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Companion Document to the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Visual Literacy

Created by the ACRL Visual Literacy Task Force

Description of Theme

The proliferation of visuals in everyday life has increased within a rapidly evolving digital landscape. The life cycles of visual materials, which includes the creation, distribution, description, consumption, and iteration of a visual, have been and continue to be altered by digital tools, new techniques for image and video manipulation, participatory cultural practices, and online communities. At each phase of this life cycle, humans introduce layers of meaning that can reinforce systemic inequities and hegemonic notions of knowledge creation. This subjectivity can be exacerbated by how visuals are classified and described via text-based descriptions, which can perpetuate their own systems of power. Text-based search acts as the primary access point for many visuals influencing how individuals find, engage with, and understand visual media. Visual literacy learners must scrutinize new technologies, multiple modes of information, and shifting norms as they develop creative and ethical practices for using, producing, and sharing visuals within the information landscape as it exists today and into the future.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their visual literacy abilities:

  • Anticipate the ways in which algorithms, social media, and participatory technologies obscure or promote visuals and visual media creators, which may reflect commercial interests and reinforce existing social dynamics. [AICC] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Assess how emerging technologies such as deep fakes, facial recognition, and other applications of artificial intelligence may impact visual perception, privacy, and trust. [AICC] [ICaaP] [IHV]
  • Attribute visuals produced by other scholars, creators, and practitioners through citations, acknowledgements, or credit lines using available best practices. [IHV] [SaC]
  • Compare search results for visual media across multiple search engines and databases in order to identify underlying biases grounded in existing canons, authorities, structures and systems. [SaC] [SaSE] [SJ]
  • Evaluate multimodal works with visual elements both holistically and as disparate parts in order to fully understand the work. [ICaaP]
  • Evaluate privacy settings when sharing visuals on digital platforms, understanding that one’s personal work may be reused without permission or misattributed once it is shared online. [ICaaP] [IHV]
  • Seek out and participate in a range of creative, social, and scholarly communities in order to create, produce, and disseminate visuals. [ICaaP] [RaI] [SaC]


Learners who are developing their visual literacy abilities:

  • Acknowledge that the digital tools for creating and viewing visuals may cause or exacerbate technological, economic, or accessibility barriers that affect user experience. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Appreciate that creativity and inquiry can be inspired through browsing and experiencing serendipitous encounters with both digital and analog visuals. [RaI] [SaSE]
  • Consider that file formats and other technologies for engaging with visuals are

ever-changing, resulting in possible loss or alteration of information as new tools and platforms replace older ones. [ICaaP]

  • Prioritize ethical considerations for cultural and intellectual property when creating, sharing, or using visuals. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Recognize that organizing visuals for efficient access, retrieval, and analysis requires the use of different methods and tools than those used for textual information. [RaI] [SaSE]
  • Recognize that the socio-cultural interpretation of a visual may change throughout its life cycle. [AICC] [ICaaP] [SaC]
  • Understand that ethical and legal frameworks for accessing and sharing visuals are not universal but vary by country and global region. [IHV]
  • Understand that visuals may not have clear indicators of their production or dissemination processes, particularly in online environments, which presents unique challenges for evaluating authority and credibility. [AICC] [ICaaP]