ACRL/IRIG Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

The ACRL Image Resources Interest Group has released a draft of their Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (pdf). These are just for images, not video, which I initially expected to be included when I saw “visual”.

Update I’ve been contacted by Denise and she let me know that “the standards are written broadly to cover “images and visual media”, including still and moving images (video) where applicable. We deliberately did not define “images and visual media” so the standards would remain open to new formats and future developments.” So they do include video.

They are encouraging comments and feedback through March 31st, 2011, on their blog or by email.  There are also have an open virtual meeting on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 11:30-1:00 PST/2:30-4:00 EST

From the standards:


The increasing dominance of images and visual media in contemporary culture is changing what itmeans to be literate in the 21st century. Today’s society is highly visual, and visual imagery is no longersupplemental to other forms of information. New digital technologies have made it possible for almostanyone to create and share visual media. Yet the pervasiveness of images and visual media does notnecessarily mean that individuals are able to critically view, use, and produce visual content. Individualsmust develop these essential skills in order to engage capably in a visually‐oriented society. Visualliteracy empowers individuals to participate fully in a visual culture.

Visual Literacy Defined:

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 thecontextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the productionand use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and acompetent 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

Visual Literacy and Information Literacy:

The Visual Literacy Standards were developed in the context of the Information Literacy CompetencyStandards for Higher Education, and are intended to complement the Information Literacy Standards.The Visual Literacy Standards address some of the unique issues presented by visual materials. Images often function as information, but they are also aesthetic and creative objects that require additionallevels of interpretation and analysis. Finding visual materials in text‐based environments requiresspecific types of research skills. The use, sharing, and reproduction of visual materials also raiseparticular ethical or legal considerations. The Standards address these distinct characteristics of imagesand visual media and challenge students to develop a combination of abilities related to informationliteracy, visual communication, interpretation, and technology and digital media use.

7 Responses to “ACRL/IRIG Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education”

  1. Mike Nielsen Says:

    I think you need to incorporate consideration of audience in your standards for visual literacy. That is only implied in the way they are currently written. Without that, gathering and creating images has no real meaning. It is a fundamental part of the process.

    Mike Nielsen
    Media Arts
    Wesley College
    Dover, DE

  2. i n f o d o n » March 26th Says:

    […] Shared ACRL/IRIG Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education « Libraries and Transliteracy. […]

  3. Visual Literacy Standards Update « Libraries and Transliteracy Says:

    […] few weeks ago, Bobbi posted about the new ACRL/IRIG Visual Literacy Standards. Since then, the group has systematically posted […]

  4. simkathy Says:

    Question: will there be different standards for moving images? Movies, film, etc.?

  5. Peter Reid Says:

    Thanks for this post; I’m researching for a masters dissertation on the place of Visual / media literacy in libraries (specifically, school libraries in England), investigating in part the extent to which librarians and information professionals support visual and media literacy as part and parcel of their information literacy work. Several writers in the literature suggested there would be a bias against the visual in the library world, but no one had shown any evidence.

    One of the issues is the terminology used (as ever); the ALA, SCONUL and CILIP standards for information literacy already acknowledge (but don’t really emphasise) the possibility of information being in the form of visual images or multimedia. Separate terms such as visual and media literacy help with that emphasis, while muddying the waters since essentially they deal with the same skills as information literacy . . . ; the other big issue is the ‘ground stolen’ on libraries in schools by specialist facilities such as media workrooms, technicians, or private enterprise initiatives separate from the library and teaching visual and media competency.

    My research will hopefully shed some light on these issues. I’ll post any interesting findings, and if anyone else has an especial interest in media education within libraries, it would be great to know (

    • Bobbi Newman Says:

      thank you for sharing information about what you’re working on. I look forward to hearing more about and reading your findings when they are available.

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