Professional is Personal

I got one of the best questions I’ve ever had based on the flaming listserv thread and accompanying ALSC blog post that have been driving my stats WAY up this week.  This one really made me think.

Hi Cen!

I’ve been intrigued reading this thread the past few days. I had a random thought. I’m a reference librarian and a mom to an 18 month old toddler boy. Do you think that being a Mom yourself sheds a different light on how you go about promoting/analyzing this whole children & technology debate? Do you think that children’s librarians who are parents themselves have a different perspective than non parent children’s librarians, for better or worse? Or do you think that they are on equal ground and can both just go off of their library’s practices and the research out there, and using their experiences in their particular children’s programs.

Erin Holt
Reference Librarian
Williamson County Public Library

My response:

I can’t generalize for other parents who are also librarians, but my personal experience greatly informs my professional practice, and vice versa.  I’m not sure if that makes me  more or less qualified to deal with sticky issues like screen time for young kids.  My son is 3, and many find it surprising that A) He isn’t really that jazzed about the various mobile devices that inhabit our house, and B) He goes to a Waldorf school (for those of you unfamiliar with Steiner philosphy, screen time is a big no-no. Like, BIG no no.)  He does not watch TV (we have one but only use it for videoconferencing with grandparents) and he could totally do without apps. My kid is not techy, and he puts up with my storytime preparations on the iPad and waits patiently, playing with his (wooden) toys until it’s time to read paper books.  The apps and books that I make available to him are the same ones that I use in my programs and recommend to my communities, so yes, there is crossover between what I do in my job as a mom and in my job as a librarian.

That said, my kid’s media behavior is not the norm, and his life circumstances are better than most. He was born into a household with 2 parents, both of whom have graduate degrees. We are actively involved in his development and make conscious choices about how we introduce him to the world.  We make him eat his veggies. He is not at-risk in any way (unless you consider the time he spends in the backseat of my car on California freeways). Is it odd that I work so hard to produce high-tech kids programming, and motivate my colleagues to do the same, when my experience with my own child at home is extremely low-tech and media-free?  Maybe.

The early literacy programs that I develop can be looked at in a few ways, and can have vastly different implications for different families in different communities.  Silicon Valley is full of wealthy, educated parents who know that to help their children be successful in life, they must interact with them, feed them good food, provide them with age-appropriate experiences: activities, books, media, preschool, playdates, storytimes etc. These parents benefit from hearing about the latest cool new book-based apps that they can pay for and download on their brand new iPads.  They can learn new songs, signs and rhymes and high falutin things like how dialogic reading which includes function/attribute questions can significantly accelerate the psycholinguistic development of their child (duh!). They see the value of digital media for their children as learning tools, and overall they support early literacy programs that incorporate interactive media.

Then we cross the digital/socioeconomic/educational divide. We have migrant workers, single family homes, families who live near the poverty line, parents who don’t have much education and don’t know not to put Coke in their kids’ baby bottle (I saw this once in one of my previous libraries and I almost cried). We have people who think sitting their kid in front of Dora for hours teaches them something. It still boggles my mind that many of these people actually own some kind of tablet technology! I have seen first hand parents ignoring their children and handing them a smart phone with completely inappropriate content to keep them quiet. Some may feel it’s politically incorrect to say it, but there’s often a high socio-economic and/or cultural correlation for this kind of negligent/exhausted parenting. If I could get them to my programs I’d have a wonderful opportunity to model for them what healthy parent/child media behavior looks like, how using age appropriate apps can help motivate their children when they’re learning to read, and where to find good quality FREE resources.

Lots of parents (and this includes both Silicon Valley yippies and those less fortunate) don’t know that high-quality digital content looks like. They don’t know that they should be interacting with their child when that child is holding a smart phone or tablet. Who is going to show them?  It may be the case that the people who need that kind of information the most are not in the habit of going to libraries (that’s a different discussion altogether), but we need to be developing programs like Tablet Tales in libraries all over to start modeling positive media behavior for all of the families in our communities. We need to normalize high quality, literacy-supporting digital media consumption for kids in libraries, because many people are going to be looking at junk otherwise.

If I was doing or giving something to my child that could harm him, and a professional I trusted showed me how I could help him instead, chances are I’d take their advice. Children’s librarians have the potential to become experts in digital media for kids, and to offer age-appropriate, educational alternatives on devices that are in the kids hands anyway.

Thanks for your question, Erin.  If any of you have questions to do with kids and technology, please ask. Let’s keep this conversation going so we can all learn together.

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Posted on November 23, 2012, in Media Literacy, Story Time and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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