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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 never neutral. In addition to conveying economic, social, and ideological values, they can be used to misinform, manipulate, and exploit. Criticality, an orientation toward information that combines critical and reflective thinking, mindfulness, and curiosity, helps learners explore their own assumptions and biases as well as those embedded within the visual world. Visual literacy learners must cultivate critical evaluation skills for creating, viewing, consuming, and disseminating visuals through persistent and purposeful negotiations with visual media over time. Learners can become discerning, engaged citizens through fostering empathy, developing healthy skepticism, and resisting strict binaries.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their visual literacy abilities:

  • Examine visuals for signs of alteration, such as cropping or use of digital filters, and consider the intent and consequences of any changes made. [AICC] [ICaaP]
  • Examine visuals slowly and deeply in order to develop and refine critical observation skills. [RaI]
  • Evaluate how authorities establish what is or is not included in the visual canon of a field, elevating some voices and cultures while suppressing others. [AICC] [SaC] [SJ]
  • Interpret visuals within their disseminated context by considering related information such as captions, credits, and other types of metadata. [ICaaP] [SaC] [RaI]
  • Investigate personal positionality, acknowledging how an individual’s background, experiences, values, worldviews, biases, etc., can and do shape the reading of, interaction with, and research around visuals. [AICC] [SaC] [SJ]
  • Question whether a visual could be considered authoritative or credible in a particular context, which can include comparing it to similar visuals, tracking it to its original source, analyzing its embedded metadata, and engaging in similar evaluative methods. [AICC] [IHV] [SaSE]


Learners who are developing their visual literacy abilities:

  • Acknowledge that no platform is neutral, and that concealed factors like suggestion algorithms and power structures within the publishing industry shape experiences with visuals. [AICC] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Consider if creation and/or use of a visual will constitute misappropriation, which dissociates visuals from their original contexts and deprives individual creators and cultural communities of agency and credit. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Discern the role of visuals in the spread and acceptance of misinformation, malinformation, and disinformation. [AICC] [IHV] [SaC]
  • Distinguish between the ways different disciplines, professions, and communities confer values such as legitimacy and credibility on visual media.[AICC] [SaC]
  • Recognize that the knowledge needed to understand visuals builds over a lifetime and involves background influences, lived experiences, and disciplinary knowledge, as well as participation in communities of discourse. [AICC] [SaC] [RAI]
  • Reflect on the dual role that visuals may play in either fostering or subverting harmful, restrictive, social, or cultural norms. [AICC] [ICaaP] [SaC] [SJ]
  • Value critical viewing of, and critical reflection on, visuals across all formats. [RaI] [SaSE]