Skip to main content

Visual Literacy

This guide is meant to be a basic introduction to the concept of visual literacy and all of its components. Here you will find information about visual literacy basics and general resources for this topic if you are interested in learning more.

What is Visual Literacy?

Defining Visual Literacy:

There are currently many different definitions of visual literacy.Howeverr, all of these definitions have similarities. One of the reasons for this is because visual literacy is an adaptable concept and it looks different depending on the requirements of the discipline. Below is a widely recognized definition from the ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards. 

"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".- ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards.

Visually Literate Individuals Can...

  • Interpret the meaning of images and visual media.
  • Comprehend the techniques used to create images and visual media.
  • Identify the intended audience for an image or piece of visual media.
  • Evaluate the aesthetic quality of an image or piece of visual media.
  • Identify the subject of an image or piece of visual media.
  • Understand the impact that an image or piece of visual media has.
  • Evaluate and analyze the reliability of an image or piece of visual media's source.
  • Create reliable and meaningful images and visual media.
  • Comprehend the ethical and legal implications of uses images and visual media created by someone else.
  • Use images and visual media ethically and responsibly. 

"ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education," American Library Association, October 27, 2011. (accessed May 7, 2020).

Bamford, A. (2003). Visual Literacy White Paper. Adobe Systems Incorporated. 


Word cloud of the ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards, performance indicators, and learning outcomes.