Apps in Story Times & Digital Kids at Pierce County Libraries Part 1: Naomi Smith

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 4.33.07 PMMy name is Naomi Smith and I am one of the Youth Services Librarians on the Apps In Story Times team at the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA. The other librarians on the team are Michelle Angell and Genevieve Dettmer and we receive technical assistance from Senior Library Technician, Melanie Kenney.

Our team started working this summer and we had two main tasks. The first was to test out using digital media in our story times and to share our experiences with our fellow Youth Services librarians. The second task was creating a webpage for the public that would serve as a resource for families looking for quality app and e-book recommendations as well as provide tips on healthy media use.

For the story time portion, our Customer Experience Manager, Judy Nelson, was able to find funding to provide iPads and Apple TVs for each of our three library branches so that we could easily mirror apps and e-books during our story times. We each often used our own iPads as well. We then decided that we would each make an effort to try to incorporate a digital elements each week during our Fall session. Between the three of us, we present story times to babies, toddlers, preschoolers and families and we work with differing communities.

I present Baby (age 0-24 months) and Toddler (age 2-3) story times at my library. I started out just using iPad in my Toddler Time. My goal was to get a handle on the technology and make integration of the apps as seamless as possible. I also wanted to make sure that the digital elements I used added value and that they were not simply “technology for technology’s sake” This meant that I sometimes had apps that I planned to use but ended up going low tech instead based on the mood of the crowd that day. Some of my favorite apps that I did use were having kids write the letter of the day with me with  Letter School, playing a guessing game with Animal Sounds, and reading the e-book The Monster at the End of This Book. I tried to model using the iPad interactively and in the case of the e-book it was a great time to talk about how parental interaction is so important when we read to our kids, even when the book is already interactive.

My toddlers and their families responded really well and I’ve come to see the digital elements as just another tool, like flannel boards or music, to use in my story times. For my Baby Times, I have been using iBooks to project rhymes that I had already written out in Publisher onto the screen on the side of the room. Having the words on the big screen has helped with caregivers being able to participate more in saying rhymes and singing with their babies during story time and I hope it makes it easier for them to remember the rhymes when they go home. We presented on what we have been doing in our story times to our colleagues at our November staff meeting. We each had different styles of using the iPad in our story times  and I have had other librarians tell me that they want to try  out some of the things we did too.

For the Digital Kids web page, we wanted to make a resource page for parents and caregivers to help them navigate through the overwhelming number of choices when it comes to apps for kids and to promote the digital books (on Overdrive, Axis360, and Tumblebooks) that we have in our own collection. We also wanted to make sure that we provided tips on healthy media use. The Pause, Stop, Play portion of our technology tips came from ReadyatFive.Org, along with guidance from the Fred Rogers Center.

The focus of our Apps Lists is currently toddlers and  preschoolers, age 2-5 and we have lists for both Android and iOS. I was inspired by a presentation by Emily Lloyd that was posted on LittleeLit and wanted to feature apps that promote the five early literacy practices. As a result, under each app we have a short sentence saying “this app promotes playing (or one of the other practices) with your child.”   Of course, beyond the five practices we wanted to make sure that we are recommending quality apps. I found most of the apps that I recommended on LittleeLit, Commonsense Media, the iMums and Smart Apps for Kids to name a few. For apps I just found in the Android Market or the iTunes Store I checked reviews from other sites and when possible, I downloaded and used apps that I added to the list.  After consulting with our virtual services librarian, Patrick McVicker, we decided to arrange our list by more concrete categories like “Free” and “Animals” to make it more user friendly, especially for parents using phones or tablets to look at our lists. We also provided links to review sites where parents could search for more apps.

Our library e-books list promotes our own libraries books from Overdrive, Axis360, and Tumblebooks.  The booklists go up to junior titles but feature mainly picture books and easy readers. We tried to highlight titles that are featured on library created booklists, such as 100 Titles Every Child Should Hear by Kindergarten.  However, we found that there were many other well done titles that we wanted to add as well. For the e-book list it was especially important to check out and test the book. I did the Axis360 list and there were a few titles that are lovely in print but came out strange when downloaded. In other instances, I included titles that I might not have necessarily included on a print list, such as the newer Curious George books because they worked well on the tablet and we own many other similar titles in our Axis360 collection.

Genevieve crafted the healthy media statement that is at the top of our page based on the Media Quality Statement from the Fred Rogers Center as well as including a brief mention of the AAP’s stance on discouraged screen time before age 2.  Thanks to Judy Nelson, our library board and early learning community is supportive of our efforts. Our page just went live and we are now actively promoting it on our website, to our colleagues and to our families at story times and in the library. We hope that it will serve as a good resource for parents and caregivers as well as other libraries and we are looking forward to figuring out what the next steps are for our team.

On a personal note,  I was asked to work on this team after voicing concerns that some parents might be trying to avoid too much screen time for their young children.  As a  parent of two small children, now ages 22 months and almost 4, I was also concerned about how we get from “no screen time before 2” to “digital native” and keeping ahead of the digital divide. In working on this team and reading great resources like LittleeLit and Lisa Guernsey’s Screen Time I have become more focused on finding quality apps and shows and using them with my children as learning tools rather than just shielding them from anything with a screen.  On recent 4 hour flight from Kansas City to Seattle each of my children, spent roughly 15-30 minutes each occupied with my iPad, which is only 1/16 or 1/8 of the total flight time. They also colored, ate snacks, played with toys, read books and covered the seats in stickers. As with story times, digital media is just one more tool in my arsenal of things to teach and entertain my children.

Naomi Tanner Smith
Youth Services Librarian
Parkland/Spanaway Pierce County Library


Posted on January 2, 2014, in Literacy. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.


    I love this post! It is so full of information. I work in an elementary school in a neighborhood of poverty and have been looking for ways to build parent participation in my library. I am anxious to adapt some of these ideas for my Spanish ESL parents. Thank you, JoAnne Reed From my HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile. The first nationwide 4G network

  1. Pingback: Apps in Story Times & Digital Kids at Pierce County Libraries Part 2: Michelle Angell | Little eLit

  2. Pingback: Apps in Story Times & Digital Kids at Pierce County Libraries Part 3: Judy Nelson | Little eLit

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