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Visual literacy: academic libraries address 21st century challenges

Judith Schwartz (Department of Library and Information Services, Medgar Evers College, The City University of New York, Brooklyn, New York, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 28 September 2018

Issue publication date: 21 November 2018




This paper aims to explore a study that examines the role of academic librarians who teach visual literacy within their information literacy curricula.


The author developed a survey that was distributed to five listservs during a three-week period, generating 118 responses from academic libraries. The author subsequently interviewed 16 participants.


The findings reveal that visual literacy is important across all disciplines. However, a majority of academic librarians who replied to the survey stated that they do not teach visual literacy. Only 37.3 per cent of the respondents indicated that they or their institutions include a visual literacy component in their sessions.

Practical implications

The paper identifies the most relevant visual literacy trends, and it includes examples of visual literacy skills and concepts being taught in academic libraries. It provides ideas to develop marketing strategies to increase student enrollment in library workshops.


This study has expanded librarians’ awareness of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. In addition, it explores the teaching of multiliteracies such as visual literacy within the information literacy framework in the academic library. The survey data demonstrate that academic librarians are slowly embracing visual literacy and including it in their information literacy instruction across all disciplines. The study recommends that librarians work on their professional development to become multiliterate to remain relevant within their academic communities.



Schwartz, J. (2018), "Visual literacy: academic libraries address 21st century challenges", Reference Services Review, Vol. 46 No. 4, pp. 479-499.



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