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Health literacy and information literacy: a concept comparison

Jane Lawless (Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, USA)
Coleen E. Toronto (Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, USA)
Gail L. Grammatica (Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 13 June 2016




The purpose of this paper is to compare health and information literacy with a focus on how the development of these concepts within two disciplines (nursing and library/information science) impacts librarian/nurse educator shared understanding.


This paper uses a modified concept comparison method. The comparison, grounded in two seminal concept analysis articles, identifies common and unique antecedents, attributes and consequences of each concept.


Health and information literacy share common antecedents and attributes: literacy, health or information need, comprehension, decision-making and degree of technological competency. Unique to health literacy is an emphasis on interactive communication and unique to information literacy is a focus on discovery and search skills.

Research limitations/implications

This concept comparison uses a snapshot approach rather than a full literature review. This work suggests further research into health literacy and information literacy as related concepts in the literature and how multidisciplinary concept comparison can be effectively framed.

Practical implications

Librarians and nurse educators collaborating on complex concepts such as these should use available definitions, and evidence, to reach shared understanding. Librarians are encouraged to communicate with database developers to address questions and inconsistencies in subject headings.


This paper presents the first concept comparison of health and information literacy using the concept comparison method – an adaptation of concept analysis methods frequently used in nursing literature, developed by Walker and Avant, Rodgers and Knafl and others.



Lawless, J., Toronto, C.E. and Grammatica, G.L. (2016), "Health literacy and information literacy: a concept comparison", Reference Services Review, Vol. 44 No. 2, pp. 144-162.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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