Transliteracy as a concept refers to 'a fluidity of movement across a range of technologies, media and contexts'. A more detailed definition is the following: 'Transliteracy is an ability to use diverse analog and digital technologies, techniques, modes, and protocols to search for and work with a variety of resources; to collaborate and participate in social networks; and to communicate meanings and new knowledge by using different tones, genres, modalities, and media. Transliteracy consists of skills, knowledge, thinking, and acting, which enable fluid "movement across" in a way that is defined by situational, social, cultural, and technological contexts'.
Transliteracy combines a range of capabilities required to move across a range of contexts, media, technologies and genres. Conceptually, transliteracy is situated across five capabilities: information capabilities (see information literacy), ICT (information and communication technologies), communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. It is underpinned by literacy and numeracy. (See figure below)
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.
The concept of transliteracy was first developed in 2005 by the Transliteracies Research Project, directed by University of California at Santa Barbara professor Alan Liu. The concept of 'transliteracies' was developed as part of research into online reading. It was shared and refined at Transliteracies conference, held at UC Santa Barbara in 2005. The conference inspired De Montfort University professor Sue Thomas to create the Production in Research and Transliteracy (PART) group, which evolved into the Transliteracy Research Group, The current meaning of transliteracy was defined in the group's seminal paper Transliteracy: crossing divides. The concept was enthusiastically adopted by a number of professional groups, notably in the library and information field. Transliteracy Research Group Archive 2006-2013 curates numerous resources from this period.
For a number of years, there was a gap between significant interest in transliteracy among professional groups and the scarcity of research. A group of academics from the University of Bordeaux considered transliteracy mainly in the school context, Thomas studied transliteracy and creativity and Sukovic researched transliteracy in relation to digital storytelling. The first book on the topic, Transliteracy in complex information environment by Suzana Sukovic, is based on research and experience with practice-based projects.
Related terms are "media and information literacy", "information literacy", "digital literacy", "multiliteracies" and "metaliteracy". Transliteracy is a unifying framework rather than a replacement of existing literacies. It considers "movement across" which requires a range of capabilities.