The 4 Facets of Information Literacy

When talking to instructors about what information literacy is, I’m not the biggest fan of referring to its commonly accepted definition: “Information literacy is the ability to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.”

Why? Because in order to embrace it, support it, and implement it in their courses, instructors need a description that more precisely breaks down the skill sets involved in information literacy so that they can determine how those skills best fit within the context of their courses. That’s where the instructional design skill of task analysis comes in (which also requires overcoming one’s expert blindspot).

What specific skill sets are needed for one to become information literate? I have identified four specific skills that help define the practice of information literacy, and I’ve decided to call them the “4 facets of information literacy” (see figure below). They are: 1) information technology fluency, 2) ways of thinking, 3) problem solving, and 4) communication.

4 Facets of IL
The 4 Facets of Information Literacy

Information Technology Fluency

I see information technology fluency as forming the basic core of information literacy, and encompassing such skills as information organization, database searching (e.g., keyword v. subject), web navigation, digital citizenship, and computer literacy. When students are fluent in these skills, the chance of cognitive overload is reduced when being introduced to the other facets of information literacy.

While there is a tendency for librarians to focus heavily on information technology fluency skills in beginning IL instruction (which is important), another approach would be for librarians to partner with technology instructors to ensure that the skills are fully addressed in the types of required technology-focused courses that can be found in both K-12 and in higher education.

Ways of Thinking

Librarians generally teach ways of thinking about information in the context of evaluating information. However, within a course, these skills are also being addressed anytime a teacher focuses on critical thinking, critical literacy, and/or disciplinary literacy. This is why co-teaching and collaboration between librarians and teachers is so very important.

In terms of teaching ways of thinking about information, librarians should keep in mind that students’ beliefs about information and about knowledge are developmental in nature.

Problem Solving

Solving problems with information puts ways of thinking into practice. This facet of information literacy fits neatly into inquiry-based, problem-based, or project-based learning, all of which are problem-focused. Lessons that incorporate WebQuests, original research projects, maker activities, or complex games (to name a few) are examples where problem solving with information takes place.


Communication may very well be the culmination of the other three facets of information literacy. Whether synthesizing information to communicate new ideas in a research paper, a classroom debate, a workplace presentation, or social media, successful communication within a variety of contexts is the ultimate assessment of an information literate person.

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.