A to Zoo for Apps: The Conversation Starter at #ala2013

Saturday morning at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, a large group of professionals from across libraryland came together for the A to Zoo for Apps conversation starter. During the course of the 45 minute panel discussion, the assembled crowd heard from a number of authorities on the app marketplace and the library’s role in it.

After Cen’s introduction to the topic of apps and librarians–and the assertion that there needs to be aggregation of the disparate work librarians (and other professionals) are doing in reviewing apps–Allison Tran from the Mission Viejo Library got the panel started. Carisa Kluver of Digital-Storytime.com shared a starting point for the entire conversation. When Kluver began her app review website three years ago, one of her motivations was wading through a marketplace in which much of the content, both apps and ebooks, wasn’t necessarily what she expected them to be. How to make one’s way through this often-confusing landscape, she wondered? And so the review site was born.

Kluver shared a few  fascinating tidbits to further emphasize the importance and timeliness of this issue in librarianship. First, as a former social worker, Kluver noticed in using apps with her own child that “these were books that I could imagine in homes where I never found books”; when would a library argue against reaching an untapped segment of the community? Kluver also cited statistics from a Scholastic survey which found two key things:

  1. The number of children reading digitally has doubled in the past two years–a faster pace of growth than seen with adults.
  2. 75% of parents surveyed reported that they wanted help finding apps and ebooks for their kids.

Essentially, apps and tablet technology are realities–often extremely beneficial ones–for almost every child and family. What excuse, then, for libraries to not be involved?

Trista Kunkel of Birchard Public Library shared an overview of some of the best app review sources in existence now (there are so many, thus the need for reviews in one single, definitive place). Click here to access a pdf copy of her slides.

Sarah Houghton, director of the San Rafael Public Library and known as the Librarian in Black, made a plea to the group in attendance to get involved in reviewing and mitigating the app marketplace to assist fellow professionals and library customers. Houghton implored librarians to keep the marketplace honest–to prevent the commercial element from overwhelming the marketplace with their sales agendas, and instead offer a credible resource for navigating this space. After all, she said, reviewing and curating for a larger public is outreach on a massive scale.

Rounding up the panel portion of the event was Chip Donohue, whose impressive work with the Erikson Institute, Fred Rogers Center, and NAEYC allow him to provide a much-needed context for the topic of apps and children and libraries. Donohue had so many amazing things to say during his brief speech, packed with so many wonderful ideas, that his contributions will be explored in more depth on the blog later this month. For now, a few of the best sound bytes:

  • Devices are an invitation for joint engagement between caregivers and children.
  • Parents need prompting for how to use these tools effectively with their children.
  • Librarians cannot be sucked into the false dichotomy of “all tech” versus “no tech”; this is not the issue at hand, as there can and should be both technology and everything else we’ve been doing successfully all these years.
  • Kids don’t delineate between the physical and virtual space in the way that adults do.
  • The basic app marketplace is impossible, but librarians have the potential to make it navigable.
  • Looking at apps in terms of library and customer usage requires us to select, use, integrate, and evaluate–basically, everything that we have always done with other formats of materials.
  • Librarians already possess all of the skills to do this–the only potential deficit is in willingness.

Donohue wrapped up his time by reminding the audience of Fred Rogers’s constant mantra: “Think of the child first.” Are we as librarians always doing that? A meaningful question to think on.

The final 10 minutes of the conversation starter were spent engaging with audience questions, which will be explored further in individual blog posts this month.

Note: the panel intended to share a taped message from Lisa Guernsey, the author of several texts on the topic of children and technology, but the video sharing was met with technical difficulties. The video is available here:


Did you attend the A to Zoo for Apps conversation starter in Chicago? Have thoughts, comments, or other takeaways you would like to share? Please sound off in the comments.


About Amy Koester

I'm a youth services librarian with a penchant for exciting ideas and engaging programs. It's a sure bet that if you talk to me about STEAM, whimsy, and trying new things, we'll be best friends forever.

Posted on June 29, 2013, in Apps and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. The attendance was incredible–I got there two or three minutes early and already had to squeeze in the door and find a place to sit on the floor! All the presenters did a great job, and Chip’s comments were extremely useful and well-spoken. Thanks to everyone involved!

  2. I was really inspired by the call to action by these leaders in the field. I would to volunteer as tribute. I wish I had sharp databasing & content management skills but all I have to offer is my future reviews as content? Any one else feel inspired to get this started?

  1. Pingback: A to Zoo for Apps Conversation Starter Video Uploaded | Little eLit

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