Definitions & models
What is information literacy?
When, where and how would you apply it to practice, and how does it relate to other literacies and skills sets?
This section outlines some different information literacy definitions and models. None of these lists are exhaustive; please contact us with any additional definitions or models you’d like us to include.
New Definition (2018)
“Information literacy is the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use. It empowers us as citizens to reach and express informed views and to engage fully with society.”
“Information literate people will demonstrate an awareness of how they gather, use, manage, synthesise and create information and data in an ethical manner and will have the information skills to do so effectively.”
“Information literacy is a continuum of skills, behaviours, approaches and values that is so deeply entwined with the uses of information as to be a fundamental element of learning, scholarship and research. It is the defining characteristic of the discerning scholar, the informed and judicious citizen, and the autonomous learner.” (ANCIL definition of information literacy, 2011)
ANCIL was developed as the result of a research project by Emma Coonan and Jane Secker, the aim of which was to develop a new approach to information literacy teaching and learning that was suitable for the skills required of a 21st century higher education student.
RIN supports the both CILIP and SCONUL’s definition of information literacy, but argues that “it is important to adopt a broader interpretation of information literacy, which (i) recognises that ‘information’ must be taken to include research data; and (ii) clearly also encompasses the ability to manage, and where appropriate preserve and curate one’s own information and data.”
“An information literate person can recognise an information need and is able to apply the set of transferable skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to find, retrieve, assess, manage and apply information in any situation, throughout life.
Information literacy supports individual and organisational learning, creativity and innovation and contributes to improved healthcare delivery through a continuously evolving, reliable information base.”
They have also developed a framework that can be used in the healthcare context.
Jisc defines digital literacies as:
“the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society.”
The Prague declaration of 2003 defines information literacy as encompassing
“knowledge of one’s information concerns and needs, and the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, organize and effectively create, use and communicate information to address issues or problems at hand; it is a prerequisite for participating effectively in the Information Society, and is part of the basic human right of life long learning.”
The Alexandria proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning of 2005 states that:
“Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations.”
ACRL adopted an Information Literacy Framework in 2016 that offers the following definition:
“Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.”
ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (2000) were rescinded in 2016.
In 2012, CILIP developed an information literacy model that contained eight competencies / understandings that a person requires to be information literate:
- a need for information
- the resources available
- how to find information
- need to evaluate results
- how to work with or exploit results
- ethics and responsibility of use
- how to communicate or share your finding
- how to manage your findings
This has now been superseded by the updated CILIP definition of information literacy and accompanying materials.
The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) developed the Seven Pillars of Information Literacy model in 1999, and the most recent version was published in 2011. The latest version recognises that becoming information literate “is not a linear process”, rather, individuals can take different paths to become information literate and may learn different skills at different points.
The following ‘lenses’ have been created which take the seven pillars and observe them through the eyes of individuals engaged in the following types of activities:
ANCIL was developed as the result of a research project by Emma Coonan and Jane Secker. The aim of which was to develop a new approach to information literacy teaching and learning that was suitable for the skills required of a 21st century higher education student. The curriculum contains ten strands which take a holistic view of information literacy learning and place it within a wider context.
The authors of ANCIL also edited an accompanying book, Rethinking Information Literacy: A practical framework for supporting learning, which gives examples and case studies of how ANCIL can be applied to a wide range of settings.
This framework divides information literacy learning into different levels, depending upon the level of education. These level of information literacy have been mapped against the Scottish Credit Qualification Framework (SCQF).
Education Scotland have a website dedicated to information and critical literacy, which is based upon the outputs of the framework.
As part of the Welsh Information Literacy Project, Welsh Libraries have developed an Information Literacy Framework for Wales, which is bilingual. The framework maps learning and skills from Entry Level 1 up to Doctoral level, and links to the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales.
The Welsh Information Literacy Project website includes case studies and an overview of how IL relates to activities in schools, workplaces, academic libraries, etc.
FOSIL is a model of the inquiry process, an underlying continuum of inquiry skills (which include information literacy skills), and a growing collection of free resources to support the systematic and progressive development of inquiry skills.
In 2019, FOSIL became the centre of The FOSIL Group, a growing international community of education professionals who represent all stages of formal education, and who are all committed to enabling students to learn increasingly effectively for themselves.
FOSIL is based on the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum – a PK-12 continuum of the information literacy and inquiry skills that are essential for all students to learn – which was initially developed in 2009 as the NYC Information Fluency Continuum (NYCIFC) by school librarians in New York City under the auspices of the Office of Library Services and Director Dr Barbara Stripling.
The NYCIFC was endorsed in 2012 by the School Library System of New York State and renamed the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum (ESIFC).
The ESIFC was re-imagined in 2019, again under the leadership of Dr Barbara Stripling, to adapt to changing information, education, and technology environments, as well as increasing diversity in student populations.
The ESIFC serves 3.2 million students in 4,236 schools in New York State alone (as of October 2019).
The ESIFC was ad(o/a)pted in 2012 as FOSIL under CC BY-NC 4.0 by Darryl Toerien, Head of Library at Oakham School, and is made available under CC BY-NC 4.0.
The following are other prominent models and frameworks you may wish to explore:
- Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education developed by the Association of College & Research Libraries in the US.
- Big6: An Information Problem-solving Process. Mike Eisenberg’s and Bob Berkowitz’s well known IL model.
- PLUS Information Skills Model developed by James Herring
- Seven Faces of Information Literacy developed by Christine Bruce.
- Six Frames for Information Literacy Education developed by Christine Bruce.
The International Association of University Libraries (IATUL) Special Interest Group for Information Literacy‘s report on Information Literacy Policies and Standards at IATUL Member Libraries summarises the results of a survey conducted between July 2013 and February 2014 to examine the national information literacy standards and frameworks in 13 countries and the institutional guidelines, frameworks, and policies of 100 academic libraries.
Digital literacy is defined by Jisc as “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society” (Jisc, 2014). Through the use of their seven strands model, critical thinking and creativity is applied to the wide range of interaction we each have with and through digital technologies. Information literacy is one part of the seven strands of digital literacy. Jisc’s Developing Digital Literacies website gives the full definition, model and case studies.
The British Computer Society (BCS) have the Digital Literacy for Life programme which is concerned with exploring methods of improving three key areas with digital literacy: employability, education and society.
FutureLab produced the Digital literacy across the curriculum handbook which aimed primarily at the primary and secondary education sectors.
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) define media literacy on their dedicated website as including the following elements:
- understanding the role and functions of media in democratic societies
- understanding the condition under which media can fulfil their functions;
- critically evaluating media content;
- engaging with media for self-expression and democratic participation;
- reviewing skills (including ICTs skills) needed to produce user-generated content.
The critical evaluation and review skills directly link with information literacy skills sets, and in a wider context, UNESCO offer a definition and model of Media and Information Literacy.
The Office of Communications (Ofcom) has developed an media literacy strategy and will work with stakeholders to focus on the present and future media literacy needs of all members of society. Ofcom defines media literacy as ‘the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts’.
In their 2014 book, Metaliteracy: Reinventing information literacy to empower learners, Mackey and Jacobson argue that information literacy should be re-defined as a ‘metaliteracy’ that encompasses elements of digital and media literacies, as well as a range of others. In doing this, individuals can learn to ‘produce, collaborate and share’ information, as well as understand the more tradition skills of information literacy.
As defined by the Mozilla Foundation, web literacy is concerned with the “skills and competencies needed for reading, writing, and participating on the Web” (Mozilla, 2015).
The Mozilla Foundation has a website dedicated to the skills of web literacy. The skills are divided into three strands:
- ‘Explore’ – reading the web
- ‘Build’ – writing the web
- ‘Connect’ – participating on the web.
Information literacy directly links with the ‘Explore’ strand.
Data literacy is an ability to discover, evaluate, and present information. As with information literacy it is grounded in knowing where to find information, thinking critically about it, and being able to communicate knowledge.
This is the ability to judge if data are relevant and of suitable quality. For example, knowing how something is measured and if measurement is appropriate; keeping the size of numbers in perspective, especially when it comes to changes in values and probabilities; and avoiding being fooled by patterns or unusual cases that may just be due to chance or mistakes in measurement.
Datasets on their own soon become overwhelming without ways to summarise data. This can be from knowing suitable tests of statistical significance for measuring the significance and strength of relationships in the data and how to interpret them, through to applying appropriate summary descriptives like average and variance; and accurate ways to present data like tables, charts, or other forms of visual communication.