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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

Visual practice is the creation and consumption of visuals for the purpose of transmitting and building knowledge. The pursuit of social justice through visual practice is an ongoing journey, which requires consistent work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Pursuing social justice can include decentering whiteness, heteronormativity and other hegemonic practices in visual collections and canons, improving accessibility of visuals and platforms, and opposing exploitative practices that deprive visual creators of intellectual property control or Indigenous communities of sovereignty. Visual literacy learners understand that pursuing social justice through visual creation, sharing, use, remix, and attribution takes continual effort and education. By building reciprocal relationships with communities, acknowledging the limits of their own knowledge, and seeking to better understand their worldviews, biases, and perceptions, as well as those around them, learners can become conscientious contributors to a more just world.

*Please note: each knowledge practice and disposition in this theme first appears in one of the three other themes.

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]
  • 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]
  • 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]
  • 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]
  • 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]
  • 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]


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]
  • 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]
  • 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 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]
  • 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]
  • Prioritize ethical considerations for cultural and intellectual property when creating, sharing, or using visuals. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SJ]
  • Recognize how incorporating accessibility practices and principles can enrich the experience of visuals for all users. [ICaaP] [IHV] [SaSE] [SJ]
  • 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 the ways that different ways of knowing and being, including cultural, traditional and Indigenous knowledge, may be represented in visuals. [AICC] [IHV] [RaI] [SJ]