What is Visual Literacy?

Visual literacy is a core value of our profession. It refers to the set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Without visual literacy we couldn’t find meaning in images or create images that effectively communication meaning. In short, visual literacy is at the very center of today’s visual and media rich world. Those involved in the visual resource and information professions have long understood the importance of visual literacy and have a duty to ensure that visual literacy is clear to those we service and work with. Educate yourself about what visual literacy is and how our users can expand their visual literacy and thereby effectively use images.

A women's art class with instructor William Merritt Chase. Photographed by either Joseph Byron or his son Percy Claude. (Archives of American Art)
A women’s art class with instructor William Merritt Chase. Photographed by either Joseph Byron or his son Percy Claude. (Archives of American Art)

A visually literate individual is able to:

• Determine the nature and extent of the visual materials needed
• Find and access needed images and visual media effectively and efficiently
• Interpret and analyze the meanings of images and visual media
• Evaluate images and their sources
• Use images and visual media effectively
• Design and create meaningful images and visual media
• Understand many of the ethical, legal, social, and economic issues surrounding the creation and use of images and visual media, and access and use visual materials ethically

Further Reading 

ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

International Visual Literacy Association

Visual Literacy Toolbox

Visual Literacy E-Learning

Visual Literacy K-8

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