The ACPL Family App: A Review, by Emily Lloyd

acpl2Within minutes of downloading and opening Allen County Public Library’s new free app, ACPL Family (iOS only at the moment), I’d seen three new things I want to try in storytime. Designed for families and caregivers, those who serve them also stand to benefit from exploring this excellent app.

Released in April, ACPL Family is described in the App Store as “intended to be used by adults and children together, promoting age-appropriate learning and literacy development.” The app contains five main sections: booklists (with direct links to the ACPL catalog), “READY on the GO” (video segments with staff modeling the five ECRR2 practices); “Tips and Facts” (early literacy tips for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers and “fun facts” for grades K-2 and 3-5); a reading timer, and an event calendar. As is the case with Grow a Reader–Calgary Public Library’s early literacy app, launched in early 2013–most of the content will be immensely useful to families anywhere, not just to the public library’s patrons.

Thoughtful touches abound. The reading timer, for example, has a basic stopwatch function but also allows individual readers to enter their names and log their time; tapping on “view times” yields the number of minutes read by each reader in the last week, last 30 days, and last year. The timer, along with the booklists, may be the most useful sections of the app for older children. Billed in the App Store as “for parents and caregivers of children of all ages, from birth through elementary school,” the app’s heavy focus is on early literacy and the birth to six set.

The tips under “Tips & Facts” are friendly and reassuring. Examples from the “Babies” category:

  • “Follow your baby’s lead when you read. It’s okay to stay on the same page the whole time or read upside down!”
  • “Sing with your baby every day! Can’t sing on key? No worries! Your baby wants to hear YOUR voice, the most important person in his life.”
  • “Bath-time and splash-time is also science learning time for your baby. A plastic cup is all that’s needed to learn empty/full.”

Clicking “refresh” yields a new tip, and users can, from within the app, sign up to receive additional weekly tips sent to their device.

The booklists include several awards lists, African-American History, Counting, Genealogy for Kids, “Dyslexic-Friendly Early Readers,” Fears, Feelings, Illnesses, Potty Training, Early Childhood Curriculum Resources, lists by age (Great Books for Babies, Great Books for Toddlers, Great Books for Preschoolers), and a few more. All of the suggested titles come with a short summary, and some even come with tips for sharing, as with Llama Llama Hoppity-Hop (“Many books for babies allow you to play along. As your baby gets older, help him or her ‘hop’ along to stories like this one. Reading time should also be fun time!”) ACPL patrons can check availability or place holds on the titles from within the app.

acpl5The exceptional centerpiece of the app–what blew me away within minutes of opening it–is the “READY on the GO” section. I can’t say enough about the ACPL staff–four women and two men–who appear in the video segments. They’re fantastic, as comfortable and effective on camera as professional actors filming Sesame Street. If, like me, you’ve ever worried about sounding stilted when you share early literacy tips in storytime, you’ll want to study these segments. From making lists with young children, to having an early literacy-rich conversation as you take a walk, to giving a shaker a shake for each syllable as you recite familiar names, they model tips and make clear their benefits in concrete, immediately applicable ways.

acpl6The videos, three to four for each ECRR2 practice, are scripted such that the staff are “talking to” the child viewing them, and clearly modeling for the adult viewing them. They include high-quality animated elements–words written large to build print awareness, a cartoon bee buzzing around a staff member as she “takes a walk,” and more. They take a nice broad approach to each practice: “Write” videos include singing “Draw a Circle in the Air,” making a list of animals one hopes to see at the zoo, and the action song “Five Little Speckled Frogs” (“When we sing songs and use our fingers for fingerplays, we help our children’s fingers get ready to hold crayons and pencils”); “Read” videos include a look at nonfiction, how to make an English muffin pizza (reading a recipe), and a rendition of “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” (with a recommendation to find more rhyming books). An added bonus of the videos is that they really display library staff’s early literacy expertise in a way that’s often only seen by storytime attendees, positioning staff as a friendly, knowledgeable resource for parent and caregiver questions.

A very few of the app’s choices gave me pause enough that I feel I should mention them. One is the choice of “Ten Little Indians” for the “Sing” segment. It’s a song I sang as a child but think of as much less widely sung today (I’ve heard “Ten Little Bubbles” to the same tune a lot more) and potentially offensive to some. Also in the “Sing” segment, the font used during the singing of “The Alphabet Song” is more stylized and less clear than one I’d be likely to use with young children, and “Five Little Ducks” includes an alternate last verse in which the little ducks, having not come back when the mother duck quacked, immediately come back when a father duck with a mustache quacks (I know many, maybe most, will find this last one harmless, but I’m not a fan). Finally, in the Tips & Facts section, a very useful tip, “Encourage all the adults in your baby’s life to talk to her!” is followed up with “Fathers use different words and concepts than mothers do.” I serve so many nontraditional families that I’d prefer “Some use different words and concepts than others do.”

If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend downloading and exploring ACPL Family. Both it and Grow A Reader are stellar examples of libraries working to meet and support parents and caregivers where many of them are (on the go), not just in our buildings and storytimes.

Emily Lloyd is a public librarian and lives in Minneapolis.

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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.
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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 May 23, 2014, in Apps and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to review ACPL Family — we value your opinion and appreciate your constructive criticism. We have been working hard to make this the best possible app for families – kids and grown-ups together. An App Team meeting is scheduled soon; it’s clear we need to have a better system of “checks and balances” in place to ensure we are as inclusive and respectful as possible with the information we share on the Family App. We absolutely want to celebrate and support ALL of our families.

    Stay tuned; this will continue to be a work in progress! We welcome additional comments and suggestions.

  2. Sorry I’m so late to see this–THANKS for this response!

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