Promoting Multiple Literacies (Principles of New Librarianship)

In my last post, I outlined 5 principles that I believe new librarianship encompasses. Today, I’m going to delve into the first principle a little further: promoting multiple literacies. Which literacies should new librarianship promote? How are the literacies inter-related? And how can they be promoted? I will attempt to answer those questions.

Which literacies should new librarianship promote?


There are 6 foundational literacies that I see as the root of all (or at least most) other literacies:

  • Critical literacy views readers as active participants in the reading process and invites them to move beyond passively accepting the text’s message to question, examine, or dispute the power relations that exist between readers and authors. It focuses on issues of power and promotes reflection, transformation, and action (Freire, 1970).” 
  • Information literacy is 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.” (ALA)
  • Visual literacy has been defined as the “ability to understand, interpret and evaluate visual messages (Bristor & Drake, 1994).”
  • Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of forms-is interdisciplinary by nature.” (NAMLE)
  • Digital literacy is “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.” (also referred to as digital literacies)
  • Multimodal literacy is the ability to “interpret the intertextuality of communication events that include combinations of print, speech, images, sounds, movement, music, and animation”… and “the integration of multiple modes of communication and expression.” (NCTE)

How are the literacies inter-related?

The diagram above establishes the relationships between these foundational literacies (in my view).

Critical literacy is at the core of all the other literacies. The concept of critical literacy is tied to traditional literacy, but has evolved along with technology. It’s essential for participating in a digital culture. All the other literacies in the diagram are dependent upon critical literacy.

I see information literacy as being the most closely tied to critical literacy. Both are firmly rooted in critical thinking and both are applicable to traditional modes of literacy (i.e. print) as well as technology driven literacies.

Visual literacy is dependent upon critical and information literacy, but not necessarily digital or media literacy. Why? Visual literacy can be either print-dependent or technology-dependent.

Media literacy is dependent upon critical, information and visual literacy. It can also be print-dependent or technology-dependent, but is more commonly a combination of both.

Digital literacy is the only fully technology-dependent literacy on the diagram. Critical, information, visual and media literacy are all essential components of digital literacy. Often, people will refer to digital literacy when speaking of technology skills. But that’s like referring to reading as the ability to decode words and string sentences together. Those skill-sets are a prerequisite to the literacy, not the literacy itself.

Multimodal literacy is the combination of all the other literacies.

How can they be promoted in the library?

In many ways!

  • Maker activities: coding, digital storytelling, mashing and hacking. Mozilla Webmaker is one of my favorite tools for this.
  • Gaming: gaming collections, gaming events, gaming space. If you’re okay with users reading in the library, you should be okay with them gaming in the library. Both support literacy, and the latter supports multiple literacies.
  • Social media. Yes, using Twitter and Facebook and Google+ support visual, digital and media literacy. And sometimes critical and information literacy (e.g. trying to decipher the validity of the crazy stuff that your Facebook friends post).
  • Web browsing and database searching. Of course.
  • Ebooks.
  • Access to iPads and other mobile devices.
  • Workshops.
    • Workshops for teachers about technology-rich assignments (e.g. digital storytelling, wikis, blogs, content curation).
    • Workshops for students (e.g. Zotero or Mendeley, Google Scholar, e-portfolios).
    • Workshops for the general public on just about anything that requires digital navigation and creation.

13 thoughts on “Promoting Multiple Literacies (Principles of New Librarianship)

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Chesnutt Library will host its sixth cohort (2013 – 2014) of the Chesnutt Library Fellows Information Literacy Program on December 17th and 18th, 2013. #FayettevilleInfoLit1314 | #FSUIL1314

  2. Great post. I am a recently retired teacher – my Media literacy blog may have some resources you could use. Keep up the good work ! 🙂

  3. Ye gods, this is taking librarianship down the same wormhole as teaching has gone. Watching public schools become irrelevant as teachers citing “critical pedagogy” use them to foster opposition to the state, surely librarians do not want to subject public libraries to the same fate? Before citing Freire, always remember he was functioning within tyranny. To foster critique and revolution within democracy (however imperfect) can only be anti-democratic and pro-tyrannical; thus, uses Freire to achieve what he opposed.

    • Karin,

      I cited Freire because that is where critical literacy originates. In the library world we call that a primary source. As far as I know, critical literacy is not being used as a political tool in US classrooms. All the teachers I’ve known over the years see it in terms of critical thinking. And I can assure you that public schools in this country have not become irrelevant, although the media might lead you to think that. My blog is about instructional design and technology in libraries (school, academic, public) and the new roles that technology has created for librarians in terms of literacy and learning. Thanks for your input!

      • Thank you for responding, and for trying to be polite, but I hope you appreciate the irony that, in the context of a discussion on critical literacy, you defensively and apparently without curiosity flat-out rejected a piece of critical thinking about your post.

        I am not sure on what basis you assumed that you know more about this issue in public schools than I do and that simple reassurance from you would override the knowledge and experience that led me to comment as I did. Nor is it clear to me why you would think my information comes from the media rather than from primary sources.

        This sort of hubris is an interesting attribute of a profession that is losing its way (which I have asserted for some time is the case for librarianship) and similarly can be seen from teachers every day in person or on social media (see #bced). I’m not here to say I’m an expert, although I have been studying the behaviours and academic underpinnings of school systems and teachers for twenty years, but from your response it is clear you have very little awareness of what is being done in public schools in your country, mine (Canada), or others around the world.

        Here is a blog by Robin Eubanks, someone who you might consider a primary source as she has also written a book ( Similar to my own path, as a parent she encountered some behaviours by the public school system that aroused her concern, and used her academic and professional background to investigate further.

        This link is to a search of Eubanks’s whole blog for “Freire.” With these and other entries, I hope that Eubanks can convince you that critical literacy is ABSOLUTELY being used as a political tool in US classrooms, and everywhere for that matter. Teachers fall into two categories: those that know what is going on and do it deliberately, and those who don’t but who are misled into doing it under the guise of “progressive” teaching (a very small third category is really into just teaching). The leaders of the “critical pedagogy” movement have held university education faculties captive for decades, and since everyone who works in any capacity in education systems has at some point been through an education faculty, the entire system works in concert, even if some of its parts – school districts and teachers’ unions – are ostensibly in opposition at times.

        If you think parents can effectively counter this movement, this book by William Cutler III may assuage that illusion:

        Your wholesale dismissal of my input did catch one error on my part, which was my use of the word “irrelevant.” Given that schools are being used to condition successive generations for a “transformative” role, it is not correct to say that schools are irrelevant. They are irrelevant only for the intended purpose for which the public funds them, as you will note if you follow discussions on literacy and numeracy. Project Follow-Through, the largest education study ever conducted, showed very clearly which teaching methods are most and least effective for instilling literacy and numeracy, even in high poverty environments. Notwithstanding the results, university education faculties have continued teaching the least effective methods and ignoring the most effective, making K-12 schools increasingly ineffective in the teaching of reading and writing.

        As far as new roles for librarians is concerned, I have actually thought for some time that libraries could take over from schools the teaching of literacy, since schools aren’t motivated to do it. But obviously, if critical literacy rather than actual literacy has also penetrated the walls of the public library, that isn’t going to work either.

        Librarians have been excellent guardians of the resource of our collective memory, but they are ceding this role and falling into trap after trap of escalating redundancy. On my blog I wrote about my utter shock at the latest disastrous move in my town’s public library. Librarians yielding to becoming agents of cultural marxism (see Neil Sanders for this at is a further rejection of public service, not an enhancement of it. The only remaining hope is that academic libraries will not succumb.

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