Visual Literacy

The ability to read, produce, and share visual images, animations, and videos is a fundamental 21st Century literacy. Thanks to new writing and entertainment tools, it is increasingly easy to integrate images with words and sound.

Strictly speaking, regular reading and writing are a form of visual literacy. The alphabetic, after all, is a visual representation of thought. That said, visual literacy is generally conceptualized as something beyond alphabetic texts. According to Association of College and Research Libraries,

“Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture. .In an interdisciplinary, higher education environment, 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 meaning of images and visual media
  • Critically 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.” (ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education).
Source: Libraries and Transliteracy,, Accessed 10/10/19.

People process visual information differently than alphabetical texts. There are many advantages to communicating with images and videos:

  • Images such as concept maps can help writers identify main ideas, organizational flow, and relationships among ideas;
  • Integrating images and video into texts helps visual learners. Some people may be particularly adept at learning from visual communication;
  • Images such as flowcharts and infographics can empower learners to better understand logical relationships among variables and concepts.
  • There are instances where a picture can convey a great deal of information succinctly.

Excellent Videos on Visual Literacy

Recommended Academic Readings on Visual Literacy

Hattwig, Denise, Kaila Bussert, Ann Medaille, Joanna Burges, 2013. “Visual Literacy Standards in Higher Education: New Opportunities for Libraries and Student Learning.” Libraries and the Academy: 13:1

Works Cited

Association of College and Research Libraries, “ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” American Library Association (October 2011), http://

Association of College and Research Libraries. “Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” Text. October 10, 2019,

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