components of visual literacy


VLTF open meeting, ALA 2010, components of vl

To start our discussion of visual literacy at ALA, we broke out into small groups, and each group generated ideas about specific components of visual literacy. Each idea got its own post-it note. Groups then discussed which components/competencies should be included in a definition of visual literacy, and wrote definitions based on their discussion and conclusions. Groups reported out on their ideas and definitions, and we discussed as a large group.

Here are some of the ideas for components of visual literacy participants came up with (in no particular order, unedited):

using images as communication tool
discourse – recognizing the use of images in communities
visual messages
understanding aesthetic values
find images
create images
interpreting meaning of an image
recognizing subjectivity of images
understand moving images/videos
creator important to give context, intent, and credit
express need to find image
evaluate sources
learning to use multiple access mechanisms
metadata – making it access
technical issues – file formats, storage, resolution
images about multiple meanings
evaluating image – appropriateness
evaluating data – appropriateness, accuracy
how to use images in multiple applications – ppt, written paper
copyright, fair use, legalities – for different applications
managing own collections of images
citing images
finding images in text sources
critical thinking – aesthetic, historical, manipulated?
understanding different image resources – open web, licensed databases, proprietary
presentation of images
understand social & cultural context of image
finding images – high quality, high resolution, color fidelity
who is the creator, when, where manipulated?
assessing credibility
creating images
what do you need

Please add to the list and discuss.


  1. Three ideas
    1. Relating to creating images – the visual literate person may/can chose to create a visual document (sketch, collage, diagram, concrete poem, concept map, etc) as their first response to a text or work of art.

    2. Relating to creating images and its relation to what we mean by literacy in general – Is a visual document equivalent to participating in a verbal discussion or creating a written response?

    3. Multimodality – Is there a place for including multiple intelligences or multi-modal ways of understanding to the VL definition or standards? This is something I’ve been reading and thinking about and trying to articulate for myself in relation to visual literacy.

  2. In terms of the components listed, I would argue that most are essential with the exception of the following:
    – learning to use multiple access mechanisms
    “Mechanisms” would need to be defined. If it means repository/retrieval systems, I don’t think one would need to learn how to use the myriad of systems out there. If it means familiarity with imaging hardware and/or software, then I would agree.
    – interpreting meaning of an image
    That’s a bit vague. Original intent? Viewer response? Brings up nightmares I still have about the literary theory classes I took in college.
    – recognizing subjectivity of images.
    Same as above. And how would one define “competency” in this area?

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