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.

4 Roadblocks to Technology Integration

There are a large number of studies out there that have taken a closer look at just what it is that prevents successful technology integration in educational environments. Most of the studies are focused on teachers in K-12 environments, but I think the findings are equally relevant to K-20 librarians.  We can’t escape the fact that 21st century literacy learning is heavily dependent on technology integration, and K-20 librarians need to be at the front end of the push toward getting technology integrated into the classroom. In my opinion, K-20 librarians are a key component in successful technology integration.

First of all, what is technology integration? I think it’s easier to start by looking at what technology integration is NOT. It’s not just using technology to prepare for teaching. And it’s not just using technology to deliver instruction (e.g. PowerPoint). Those things are certainly a part of technology integration. But to really be called technology integration, technology must also be used as a tool to enhance learning. When students are using technology to create, to communicate, to collaborate, to solve problems, and to meet a learning goal, you’ve arrived at the apex of technology integration.

Right now, it seems that successful technology integration only occurs in little pockets of the educational system. There’s a reason for that. Four roadblocks prevent successful technology integration. If librarians are going to play a key role in technology integration, they too need to confront the factors that may be preventing them from taking part in that role.

Here are the four roadblocks, with commentary related to librarians:

  1. Technology proficiency. Technology proficiency directly impacts attitudes and feelings of readiness for technology integration. For librarians to be technology proficient, Internet and database searching is no longer enough. Knowing how to put together a LibGuide is not enough. K-20 librarians need to be proficient in the broader category of educational technology as well. There’s a reason why blended librarianship has become a buzzword in the field. We now recognize the importance of instructional design and technology proficiency for teaching and learning information literacy skills.
  2. Years of experience and age. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly), greater numbers of years of experience tends to have a negative impact on technology integration in educational environments. I read somewhere that if you don’t keep up with your skills after library school, within five years they become obsolete. I don’t think this is true for all skills, but certainly technology-related skills. Libraries have change dramatically since I was a newbie librarian, and the desire to not become obsolete is what led me to pursue my IDT degree. According to an ALA Member Demographics Study, the largest sector of ALA member librarians in the field right now are in the 55-64 age range. Assuming this group of librarians is the most experienced in the field, you have to wonder just how that is impacting technology integration for 21st century literacy learning.
  3. Technology availability and access. Technology resource availability certainly has an impact on technology integration. Because librarians are resource specialists, and because libraries are important access points, it is important that librarians are heavily involved in technology acquisition. This, of course, requires technology proficiency.
  4. Institutional and technology support. Strong institutional and technology support facilitate technology integration. For libraries, this means having a director that is an an advocate for technology availability, access and integration. It also helps tremendously if the director is technology proficient because s/he will be better able to articulate the role of the library within the institution. Libraries should also have strong relationships with teaching and learning centers. And the most technologically proficient librarians should be available to provide professional development opportunities that lead faculty toward technology integration in their classrooms.

Technology integration goes hand in hand with 21st century literacy learning. And librarians can play a key role in that process. But first they need to take a closer look at the factors that might be impeding their ability to take part in the push for greater technology integration.


Inan, F. A., & Lowther, D. L. (2010). Factors affecting technology integration in K-12 classrooms: a path modelEducational Technology Research and Development58(2), 137-154.

The Technology Integration Matrix