Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide

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  • About the authors
  • Reviews

The importance of images and visual media in today's culture is changing what it means to be literate in the 21st century. Digital technologies have made it possible for almost anyone to create and share visual media. Yet the pervasiveness of images and visual media does not necessarily mean that individuals are able to critically view, use, and produce visual content. The ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were developed to address these distinct characteristics of images and visual media. Based on those standards, this book provides librarians and instructors with the tools, strategies, and confidence to apply visual literacy in a library context. Readers will not only learn about ways to develop students' visual literacy, but also how to use visual materials to make their instruction more engaging. Ideal for the busy librarian who needs ideas, activities, and teaching strategies that are ready to implement, this book

  • shows how to challenge students to delve into finding images, using images in the research process, interpreting and analyzing images, creating visual communications, and using visual content ethically;
  • provides ready-to-go learning activities for engaging critically with visual materials;
  • offers tools and techniques for increasing one's own visual literacy confidence; and
  • gives strategies for integrating, engaging with and advocating for visual literacy in libraries.

With this book's guidance, academic professionals can help students master visual literacy, a key competency in today's media-saturated world, while also enlivening instruction with visual materials.

Chapter 1: Interpret and Analyze Images


  • Foundational Questions    
  • Getting Started: Looking and Interpreting    
  • Interpreting the Meanings of an Image    
  • Visualizing Data    
  • Using Text to Understand Images    




  • 1.1    :  Learning to Look    
  • 1.2    : Interpreting and Analyzing Images    
  • 1.3    : Analyzing an Ad for Context    
  • 1.4    : Comparing Image Metadata    
  • 1.5    : Evaluating Data Visualizations in the News    
  • 1.6    : Inspecting Scientific Images

Chapter 2: Find the Right Images



  • Foundational Questions    
  • Before You Search    
  • Image Sources    
  • Image Search Strategies
  • Keeping Track of What You Find    
  • Next Steps    




  • 2.1    : Preparing for Image Searching    
  • 2.2    : Exploring Digital Image Sources    
  • 2.3    : Finding Creative Commons Images    
  • 2.4    : Understanding Image Descriptions for Smarter Searching
  • 2.5     : Reverse Image Searching    

Chapter 3: Create and Use Images    



  • Foundational Questions    
  • The Power of Images    
  • Aligning Image Use and Purpose    
  • Designing and Making Images    
  • Evaluating Visual Products    
  • Next Steps    




  • 3.1    : Exploring Disciplinary Image Use    
  • 3.2    : Amplifying a Message with Visuals    
  • 3.3    : Storyboarding    
  • 3.4    : Creating Graphical Representations of Data    
  • 3.5    : Editing Images    
  • 3.6    : Design Critiques

Chapter 4: Ethical Use of Images    



  • Foundational Questions    
  • Images and Copyright    
  • Ethical Considerations of Image Use    
  • Next Steps    




  • 4.1    : Understanding Image Copyright    
  • 4.2    : Fair Use Debate    
  • 4.3    : Interpreting Terms of Use    
  • 4.4    : The Ethics of Image Sharing    

Chapter 5: Cite and Credit Images    



  • Foundational Questions    
  • Why Cite Images?    
  • Formulating Image Citations, Credits, and Captions    
  • Next Steps    




  • 5.1    : Why Cite Images?    
  • 5.2    : Gathering Information for Image Citations    
  • 5.3    : Crediting Images    

Chapter 6: Images and the Research Process    



  • Foundational Questions    
  • Using Images to Further Research    
  • Visualizing a Topic    
  • Evaluating Visual Characteristics of Sources    
  • Evaluating Images and Their Sources    
  • Images and Information Literacy Threshold Concepts
  • Next Steps    




  • 6.1    : Kick-Starting Research with Historical Images    
  • 6.2    : Using Images to Further Research    
  • 6.3    : Examining a Source Visually    
  • 6.4    : Evaluating Images and Their Sources    
  • 6.5    : Analyzing a Map to Teach Source Evaluation    
  • 6.6    : Contemplating the Value of an Image   

Appendix: ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education
About the Authors


Nicole E. Brown

Nicole E. Brown is the Multidisciplinary Instruction Librarian at New York University, where she teaches research workshops to a variety of user groups and works to expand and strengthen the teaching role of librarians. She has given presentations, workshops, and led professional development training on four continents and has written for Library Journal and Internet Reference Services Quarterly. Her research interests include innovative teaching practices and incorporating new literacies into teaching and learning environments. She holds an MLIS from Pratt Institute.

Kaila Bussert

Kaila Bussert is the Foundational Experiences Librarian at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where she leads a foundational information literacy program. Her research interests center on the role of visual literacy across the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. She holds an MA in Near Eastern Studies and an MLIS from the University of Arizona.

Denise Hattwig

Denise Hattwig is Curator of Digital Collections at the University of Washington Bothell Library, where she collaborates with faculty and students on digital scholarship projects, facilitates digital collection and repository development, and teaches archiving and interdisciplinary image use. Her research interests include student participation in digital collections, intersections of digital scholarship and repositories, visual literacy, scholarly communication, and data curation. She is lead author of ACRL's Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. She holds an MA in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and an MLIS from the University of Washington.

Ann Medaille

Ann Medaille is the director of research and instructional services at the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, and serves as editor-in-chief of the journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. She has published several journal articles on topics related to educational theories and pedagogies. 

"Intimidated by the phrase, ‘visual literacy?' You no longer have a reason to be … Required reading for any library professional, from students to seasoned librarians, who participate in teaching activities. A must-have for all academic libraries."
— Library Journal

"The foundational questions at the beginning of each chapter serve to frame the concepts, while the close of each chapter provides hands-on activities for those wishing to take their teaching practice deeper … This is the first manual to provide hands-on application of the Visual Literacy Standards for libraries and librarians and as such, is highly recommended for library purchase."
— Art Libraries Society of North America

"This book is designed to be used informally on an as-needed basis, and as such has several handy 'coffee break' sections and activity worksheets designed for quick lessons to drive home an idea and be used at the point of need … One of the riches of this book is that it is filled with many activities and worksheets that can easily be expanded and implemented in a classroom setting."
— Catholic Library World