App Collection Development in Public Libraries, by Ehlam Zaminpaima and Lindsey Krabbenhoft

Last spring, we conducted a series of interviews with academic and public libraries from Canada and the United States regarding their collection development policies around apps. We were interested in exploring the issues that libraries were facing with this emerging technology, and the ways in which they were handing them. We have highlighted some of the different responses we received from public libraries.

Why did your library decide to start collecting apps?

  • Learning potential in apps for children–specifically those that have sensory components, those that reinforce early literacy, and apps that enable children to create content and engage with media in an interactive, rather than passive, way
  • Use in programs such as storytime, tech time for adults, and presentations to large groups
  • To meet the needs and requests of the community who are already using apps every day
  • To provide app advisory for parents and caregivers because findability in app store is so poor
    • Parents and caregivers are highly frustrated with online app stores such as the iTunes app store because the store is not user friendly and intuitive, and the apps are not properly categorized and displayed. It is highly difficult to not only browse and navigate through the store in order to evaluate, locate, and select apps, but also find apps that suit the specific needs and preferences of the users. As a result, parents and caregivers are confused and lost in terms of what specific apps are available, how to find more information on them, and how to determine whether these apps are appropriate for their children
    • Public libraries have decided to take on the role of the mediator between the app world and the caregivers, learning more about apps, rummaging through these app stores, and evaluating them in order to provide parents and caregivers with the guidance that they need.

What is your collection development policy regarding apps?

  • No formal policy
  • Use the same guidelines as books, DVDs, and other media purchases
  • Use storytime collection development policies
  • Goal is to provide community with apps that are of high quality and represent the best of this format for children at various developmental stages
  • Choose specific apps that support the goals and mission of the programs

How do you evaluate apps for purchase? Tell us anything you can about your evaluation process.

  • Professional reviews: School Library Journal, Kirkus, Common Sense Media, Children’s Technology Review, Digital Storytime, the Guardian
  • Recommendations from others library professionals and libraries
  • Consumer reviews:, iTunes store, Google store
  • Quality assessment
  • Journals and blogs (Touch and Go, Appitic, Mashable, The iMums)
  • Word of mouth
  • Look at screen shots and any available video clips or review
  • Look for apps based on popular characters from children’s literature
  • Concerned with quality and value- want apps that are easy, intuitive, engaging, fun, and educational for children
  • Look for content creation apps
  • For storytime apps, they must work well in a large group, stand in place of a felt story, and support and teach early literacy skill.

What kinds of apps do you collect?

  • Educational apps
  • Storybook apps
  • Literacy apps
  • e-Book apps
  • Non-fiction apps
  • Creation apps
  • Game apps
  • Language-learning apps
  • Apps for library services and resources

What issues or challenges have you faced?

  • Pop-ups: Free or trial apps often include pop-ups or areas within the app that lead children to for-pay sites or unintentional purchases. Even for-pay apps can sometimes include strange links out to other areas or to the App Store.
  • Unprotected websites: Free and non-free apps tend to have unprotected website links that are easy to detect and click on; these links often lead users to social media sites and the websites of authors, illustrators, developers, and companies, which might not be suitable for children.
  • No trial before purchase: You can’t fully try out an app until you’ve purchased it.
  • Cleaning patron information: Time consuming to clear photos or videos patrons take that are stored in the apps. Patrons also forget to log out of accounts (YouTube, Facebook).
  • Staff Comfortability: Low confidence with installing, and troubleshooting.
  • Hesitation or Challenges from some librarians
  • No proper cataloguing method
  • No licensing laws and regulations around lending apps in libraries: With e-books, publishing companies have made useful negotiations with public libraries on how to make e-books available to patrons and how to use these e-books in the library; as a result, public libraries are able to make these e-books accessible and distributable, allowing patrons to borrow these e-books just like they would regular books; unfortunately, public libraries do not have the proper license yet in order to make apps accessible and distributable like e-books, thus not allowing patrons to borrow and use these apps on their own mobile devices.
  • No proper sense of ownership: Even though you have purchased the app, you don’t really own the app itself because the developers or iTunes store can remove, withdraw, or update the apps anytime they please.

What are the benefits of building and using an app collection?

  • Allows parents and caregivers to try out apps for free before purchasing.
  • Provides an app advisory service for patrons based on good old library research
  • Exposes children to a new technology and allows them to read, write, and create.
  • Allows library to provide one-to-one training with iPads and other devices.
  • Fulfills the technology and information needs of the community

What is the future of apps in the library?

  • Selecting more language learning apps for kids to compliment multilingual book collections
  • Circulating iPad kits with pre-loaded early literacy apps
  • Expanding use of apps in programming, for example a program based on one app
  • Adding section to library’s website with information about apps
  • Contacting app developers to get free “advance copy” apps that patrons can try out, much like an advanced reader copy.
  • Developing an app collection and making them accessible for patrons through the library catalogue
  • Libraries creating their own apps
Ehlam Zaminpaima and Lindsey Krabbenhoft collected this data in conjunction with a class project at The University of British Columbia’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.
Ehlam Zaminpaima holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Simon Fraser University and a Master of Library and Information Studies from the University of British Columbia. She has been working at the North Vancouver City Library for over a year and currently works at IPSA International as a Researcher. While completing her MLIS program at UBC, Ehlam conducted various research studies on Mobile Applications and the ways they are being used within Public and Academic Libraries. Ehlam also has a research interest in Children’s storybook apps, exploring the use and effects of these storybook apps on children. To contact Ehlam Zaminpaima, please email her at
Lindsey Krabbenhoft graduated from the University of British Columbia with her MLIS in April 2013. She works as an On Call Children’s Librarian at the Vancouver Public Library and the West Vancouver Memorial Library. You can find her singing, rhyming, and blogging as part of Jbrary. She tweets at @lmkrabbenhoft.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

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 March 24, 2014, in Apps, Libraries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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