of technology skills. But that’s like referring to reading as the ability to decode words and string sentences together. Those skill-sets are a prerequisite to the literacy, not the literacy itself.

Multimodal literacy is the combination of all the other literacies.

How can they be promoted in the library?

In many ways!

  • Maker activities: coding, digital storytelling, mashing and hacking. Mozilla Webmaker is one of my favorite tools for this.
  • Gaming: gaming collections, gaming events, gaming space. If you’re okay with users reading in the library, you should be okay with them gaming in the library. Both support literacy, and the latter supports multiple literacies.
  • Social media. Yes, using Twitter and Facebook and Google+ support visual, digital and media literacy. And sometimes critical and information literacy (e.g. trying to decipher the validity of the crazy stuff that your Facebook friends post).
  • Web browsing and database searching. Of course.
  • Ebooks.
  • Access to iPads and other mobile devices.
  • Workshops.
    • Workshops for teachers about technology-rich assignments (e.g. digital storytelling, wikis, blogs, content curation).
    • Workshops for students (e.g. Zotero or Mendeley, Google Scholar, e-portfolios).
    • Workshops for the general public on just about anything that requires digital navigation and creation.