Information Literacy – Module 5 – ETL401

Activity – Reflective Practice

What are your thoughts after reading about the term literacy? Write a definition of literacy and add it to your notes.

Your thoughts: Do new formats and delivery modes or multi-modal resources require users to have different literacy skills to make meaning or is this just an extension of the traditional literacy definition above?

Belshaw (2014) talks about how literacy in our culture is seen as ‘shorthand’ for saying the ability to read and write, however it disguises the fact that literacy is a spectrum, rather than a binary concept.  It has also become a kind of shortcut for saying the ability to do something well, containing both tool-knowledge and content-knowledge.  Using literacy with another word always involves a degree of ambiguity. To quote:

‘Zeugmas’ are figures of speech that join two or more parts of a sentence into a single noun or verb. These figures of speech, these zeugmas, involve the omission of words and leave the reader (or listener) to fill in the gaps.

As soon as we add a modifier to literacy — ‘visual literacy’ or ‘information literacy’ or ‘digital literacy’ — we’re in the realm of zeugmas. We’ll consider ambiguity in more depth in the next chapter, but for now it’s enough to note that there’s a lack of clarity in using such terms without further explanation. Is the emphasis upon the ‘digital’ aspect of ‘digital literacy’? (making it a prozeugma) Or is the emphasis upon ‘literacy’? (making it a hypozeugma). Which is the adjective and who gets to decide?

(Belshaw, 2014, p. 17).

So, my definition of literacy would be a spectrum of ability in a task.  Literacy is always contextual to that task.  For example, I am a highly literate person, however if you ask me to read a jargon-filled journal article on architecture, physiology or engineering I would struggle.  I can interpret some basic HTML code, but show me some C++ and I haven’t a clue. Also, I am someone who is fluent in English, has basic literacy in Spanish, functionally illiterate in German, and completely illiterate in Cantonese.  Also, someone can be clearly literate – they can read and write well enough to fill in forms, read the newspaper or a novel, but not be able to build understanding when reading a university level text (in any domain). As a further example, I have a friend who is from a non-English speaking background, although she grew up in a country where she learned English in school.  She is fluent in spoken English and reads well enough in English to read the Harry Potter novels, but sometimes gets caught out with idiomatic Australian slang, such as when it was “mufti day” at school.

My definition: Literacy is a spectrum of ability within a specific context, from completely unable to perform a task (illiterate) to the ability to fully understand the meaning and create knowledge (fluent).


Spectrum of literacy
Spectrum of literacy

New “literacies” are not all that new.  They are taking the building blocks of print literacy and reinterpreting them to other contexts. To examine Belshaw’s (2014) essential elements of digital literacies, they can all be interpreted for print literacy, academic literacy, workplace literacy or anything else. Literacy has always been contextual, we have just broadened the context.

The Eight Essential Elements of Digital Literacies
The eight essential elements of digital literacies. Licenced under Creative Commons Zero licence (Belshaw, 2017). Retrieved from

Information LiteracyDefinitions of information literacy

Wordle representing the common words in information literacy definitions

This Wordle was produced by entering in the above definitions for information literacy in full.

Information Literacy and the Teacher-Librarian

As I have previously alluded to, I completed my literature review assignment on digital literacy (which is intricately linked with information literacy and I would say has information literacy as its foundation and then applies it to the digital environment). The above definitions and Belshaw’s (2014) work remind us that information literacy and digital literacies are contextual, they involve attitudes towards learning and values and they are more than a tick the box skill set, but work on a continuum.  All this being well and good, how as teacher-librarians do we measure? How do we assess? How do we provide the evidence of our worth?   We need to provide evidence of the work we are doing and of the work students are doing.  Valenza (2015) suggests exit interviews with students, but quality answers from students requires them to be able to reflect on their own practices and how they have changed, something not all students are able to do.  My biggest question from the readings is how do we prove that we are improving the information literacy of students if it’s about quality and values, not behaviours?  In many ways, we have switched from verbs (search, discover, create, produce) to adjectives (effectively, ethically, collaboratively, efficiently).  In the long run, I think the impacts of our deeper information literacy training will be evidenced through an improvement in students work and, ultimately, test scores (such as NAPLAN) (Softlink, n.d.).


This Tweet appeared in my timeline about CILIP’s new definition of Information Literacy



Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (2004) Australian and New Zealand information literacy framework: principles, standards and practice. 2ndEdition. Retrieved from

Belshaw, D. (2014). The essential elements of digital literacies. Retrieved from <>

Information Literacy Group (n.d.) Definitions & models. Information Literacy. Retrieved from

Kozlowska, L. [LizaKozlowska] (2018, April 6) Information Literacy is not only for those who are so fortunate to go to university, but it affects everybody in our society. So I think the ‘new’ CILIP definition of IL 2018 might cover it al 🙂 @infolitgroup @LILAC_conf #lilac18 @CILIPinfo

Softlink (n.d.) The 2017 Softlink Australian and New Zealand School Library Survey Report. [pdf file] Retrieved from

Valenza, J. (2015) Evolving with evidence: Leveraging new tools for EBP. Knowledge Quest, v43 (3) p36-43 Jan-Feb 2015


One thought on “Information Literacy – Module 5 – ETL401

  • 28th April 2018 at 6:42 AM

    YES to literacy being a spectrum or continuum Liz. What are the “stages” on the information literacy continuum that we can identify? This relates to the answers to your questions: “How do we assess? How do we provide the evidence of our worth?”, I suspect. More questions than answers right now, hoping this will improve. Thank you sharing your post. I find your thoughts provocative and valuable.

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