working definition of visual literacy

We now have a working definition of visual literacy for the Standards project:

Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Images and visual media may include photographs, illustrations, drawings, maps, diagrams, advertisements, and other visual messages and representations, both still and moving. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, and technical components involved in the construction and use of images and visual media. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture.

Please continue to comment and discuss – we always welcome feedback!


  1. Really interesting work! In my discussions with faculty, one aspect that seems important is the ability to appropriately use images and film as evidence in scholarly work — the ability to apply discipline-based standards of evidence when using or creating images or film for a scholarly purpose. The discussion we had was about documentary film. For example, with a journal article, the format is pretty standard and designed to surface the sort of evidence being providing. But with a film, what counts as scholarly evidence and what as “pulling on heartstrings” or persuasion, etc. ? Film is used a lot in our international affairs school, especially about developing countries. But it’s similar to getting info off the open internet — evaluation needs to be done by the audience to determine appropriate ways to incorporate the info that a film or image provides. There’s no standard format that lends itself easily to evaluating the authority, bias, etc. I’m trying to further this discussion on my campus, and glad of any fellow travelers, pointers to good materials, etc!

  2. Understanding how to appropriately use images as evidence in scholarly work is an important part of visual literacy, particularly in a higher ed context. We’ll likely touch on this across several of the standards, including find, use, interpret, and evaluate. Thanks so much for your contribution, Karrie.

  3. I am working on a disseration topic that might look at a possible realtionship between visual literacy and digital literacy. Essentially I am curious if I can find out if visual literacy improves non-linear thinking skills ( a key aspect of digital literacy literacy skills). I am looking for operational definitions for visual literacy and have found there is little consensus. I very much like the working definition for the standards project. Has this definition been adopted? If so, I would like to cite it. Could you offer me the proper citation information?


    Mark Osterman

    1. Hi Mark – Sounds like you’re doing interesting work! The definition of visual literacy appears in the most recent draft of the Standards (9/19/2011), recently approved by the ACRL Board. A preferred citation is at the end of the document; you will also soon be able to cite the final, approved Standards when they are posted to the ACRL website.

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