After our recent CLA presentation on Tech Competencies, we got a question asking for resources on web pages for children’s services.
This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and though we didn’t get to spend much time on it in our conference session, we thought it would be a good idea to share some resources here. I wish there was a site that I could point to and say “This is perfect. Do exactly this.” The truth is, designing library websites for kids is challenging. Children of different ages have different skills and different needs, and you also have to think about the parents or caregivers and what they are trying to achieve. Needs also vary by community (think about economic factors, education levels, access to technology in the home, etc.). Decisions need to be filtered through those important considerations.
I would start with usability factors. It doesn’t matter how great your site looks and how “kid-friendly” the graphics are if the site is unusable and people can’t find what they are looking for. Good design for websites will ALWAYS go beyond look and feel and will consider usability a foundational element in the design.
The best way to tell if your site is usable is to watch people actually try to use it. When I did a usability testing project for my former place of work, I found Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think was a really great source for DIY usability testing tips. I also relied a lot on the work of Jakob Nielsen. One of the books I used was Prioritizing Web Usability, but there are also a lot of helpful articles on his site including this one specifically on usability issues for kids aged 3-12. For more general information, the research-based usability guidelines at usability.gov are very helpful, and there is a lot of other useful information on that site as well. You don’t have to test with very many people before the problems with your site become VERY apparent.
Most libraries don’t have the resources or the desire to create and maintain separate kids pages for several different age or developmental levels, so there will inevitably be trade-offs. I’ve seen different strategies for dealing with this. For example, the Topeka and Shawnee County kids page has graphical images for various games and activities to draw kids’ attention, and then a “grown-ups go here” option for adults to access more text-based content.
Here are a few more examples of library kids’ sites with some different approaches and different levels of sophistication in the design. Some really try to design the interface for kids, some assume the parents will be in the driver’s seat, some are a mix:
It’s difficult to really judge the success of each one without knowing the particular community and target audience in more detail, but these examples should give you some idea of a range of options.
For me, the guiding principle for library websites is to put the content people want and use most front and center, and streamline everything else as much as possible. If I was designing a kids page from scratch right now, I’d lean towards a hybrid design (good for both kids and parents), with items of primary interest to kids made clear and accessible in an appealing visual layout that’s easily clickable. I’d try to keep the home page and any kid-targeted pages scroll-free, and the navigation clear and simple.
Whether you’re a seasoned web professional or a newbie just trying to figure out how to use your website to better market your services, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of good resources on design and usability that will help you make better choices and improve the site experience for your users.
I got some apps for cheap today: the most exciting of which is a half-price set of Sandra Boynton Apps, which includes the Going to Bed Book, Moo, Baa, La La La, Blue Hat Green Hat & Barnyard Dance. I also got But Not The Hippopotamus, Tacky’s Christmas and Merry Christmas Mom & Dad.
Also on their way to me are a Nexus 7 and a new Kindle Fire because a lot of libraries seem to be going with Android devices of various sorts and I want to figure out a good mirroring mechanism for use in storytime. Has anyone figured this out yet?
The Tech Together program at Arapahoe Library District was designed to provide an opportunity for parents & caregivers of preschool children to learn about age-appropriate digital experiences, ask questions, and explore tablets & apps.
In creating the program, we relied heavily on reports from other libraries who have tried similar programs, and are grateful to have had that input.
For this pilot, our tablets came from a variety of sources. We were able to borrow the three iPad minis that are available for children and teens to use during our Library on Wheels bookmobile stops. In addition, we purchased two 7” Nexus tablets with funds from an internal program designed to support innovation, and we used personal devices (iPads & Nooks) from our department staff to reach our goal of 10 tablets. The program was open to ten adult-child pairs, with two staff presenting.
One of our hopes in using a variety of devices was to see if we had strong preferences for one kind or another. If we are able to continue this program as a regular offering, we will probably purchase a set of iPad minis, largely because we preferred the selection of apps on iOS over Android, and the mini size was adequate for pairs to share at a more affordable price than the full size iPads.
We were fortunate to have Lisa Guernsey present 2 programs in August 2013, one open to library patrons and the larger community, and a second event tailored to staff only. We timed the Tech Together pilot to run immediately after her visit, over 10 days of a post-summer-reading-program storytime hiatus. We were hoping to capitalize on interest generated by Lisa Guernsey’s appearance as well as use the storytime hiatus to help our patrons differentiate between the Tech Together programs and our regular storytimes. We held one program per day at each of our 8 branches. Attendance varied from just one family at our smaller branches, to 5-7 families at our larger locations.
We wanted to let our families know that when it comes to sharing technology with children, the best digital practices are related to the best analog practices: interacting, engaging, conversing, and sharing. We started our time by looking at a print copy of Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton together, modeling dialogic reading and inviting the children to become involved. Then everyone had a chance to explore the same book on a tablet while the staff wandered the room and checked in with each family.
Then, we set aside the tablets and built a truck out of felt shapes on the flannelboard, and we used that activity as a springboard to talk with the adults about active versus passive use of technology. The tablets came out again and we invited the kids to explore a paint program and keep making and creating, just like they had done together with the the flannelboard.
During the free play time at the end of the session, we talked individually to the adults about how to choose apps, making connections to the Every Child Ready to Read five practices that we also talk about in story time.
Our feedback was very positive. One nanny said, “I really appreciated that the program was nanny-friendly and explained how apps could benefit little kids and aid in development.” Another parent said, “This was wonderful! Great explanation of how to talk to your kids while using apps. Now it’s just about finding the right apps for my kids–you gave me a great start.”
Our goal is to use our experience with this pilot to develop and offer more sessions, so we can continue to be forward-thinking and mindful of supporting parents and caregivers with best practices for using technology with their young children.
For a list of apps used in Tech Together programs, check out Apps for a Preschool Tablet Program.Melissa Depper is a Librarian in Child and Family Library Services with Arapahoe (CO) Library District. She is a 2013 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, and she blogs at Mel’s Desk.
LittleeLit is working on a national, multi-disciplinary training initiative based around the core principles of Access, Content & Engagement for incorporating new media into story times. As we all know, any initiative worth its salt needs a solid acronym and a funky logo. We have the acronym…. the logo not so much. So I’m offering a $50 iTunes, Google Play or Amazon gift card as a prize for the best logo for the ACE initiative. All we ask is that it includes the letters ACE, and that it stays true to the envelope-pushing techy modish punky gothy vibe that’s represented LittleeLit thus far (take that as you will!) We need something that can go on letterhead, in a widget on the side of the blog, on grant applications etc.
I know some of you work with teens as well as kids (or you know someone who works with teens!) so please to feel free to let your TABs know about this, or perhaps it might make a good teen program or community service project?
We’ll feature the winning entry on LittleeLit; teen and adult entries welcome!
I saw these books displayed in the window of my friendly neighborhood Silicon Valley independent book shop, snickered and moved on. I came back later and snapped a photo because of the irony of code for babies on the most analog of analog media (ie book), and also because after thinking about it I heard the echoes of Susan B. Neuman’s Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance bouncing around in my head. The kids whose parents find this kind of book amusing, or who run in circles where this might be a tongue-in-cheek baby shower gift, are the kids who will have the tools for developing information capital at their fingertips. They will know how to code at a very young age, and they’ll have the digital literacy skills that will be necessary for them to perform the most basic functions in their lives.
Digital literacy is socioeconomic power. And yes, it starts much younger than many of us might like (me included). I think back to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and the various success stories recounted therein. Kids who have early and frequent exposure to ANYTHING are more likely to succeed at it; this is why we harp on and on about early literacy skills & early learning practices. Sometimes I even wonder if we push traditional literacy too young, let alone media literacy, but the more I think about new media in storytime in public libraries, the more I see the potential for leveling the playing field for kids who may NOT have access to the people, devices or know-how that they’ll need to develop these new and necessary literacies.
Access alone is not enough. High quality content and highly-engaged adults are necessities, not luxuries. That is what children’s librarians have the opportunity to provide. Limit “screen time” for our youngest people, yes. By all means, warn parents and caregivers away from passive, linear and background media consumption. Keep in mind, however, that unless the zombie apocalypse hits, the future lives and livelihoods of today’s preschoolers will revolve around screens. And they will have to know how to manipulate them, or be manipulated by them.
Chewing on boardbooks like these won’t turn every baby into the next Steve Jobs (or, more realistically, someone with varied and appealing job prospects), but continued, engaged exposure to the values and skills they represent might. That’s the fighting chance; having someone to explain why a book like this is funny.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to troll Etsy for a 1st grader to build an app database for me.
Children who come from home languages other than English are the fastest growing portion of our population. These days, it seems that many librarians have questions about how to serve the diverse members of their community. Here is my advice: do NOT do these things if you want to offer successful library programs for children who speak languages other than English!
1. Do NOT feel intimidated. All young children love stories. The props, digital images and sounds you use to bring those stories to life will engage children even when they don’t yet understand all the words. Just make an extra effort to repeat, to speak slowly, and to clearly indicate the connections between visuals and the words used in the story.
2. Do NOT miss the chance to invite families who speak different languages to your storytime programs. Print, post and extend simple invitations in as many languages as possible. Welcoming new families may be as simple as making your advertisements easier to read.
3. Do NOT stick with monolingual story apps. Bilingual story apps not only give you stories in two languages, but they allow you and the children to hear how to pronounce the words. Try bilingual story apps by www.analomba.com , the Sarah and Granny app from Sanoen, or the Pocoyo bilingual story apps. Many free literacy resources are available online in many languages at www.icdl.org and www.mamalisa.com.
4. Do NOT be afraid of losing the interest of English speaking children when you are telling a story in another language. All your fancy storytime skills along with the help of your digital media will help you make any story interesting to all of the children. Reinforce the new words in the story by introducing songs with the same new words in English and the other language. Keep in mind that learning a second language actually helps build the first language while it also builds important learning skills as described in this article from the New York Times: Why Bilinguals are Smarter.
5. Do NOT accept low quality stories and apps for children who are dual language learners. This rubric will help you choose apps and stories that offer good quality literacy experiences in different languages.
6. Do NOT worry! Getting to know the diverse children in your community and helping them to get to know each other is a wonderful way to expand and enhance your storytime.
Karen Nemeth holds a BA in Psychology and an EdM in Learning, Cognition and Development (research on language acquisition). She is an author, consultant and presenter focusing on effective early education for dual language learners. She is a consulting editor and author for NAEYC, the co-chair of the early childhood SIG of NABE, and she is on the board of NJTESOL/NJBE. Karen wrote Many Languages, One Classroom, Many Languages, Building Connections, and Basics of Supporting Dual Language Learners. She co-authored Digital Decisions and Mi Habitación/My Room. She was an Education Program Development Specialist in the Office of Preschool Education at NJ Department of Education. Her prior experience includes work in public school, private school, child care resource and referral/professional development organizations, college teaching and grant writing. She offers a wealth of resources on her website at www.languagecastle.com
The NAEYC Annual Conference this weekend in Washington, DC was a whirlwind of activity, and there was PLENTY of conversation about the role of children’s librarians and new media in the early childhood space. Of particular note were two shout outs from Lisa Guernsey & Chip Donohue, both of whom referenced the new media mentor position that children’s librarians are beginning to take on in their communities. I’m including their presentation slides below.
I was also pleased to meet Mary Beth Parks, who has been leading some very innovative new media programs for children at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. I can’t wait to hear more about what they have been working on, and we hope to feature their work on LittleeLit soon!
Many thanks to Lisa Guernsey, Chip Donohue, Amanda Armstrong, Karen Nemeth, Andrew Davis, Faith Rogow & Mike Robb for the chats, meals and general welcoming to the ECE & media literacy communities. I look forward to many more chats in the future!
Often people will hear my schpeel about the whys of incorporating new media into storytimes. We’ll talk about media literacy, appvisory and modeling healthy media behaviors. Then they’ll say “Yeah yeah. We get it. But what does using an iPad in storytime LOOK like?” We’ve collected a few images of what different libraries are doing with new media in their programs, and I’ve finally gotten them together into a gallery (it’s the same link as the “photo gallery” above. I’ll try to update it as often as I can. Take a look!
If your library is implementing something with new media & kids, please let me know! We’d love to feature you, especially if you have images or video to share!