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"Mind and Sight": Visual Literacy and the Archivist
Kaplan, Elisabeth; Mifflin, Jeffrey (1997)

"Mind and Sight": Visual Literacy and the Archivist

Issue Date


Abstract: Contemporary culture is increasingly captured by and reflected in visual materials. Preserving and providing intellectual access to visual records will become an increasingly important aspect of archival work as such materials proliferate and are widely available in electronic form. Visual literacy, an evolving concept best defined as the ability to understand and use images and to think and learn in terms of images, is an essential skill for archivists and researchers using visual materials. Archivists of all media should strive to increase their visual literacy because of the complex ways in which visual and "traditional" textual documents interrelate. Archivists can approach visual literacy by becoming familiar with levels of visual awareness; participating in the ongoing discourse about the nature of literacy, including the relationships between visual and textual literacy; and increasing understanding of the special characteristics of image-creating technologies as well as the conventions and modes of expression associated with particular media. Expanded visual literacy will help archivists to understand and better describe visual resources as well as traditional documents and other materials of record. The results, improved finding aids and catalog records, will keep pace with anticipated expanding requirements of the research community.


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Previously Published Citation
Appeared first in Archival Issues: Journal of the Midwest Archives Conference, 21 (2) 1997. Reprinted in American Archival Studies: Readings in Theory and Practice, Randall C. Jimerson, ed. Chicago, SAA, 2000. Reprinted in Archives and Social Sciences, (Cartagena, Spain), 1: 1 (2007).

Suggested Citation
Kaplan, Elisabeth; Mifflin, Jeffrey. (1997). "Mind and Sight": Visual Literacy and the Archivist. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,

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