Yesterday, Henry Jenkins posted a follow-up to his Comic-Con discussion of transmedia storytelling (video above), which he defines as: “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.” He differentiates this from other transmedia activities like transmedia branding or transmedia activism. “Ideally,” he says, “each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”

This immediately reminded me of something we do in libraries, museums and archives (LAM) all the time: the exhibit. The LAM exhibit can exist across multiple platforms (display case, print publication, website) and utilizes a variety of formats (books, artifacts, still and moving images, digital interactive maps). Back in 2003, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Historical Society created a project entitled “Worklore: Brooklyn Voices Speak,” an exploration of the working class in Brooklyn from the 18th to 20th century. The collaboration included a traveling exhibit, public program and lectures, curriculum guides for elementary students, an online exhibit that included narratives and oral histories, and an online game called “Can You Make Ends Meet in Brooklyn” in the Early 1990s?” that allowed players to choose a type of work and see how those consequences played out in terms of personal finances (unfortunately, the website does not appear to be active any longer).

Creating a LAM exhibit that exists across different media is a similar activity to transmedia storytelling, but it comes at the story from a different angle. Rather than creating or extending a story, LAM exhibits attempt to recreate a narrative of cultural experience told through the perspective of people and objects that made up that narrative. The content of these exhibits serve some of the same functions outlined by Jenkins by offering a backstory, mapping a world, providing other character’s perspectives on the action, and by deepening audience engagement.

For librarians and instructors, the discourse surrounding transmedia could not be more relevant to the work we do. We seek to engage students in thinking about the ways in which the nature of information is changed as it moves from one platform to the next, how the choice to present information in one medium to the exclusion of others affects how we interpret it, and how we can convey meaning through these actions.

It doesn’t appear that we’ve fully agreed upon a definition for transmedia, but that shouldn’t stop us from using the term and discussing it. I recommend following Jenkins’s writings if you are interested in such things. His posts never disappoint.

What are your thoughts on transmedia storytelling? How do we do it? Are we doing it right? I’m especially interested in hearing about ways you’ve integrated it into instruction… but it’s the comments so do what you will 😉