Information, Media, and Digital Literacy

My brain is spinning now.

For another class (Library Use Instruction), I have to evaluate the difference between Information Literacy and Media Literacy. In my searches on Media literacy, I have found that it is used interchangeably sometimes with Digital Literacy. Some thoughts are below.


Definition: The ability to read and write. Well, that’s pretty easy. Literacy is an odd word, because it’s used to describe both proficiency (America has a high literacy rate) and excellence (that professor is very literate). The fact that literacy is tied up in reading and writing is problematic- I think the reason these other terms have developed is the fact that it’s easier to make up a new term than to redefine an old one.

Digital LiteracyInformation Literacy

Definition: The ability to find, evaluate and use information. OK, pretty straightforward. Information Literacy one ups plain old literacy- you not only have to be able to read and write, but you have to be able to evaluate and use what you’ve read.

Media Literacy

Definition: The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms. [1] The big difference here is the word create. It’s similar to the word “use” in information literacy, but it implies more action. One still has to be able to find the information and be able to use it, but you’re using it to create something.

Digital Literacy

Definition: The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information. [source] I’m a little muddy on how this is different from Media Literacy, but I get the feeling that most people think Digital Literacy = the internet. Digital literacy, to me, is figuring out the cool ways to use internet tools to accomplish stuff.

Other literacies:

We’re certainly not the only profession obsessed with literacies! This is a very incomplete list.

  • Critical Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Visual Literacy
  • Computer Literacy
  • Multimedia Literacy
  • Information Literacy
  • Health Literacy
  • Scientific Literacy
  • Economic Literacy
  • Technological Literacy
  • Multicultural Literacy
  • Global Literacy
  • Cultural Literacy
  • Social Literacy
  • Natural Literacy
  • Artistic Literacy
  • Ethical Literacy

Digital Literacy poster.

[1] Livingstone, S. (2004). Media Literacy and the Challenge of New Information and Communication Technologies. The Communication Review, 7(1), 3-14.

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6 Responses to Information, Media, and Digital Literacy

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Karin,

    Most of these forms of literacy involve recognizing, finding, evaluating, and using various forms of (vastly) different information. I am NOT trying to claim that they all reduce to information literacy, esp. in the library sense, though. [I also cannot believe I just used "information" that broadly, but is allowed I guess if one is specific about it. ;) ]

    The main point I actually wanted to make was that, although I have no basis for it, I have always taken media literacy to be literacy in the use of the media in its various forms; TV, radio, newspapers, some online stuff. Maybe that’s what you are saying but didn’t explicitly. Creating could be a part of any form of literacy, other than at perhaps the basic level, but I think it fits less well in (my version of) media literacy. It has a place once one becomes broadly literate in many media, but generally in the more digital avenues. If someone was, say, an excellent blogger but they had no idea of how to evaluate the info coming at them from the radio, TV, corporate websites, etc. I would be very loathe to say that they were media literate. I might say they were very literate in the blogging media, or they were a great Powerpoint user, or whatever.

    Anyway, I’m probably rambling now at 6 AM. Literacy is a highly complex concept. It is also one of those subtly (or not so subtly) discriminatory words. Do we really want to say that people in pre-written language cultures were illiterate? That word has serious connotations that are completely inapt in such cases. You ought to have a look at Walter Ong says on the many differences between oral and written cultures in Orality and Literacy. That one may be a bit tough at the moment. Birger Hjorland has been highly recommending Jack Goody’s The Interface Between the Written and the Oral in several of his papers as the best book on the topic of what writing does to us. I haven’t read it yet but I do have it at hand.

    Anyway, sounds fascinating and I look forward to seeing more.

  2. karin says:

    Mark, I believe you are right- I glossed over that part of Media Literacy. In fact, many of the discussions I have read Media literacy seem to be about media that comes through accepted channels- TV, Radio, Newspaper, etc. Maybe that’s the difference between media literacy and digital literacy- but then, where do you place a zine? I have also found, in discussions of Media Literacy, that an important component is knowing how the media machine works- again, this applies mainly to the big content producers.

    I also am confused about Digital Literacy- in some places it seems to mean the same as computer literacy, though I don’t see the two as the same at all. Computer literacy, to me, is how to do basic troubleshooting on your computer, the ability, to, say, install new memory, and connect peripherals.

    Your mention of pre-literate societies is interesting. It makes me wonder if one can be at least somewhat information literate while not literate in the traditional sense?

    A lot to think about. there will be more to come.

  3. Kirsten says:

    While the specifics of these various sorts of literacy vary, it seems to me that there are two commonalities: critical thinking and participation. This would even hold for pre-literate peoples. Even the reading-and-writing variety of literacy is about being able to use the skill, not just have it.

  4. Mark says:

    Good points, Karin and Kirsten. I agree that generally discussions of media literacy primarily refer to the main corporate forms of media, and definitely agree with Kirsten’s succinct, “there are two commonalities: critical thinking and participation.”

  5. Kyle says:

    Did a small chat on this as an undergrad:

    Thought I’d share…

  6. Fred says:

    Media literacy is all forms of media – print and electronic while digital literacy is using electronic tools efficiently.