OR, You Can’t Have Transliteracy without Literacy.
“So my phone broke so my grandson got this new phone for me, but it didn’t come with a manual or anything and I can’t figure out how to make a call on it….”
“My microsoft word doesn’t look like this one. All I want to do is edit my resume and I can’t even figure out how to open it from my disk.”
“Do you have anything about sign language for babies? My baby keeps moving her hands around and making noises, but I don’t know what she’s saying.”
“I saw it at my friend’s house. It has two girls on it, with blond hair. Or light brown hair. They’re twins. One can see into the future and one can see into the past. The title was in green letters.”
“I did so bring those books back. I went to the bank and then I came here and put them in the drop-off outside. Look for them again!”
Everyone has a story. Every question or interaction we have in a library is rooted in story. There are characters, events, obstacles to be overcome, arcs to be completed, resolutions to be reached. There are comedies, tragedies, and sometimes even gothic tales of horror. We listen to stories from our coworkers and our patrons alike, and the level of skill these storytellers have can greatly influence the tenor of our transactions.
If a patron’s story is incomprehensible or not compelling, it will harder for us as librarians to participate in the tale. If we are unfamiliar with the new genres of personal storytelling–I’m thinking particularly of the techno-genre, with its vast and quickly changing cast of characters and jargon–we’ll be even further left behind.
If we can’t spin a tale to our managers and directors that convinces them of a need for a new service, program, or material, we suffer as well as our users. Your entire professional life will become a film missing its final reel, or a book with the last ten pages torn out of it. Do you want to live with that amount of frustration and dissatisfaction your entire life? Do you want that for your patrons?
The jump to e-readers, smartphones and iPads is not a harbinger of death for reading; it is, actually, an expansion of the way we can tell and experience stories. Reading is not the only way stories are told. It never has been and never will be. There was oral storytelling and visual storytelling long before humanity created alphabets, writing, and books. Blogs tell stories, twitter feeds tell stories, hell, even the lolcatz tell stories. The story isn’t going anywhere. It’s simply putting on a new dress and dancing to a new tune.
One of the six early literacy skills is something called narrative skills, which means being able to tell or retell a story, and being familiar with the elements of a story–there are characters, events, a beginning, a middle, and an end. We need to remember that even as the scope of our work widens, we can still break it down into small, simple, and easy to understand concepts–and we should. For everyone.