How to Speak Out (Visually) at Your LibraryHunter library Western North Carolina University 176 Central Drive Cullowhee, NC 28723
The Libraries Montana State University Bozeman, Montana
What is Information Literacy?
Information literacy allows users to become life long learners. The American Library Association (ALA) defines information literacy as a “set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” (2000) These skills include the ability to:
What is Visual Literacy?
Visual literacy has been discussed for the past ten years, but there is still no clarity about what constitutes visual literacy. We can find many definitions. For example, visual literacy is defined as “the learned ability to interpret visual messages accurately and to create such messages” (Heinich, et al., 1999) or the “active reconstruction of past visual experience with incoming visual images to obtain a meaning.” (Sinatra, 1986). The definition provided by Wileman (1993) will be used as a working definition by the authors. Wileman defines visual literacy as the “ability to turn information of all types into pictures, graphics, or forms that help communicate the information.”
How Visual Literacy connects to Information Literacy?
Both visual literacy and information literacy require the ability to find, evaluate, and use information. Visual literacy is more complex, as it requires the ability, “to understand, interpret and evaluate visual messages, and in turn to use visual language to communicate with others.” (Bristor, 1994).
Visual literacy helps to:
Why teach Visual Literacy?
Children are inundated with visual messages which they must learn to interpret. Children have naturally developed visual perception, which grows through continued exposure to media, TV, games, etc. It is one thing to appreciate and understand visual messages; it is another one to create them. Children need the opportunity to try. As Manifold states, "As we enter the ‘information age’ our need to process volumes of data quickly and efficiently increases." As more and more information is communicated through a variety of non-print media, the ability to create and think critically and visually about the images presented is crucial. In addition, teaching visual literacy opens the door to those who learn visually, thus creating motivation.
Instructional Strategies for Visual Literacy
Visual literacy skills are the analysis and evaluation of visuals for meaning, relevance, and context, as well as the manipulation and organization of data or images to communicate meaning. Pearson says that, "Doing and studying [the visual arts] calls into practice many kinds of cognition--visual processing, analytical thinking, posing questions, testing hypotheses, verbal reasoning and more." To teach visual literacy we must teach people how to decode or read visuals to interpret meaning and also to encode or write visuals to express and communicate ideas. When we teach visual literacy, we must keep in mind that age and culture will contribute to these interpretations. Here are some ideas for teaching visual literacy:
Other Uses for Visual Literacy Beyond the Classroom
We can see visual literacy being used everyday in advertising, media, and websites. Politicians use visual messages to get across their ideas and to sway the audience, often by putting down their competitors ,both verbally and visually. The best use of visual literacy beyond the classroom is to market your library. You can use flyers, brochures, newsletters, and your website to market your library using visual messages. Moreover, each of us is a visual messenger for our library.
Research on Visual Literacy
The authors have begun a research project surveying students about their preferences on the design of library instruction worksheets. Most librarians are use handouts that list information resources under various headings. The research project compares this handout style to a visually enhanced handout with graphics, various font sizes and types, text blocks and charts, colored paper, and a page layout that uses both sides of the paper. Students were asked which handout looks easier to use and why, including font size, font type, graphics, page layout. They were also asked which they would prefer to use and why. The results thus far have been very interesting. Ninety one percent of students preferred the visually enhanced handout. The written in comments were similar: “faster to read”, “easier to read”, “easier on the eyes”, “charts”, “information stands out”, “less crowded”. For the 9% of students who preferred the old style handouts, the reasons were that they “do not like colored paper” or would rather that the “information [is] all on one page”.
It is important for librarians to use visual skills and visual literacy to promote learning. Education is undergoing a shift to analysis and innovation (Stokes, 2002). Multiple literacies are necessary to meet the challenges of today's society. For students, visual strategies can be motivational. In an academic environment, the library has two identities, physical and online. For most students, a first impression of the library will happen visually from one of these identities. If we do not use visual skills and visual literacy in person and online, we are letting students down, and not really doing our job as librarians, because visual skills are an integral part of information skills and "all thinking begins with seeing" (Fleckenstein, et al., 2002).
American Library Association (2000). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Available Online:www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlstandards/informationliteracycompetency.htm
Bristor, V.J. and Drake, S.V. (1994).“Linking the Language Arts and Content Areas Though Visual Technology",T H E journal 22.2, pp. 74-78.
Eisner, E.W. (1993).The education of vision, New York: G. Braziller
Fleckenstein, K.S., Calendrillo, L.T., and Worley, D.A. (2002).Language and image in the reading-writing classroom: teaching vision. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Heinich, R. et al. (1999).Instructional media and technologies for learning Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Manifold, M. C. (1997). Picture Books as a Social Studies Resource in the Elementary School Classroom, ERIC Digests. Available online:www.ericfacility.net/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed412168.html
Pearson, B. (1998). Busting Multiple Intelligence Myths.ArtLinks, October/November.
Sinatra, R. (1986).Visual literacy connections to thinking, reading and writing. Springfield, IL.: Charles C. Thomas.
Stokes, S. (2002). Visual Literacy in Teaching and Learning: A Literature Perspective.Electronic journal for the integration of technology in Education. Idaho State University. Available online:ejite.isu.edu/Volume1No1/Stokes.html
Wileman, R.E. (1980).Exercises in visual thinking. New York: Hastings House.
Williams, L.V. (1983).Teaching for the two-sided mind: A guide to right brain/left brain education. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.