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.


Many different organisations have put forward definitions of information literacy.

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.”

A brochure exploring what information literacy means in different contexts is available to download (pdf). (Word version)

Also available to download and share: promotional A3 poster (pdf), A4 poster (pdf) and postcard (pdf)

“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.”

See also the SCONUL Seven Pillars model.

“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.

ANCIL spider diagram

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.

Read the full RIN report.

“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.

Models & frameworks

There are a range of information literacy models; below are just a few. Get in touch if there are any others you would like us to include.

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:

MILA, the Media and Information Literacy Alliance, is a cross-sector charity comprised of organisations and individuals who all share a common belief in “the power of media and information literacy to help people lead happier, healthier, safer and more productive lives”

The MILA Framework for Living and Thriving in an Information Society was created in 2021, and has been created by drawing on the lived experiences and examples provided by sector representatives of the CILIP Information Literacy Group.

The aim of this framework is to examine what media and information literacy mean in the settings of everyday life, and is intended for all of us to use in whichever ways we can. 

The framework identifies five lifelong aspirations: 

  • be informed
  • be empowered
  • be healthy
  • be socially conscious
  • be connected

To find out more and read or download the full framework, visit the MILA website. 

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).

The draft framework is available here.

Education Scotland have a website dedicated to information and critical literacy, which is based upon the outputs of the framework.

This framework divides information literacy learning into different levels, depending upon the level of education. These levels of information literacy have been mapped against the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW).

The Framework is available here

The learning objectives for the different levels have been partially derived from the National Information
Literacy Framework (Scotland) Working Draft.

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:

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.

Related literacies

Information literacy has its roots in critical literacy, traditional library and information seeking skills and academic research study skills. Since the term was coined in 1974 by Paul Zurkowski, information literacy has influenced the development of many other literacies and skills sets, and in turn has been influenced by the evolution of the information society and digital age.

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’.

The Media and Information Literacy Alliance (MILA) has developed a Framework that draws from real life examples provided by sector representatives from the Information Literacy Group (ILG)

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.


Knowing what kinds of data there are, where to find, and how to access them. Data comes in many forms, not just numbers. Do you need qualitative (numerical) or qualitative (non-numeric)? Is it data you plan to create (primary) or reuse (secondary)? Data from official sources (governments, international organisations)? Micro (small) or macro (large) data? Does it need to be comparable over time and/or locations or groups? Is it only available from a specialist data service or archive? Are there access controls and terms of use that govern who can get data and what they can do with it?


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.

Useful resources:

Secker and Morrison (2016, p.211) have defined copyright literacy as:
“acquiring and demonstrating the appropriate knowledge, skills and behaviours to enable the ethical creation and use of copyright material.”
Copyright has traditionally been seen primarily as an information governance or compliance issue for libraries – protecting an institution from claims of infringement by locking down processes and procedures. However, copyright literacy (or copyright education) is an increasingly important aspect of information literacy. The term was first used in Bulgaria 2012 by Tania Todorova who carried out a survey of librarians’ levels of knowledge and understanding of copyright, calling this ‘copyright literacy.’ The survey was subsequently carried out in 14 countries, highlighting a need for greater awareness of copyright issues among the library profession. Since this date, and as the survey spread to other countries – most notably the UK, researchers have attempted to provide a more nuanced definition of the term. This recognises that copyright literacy is not simply about accumulating knowledge about copyright, but included practising associated skills and behaviours to enable that material to be used effectively. Librarians and copyright specialists play a key role as educators, facilitators and exemplars to others. 
In the phenomenographic study of UK librarians’ experience of copyright, Morrison and Secker (2017) recognise the ‘dual nature’ of copyright literacy where librarians develop their own understanding of copyright but are also able to teach and support others. Librarians are in many ways uniquely placed to take on this role, understanding how digital content is acquired and how access is granted through licence agreements. In some instances they are legally obliged to educate users about the terms of licence agreements. For example many librarians in the UK have responsibility for the management of licensing agreements for Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) such as the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA). A systemic failure to educate users about the terms of the CLA Higher Education Licence (CLA, 2016) could be seen as a breach of contract. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the concept of copyright literacy is gaining considerable traction, where librarians can provide considerable insights.
UK Copyright Literacy (2018) Available at:   
Morrison, C and Secker J. (2015) Copyright Literacy in the UK: a survey of librarians and other cultural heritage sector professionals. Library and Information Research. 39 (121)
Morrison, C & Secker, J. (2017). Understanding librarians’ experiences of copyright: findings from a phenomenographic study of UK information professionals. Library Management, 38 (6/)
Secker, J and Morrison, C. (2016) Copyright and E-learning: a guide for practitioners. Facet publishing: London. Chapter 6: Copyright education and training available online.
Todorova, Tania et. al. (2017) Information Professionals and Copyright Literacy: A Multinational Study. Library Management, 38 (6/7).
Todorova, T., Trencheva, T., Kurbanoğlu, S., Dogan G., & Horvat, A. (2014) A Multinational Study on Copyright Literacy Competencies of LIS Professionals. Presentation given at 2nd European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL) held in Dubrovnik. October 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2015 from