Stop Worrying and Just Have Fun: A Tablet Pilot Project at Somerset County Library by Rachael Stein
Somerset County, Maryland. Population: 26,253. Median household income: $41,420 (over $30k below the national average). Percentage of population living below the poverty level: 19.7% (10% higher than the national average). Broadband coverage: spotty.
I think it’s safe to say that both the digital divide and the “app gap” are very much in evidence here.
When the director of the Somerset County Library called me up, asking if we can “do something about apps,” I had already been mulling the subject over for a few months. As far as I could tell, there were two problems:
- Reader’s/User’s Advisory. Apps don’t go through the same life cycle as the media that librarians are accustomed to dealing with. We don’t get advance copies of apps, and the art of app reviewing is in its infancy. How can we, as librarians, familiarize ourselves with the highest quality apps so we can recommend them to our patrons?
- The Digital Divide/App Gap Monster. There have been a lot of pixels spilled, on this blog and elsewhere, about the educational benefit of high quality apps, so I’ll assume I’m preaching to the choir on that count. But what about the school readiness gap between children who are proficient with tablet computing and those who aren’t? Isn’t this something we should address?
With those questions in mind, I proposed a pilot project to the Somerset County Library. This fall we’ll make two iPads available, each stocked with 40 of the best preschool apps. The iPads will be available to be used in-house by any adult with a preschool child in tow, and they will include take-home materials about the place of digital technology in young children’s lives. We’ll educate library staff about best practices for using apps with preschool children, and the children’s librarian will add digital activities to her library programs.
Meanwhile, a third iPad, loaded with the same apps, will circulate among all of the children’s librarians in the Eastern Shore service area (24 branches in total).
What do we hope to accomplish? In a nutshell, we want every adult who comes into contact with one of these tablets—both library staff and caregivers—to come away more confident about using apps with young children, more proficient at tablet computing, and better able to identify and recommend the best apps out there. As for the kids, we want to make them more comfortable using tablets and apps, and we want to use this as yet another way to help get them ready for school.
And obviously, we want them to have fun. Actually, that’s probably the most fundamental message to impart to all of our target audiences: this is fun. Kids, ebooks and learning games are fun—possibly as fun as Angry Birds! Parents, it’s fun to sit down with your kids and engage them in a counting game with really cool graphics! Librarians, it’s fun to add a digital felt board to your storytime! Stop worrying, and just have fun with this stuff. We’ll take care of the boring details.
P.S. I’ll be back later this year to let you know what worked, what didn’t, and what we’re going to do next. Stay tuned!