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Visual Literacy

What is Visual Literacy?

Visual Literacy is the ability to find, understand, and evaluate images. It also includes the ability to understand the creation process for the purpose of not only evaluating but making images.

Visual Literacy can contain may parts, but this guide provides tools and resources to breakdown the key components of Visual Literacy into manageable segments to empower you and your students to find, understand, evaluate, and create images.

Visual Literacy Components

Diagram showing parts of visual literacy.

Basic Visual Literacy Components

Blackall, C. Visual Literacy Array. (2013). Flickr. 

Use the arrows to see a more detailed breakdown of the components of Visual Literacy.

Diagram of parts of visual literacy

Visual Literacy Components in More Detail

Hattwig, D., Bussert, K., and Medaille, A. (2013). Visual Literacy Array based on ACRL's Visual Literacy Standards. ACRL.
This image first appeared in Portal: Libraries and the Academy, Volume 13, Issue 1, January 2013, p. 75.

What is an image?

Images come in a variety of forms such as photographs, paintings, graphic design, infographics, charts, graphs, and more. For ways to find images see our section on Finding and Accessing Reliable Images.

Incorporating Images

When should I use an image?

When deciding if images should be used, consider the following questions:

  • What does an image add to your argument or discussion?
  • How is an image different or better than text description?
  • Why is an image important to convey your argument or topic?
  • Would an image make the information more accessible or engaging for your audience?


Should I use an existing image or create my own image?

Deciding between using an existing image and creating your own is an important step. Consider the following questions to help you decide:

  • Can you find a visual image that conveys your intended idea? 
  • Can you think of a more clear way to convey your idea in an image?
  • Do you have the time and skill set to be able to create a new image?


Using Existing Images

When using existing images, you will need to consider copyright. Our website has a Copyright section for reference and our Copyright Librarian is available to answer questions. Image databases will include copyright statements describing if and how images can be uses. Images found online may include Creative Commons Licenses that should be followed when reusing or modifying images.


Creating or Modifying Images

If you decide you want to create your own image or you want to modify an existing image that has a Creative Common License allowing modification, see our section on Creating Visual Materials.