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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

Visuals are created by people. Intentionally or unintentionally, these visuals communicate messages based on cultural, community, and disciplinary conventions. They are works that communicate visually, but can also communicate through multiple modes and involve other senses. Learning to read visuals requires deconstructing and interpreting different elements and contexts of visual communications in order to comprehend their aesthetic, evidentiary, and persuasive functions. By developing reading, design, and technical skills, visual literacy learners can produce, use, and remix visual media to create visual messages that prioritize inclusivity or are tailored to the needs of specific audience.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their visual literacy abilities:

  • Anticipate that the process of visual creation is iterative and involves many phases, including inspiration, transformation, experimentation, synthesis, and refinement. [ICaaP] [RaI]
  • Define and articulate the need for visuals within a project, assessing the audience for the project and the manner in which it will be shared, as well as how the use of visuals supports the purpose of the project. [SaC] [SaSE] [ICaaP]
  • Evaluate a range of visuals with attention to format, creator, and rhetorical message in order to select the most relevant for an intended purpose or context [ICaaP]
  • Explore choices made in the production of visual communications to construct meaning or influence interpretation, especially with regard to representations of gender, ethnicity, race, and other cultural or social identifiers. [AICC] [ICaaP] [SJ]
  • Explore creative or generative engagement with visuals to conceptualize, research, and analyze complex topics, such as mind mapping, photo elicitation, visualization, and other methods. [RaI]
  • Implement a range of principles and strategies for accessibility in visual media, including alt text, complex image descriptions, and audio description of visuals in video, among other techniques. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Prioritize ethical information practices for use, attribution, and remix when they conflict with aesthetic preferences or creative objectives for visuals. [IHV]


Learners who are developing their visual literacy abilities:

  • Acknowledge that receiving feedback about visuals is a valuable step in the creation process. [ICaaP] [SaC]
  • Appreciate that creation, dissemination, selection, and use of visuals may be mediated by economic factors, including compensation for creators, material production costs, licensing, and associated publication fees. [IHV] [ICaaP] [SJ]
  • Consider the varying role of visuals in disciplinary scholarship, examining evolving trends and standards for communication impact, style, purpose, creator intent, and audience reaction. [AICC] [Sacs]
  • Cultivate an appreciation for visuals from cultures that are not their own, respecting the value of visual materials to creators and their communities. [IHV] [RaI] [SJ]
  • Identify as both consumers and creators of visuals, acknowledging how positionality, bias, experience, and expertise inform the interpretation and communication of visuals. [AICC] [ICaaP] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Identify as contributors to a more socially-just world by intentionally and ethically including a diversity of voices in their visual media projects. [ICaaP] [IHV] [RaI] [SaC] [SJ]
  • Realize that visuals in all formats are works of intellectual property. [IHV]
  • Recognize that a visual's communicative intent and purpose can be changed through modification, repurposing, remix, or reformatting. [ICaaP] [SaC]
  • Recognize how incorporating accessibility practices and principles can enrich the experience of visuals for all users. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SaSE] [SJ]
  • Reflect on the role of personally-created visuals as meaningful contributions to research, learning, and communication. [IHV] [SaC]
  • Value the ways that different ways of knowing and being, including cultural, traditional and Indigenous knowledge, may be represented in visuals. [AICC] [IHV] [RaI] [SJ]