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Research Guides

Library Instruction and Course Development Support for Faculty

Defining Information Literacy

Defining Information Literacy

"Information literacy" can be defined in many ways. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries (2015), information literacy is:

“the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.”

At  the TCSPP Library, the following related literacies, concepts, and theoretical frames inform our practice: 


Metaliteracy is, “a unified construct that supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities. Metaliteracy challenges traditional skills-based approaches to information literacy by recognizing related literacy types and incorporating emerging technologies," according to

Critical Information Literacy

Taking this a step further, “critical information literacy refutes the neutrality of traditional IL and asks library educators and students to engage with the social and political dimensions of information, including its production, dissemination, and reception.”

When applied in the classroom, critical information literacy can take on a critical pedagogical stance. As Swanson (2005) suggests, “a critical pedagogy directs us to understand information in a humanistic sense, as an extension of a person. This means that all information … contains the inherent biases and limited worldview of the author. From this point of view, [educators] and students would recognize that much–some would say all–of the information in our society flows from the points of power, economic and political” (pg.72). Critical information literacy makes explicit the impact of power--social, political, economic-- in shaping the creation, access, and use of information.

Digital Literacy

"Digital Literacy" refers to "the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet," according to a definition from Cornell University's Digital Literacy Resource.

Media Literacy

Media Literacy, according to a definition by the Center for Media Literacy, is "a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms - from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy."

Data Literacy

There are various definitions of "data literacy" -- those below capture the essence of its meaning:

  • Qlik of the Data Literacy Project describes data literacy as "the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data."​
  • Tableau defines data literacy as "the ability to explore, understand, and communicate with data."
  • Carlson et al. (2011) take the definition a step further by stressing that being data literate also means being a *critical consumer* of data/statistics, noting that "data literacy involves understanding what data mean, including how to read charts appropriately, draw correct conclusions from data, and recognize when data are being used in misleading or inappropriate ways."

Visual Literacy

There are multiple definitions to visual literacy. Some of these definitions have evolved over time and some of the definitions are discipline specific. One well known and highly respected definition for visual literacy comes from the Association of College and Research Libraries. In the 2011 Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, visual literacy is defined as,

"A set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively findinterpretevaluateuse, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextualculturalethicalaesthetic, 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".

If you want to see the full list of standards, go to this link.

Association of College and Research Libraries. Framework for Information Literacy for Higher EducationAmerican Library Association, 2 Feb. 2015.

Tewell, Eamon. “Putting Critical Information Literacy into Context: How and Why Librarians Adopt Critical Practices in Their Teaching.” In the Library with the Lead Pipe, 12 Oct. 2016.

Swanson, Troy A. “Applying a Critical Pedagogical Perspective to Information Literacy Standards.” Community & Junior College Libraries, vol. 12, no. 4, 2005, pp. 65–77, doi:10.1300/j107v12n04_08.