Category Archives: collaboration

Librarian Skills in the Digital Age

bookboardWith the proliferation of content providers in the children’s digital publishing industry comes a growing need for children’s librarians OUTSIDE of  library organizations. For me this means that the painful hours I spent slogging through cataloging classes, fiddling with reports in Millenium that sometimes went missing and the harrowing intricacies of bibliographic control are becoming marketable skills that are relevant to developers and entrepreneurs in the private sector.

I’ve been asked to help a start-up with the classification of their small but growing collection of ebooks for children. They are software engineers and parents who understand the value of reading to their young children, and they eschew the use of interactivity within the books themselves. One of the founders, Fang Chang, even said to me: “Books aren’t broken” (ie there is no need to add games, bells, whistles and other annoying things that app developers sometimes add to their kids apps.)

What Bookboard needs a librarian’s help to build is essentially a recommendation and classification engine that can offer an automatic equivalent of reader’s advisory within the app. We need to combine machine learning (an algorithm) with human expertise; specifically, librarian expertise. While this may cause some of my colleagues to consider throwing in the librarianship towel and stream Desk Set on their Rokus,  keep in mind that the collection still needs to be maintained and developed. The junk has to be weeded out. New high-quality material needs to be produced or acquired, and added to the collection in an intelligent way.

The first part of this project is assigning some kind of level to the books. Most children’s libraries have a physical mechanism for separating books by reading level: board books, picture books, readers, paperbacks, novels etc. What we are mostly limited by is space, so for this project we take away the physical limitations of housing an entire children’s collection. How do we organize it when we are not guided by physical format, and “findability” is no longer relevant? (Seriously! If you have ideas, ping me! Let’s talk!)

An interesting excerpt from the Principles of Readability (2004) states the following with regard to the limitations of reading level formulas:

Formula limitations

Readability researchers have long taken pains to recommend that, because of their limitations, formulas are best used in conjunction with other methods of grading and writing texts. Ojemann (1934) warned that the formulas are not to be applied mechanically, a caution expressed throughout readability literature. Other investigators concerned with the difficulty and density of concepts were Morriss and Holversen (1938) and Dolch (1939). E. Horn (1937) warned against the mechanical use of the word lists in the re-writing of books for social studies.

George Klare and colleagues (1969) stated, “For these reasons, formula scores are better thought of as rough guides than as highly accurate values. Used as rough guides, however, scores derived from readability formulas provide quick,easy help in the analysis and placement of educational material.”

I need to design a system by which we can calculate a book’s “reading level,” which feels gross even to type, but serves a valuable purpose when it comes to knowing what books are at the same level of difficulty. Most of my librarians colleagues shudder in revulsion at the mention of AR or Lexile levels, but it is these very tools that I am examining to determine what formula we can use to accurately group books in the collection according to reading level. We’ll combine some kind of metric with age appropriateness to create a formula by which we can offer books in a recommendation line-up that are similar to other books that reader has already enjoyed.

So how do we do this?

Many of the books in the collection are from Orca Publishers, which uses the Fry Readability Formula. Here’s a handy-dandy guide on how to use it. My initial thought was to go with this method and try to get pre-calculated numbers directly from the publishers if they have them, but not all the publishers will have this, and even if they did, we’d been relying on their data/calculations. The graph (below) makes my brain hurt, but may come in handy. The problem with this method is that you need to have 100 words to count; some of our books don’t even have 100 words.  You can do the calculation, still, I suppose, but the results may not be statistically useful.

We need to calculate reading levels to some degree of accuracy, but the calculation process has to be reasonable from a  time/trouble perspective. I have to do all the data entry myself, so I’m motivated to find the most effective means of punching in bibliographic data and having useable information spat back out to me. There is a tool within Microsoft Word that determines the Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level of any given passage, which may mean that we can do all of our own calculations and not rely on external tools or data. Unfortunately, many of the books that I tried only came up with a score of 100; they are too simple, or “readable” to register on the scale at all.



Finally, I signed up for the Lexile Analyser, uploaded some text and got some decent results. Some of the results my text came up with seemed a little off and I assumed I’d have to tinker with the results to take into consideration oddities (especially in picture books) like concept or lexicon-style books, poetry, non-standard layout or text and discrepancies in age appropriateness and reading level. Then I did a little more digging and found out that Lexile already takes these factors (and more!) into consideration and has a set of codes in place already to deal with oddities, so I might still have to tinker, but I won’t have to devise an entirely new system on my own.


ATOS (the readability tool used by AR) is also a possibility, and they have a similar system to Lexile in that they offer pre-leveled books and a text-upload analyser. There are fewer books from the Bookboard collection in the AR Bookfinder than there are for Lexile, though, so developing our own reading level standards will be a little more difficult.

I have to run a test set of books to see what produces the most useable data and then see how the reading level effects the recommendations that people get when they use Bookboard. I’m excited to see what we come up with; I’m also excited to walk my talk about how children’s librarians need to work with developers to produce high quality book-based content that could be available through public libraries. More children’s librarians need to get out of their libraries and into the content creation and management space, in a similar vein as the librarians who are developing eBook distribution systems like Califa and Douglas County. There’s no other way to have a say in the development of the services that public libraries offer to their communities than to work with the people who are developing those services.

LOC/BWI for Apps?

Since I sent out a call for interest in a curated collection of apps by librarians, I’ve had a number of people contact me offering their time, services and enthusiasm.  Yay! There is a need and an interest for this. If you’d like to be involved in this discussion, comment below, Tweet me or use my contact form.

The conversation has already started. Except…. what do we DO with it? What exactly will we build? What kind of tool will be useful to librarians, preschool teachers and parents that hasn’t been created already? It can’t JUST be reviews; what would librarians bring to a project like this? What is the vision for this project? How do we manage the scope? Let’s start by thinking big.  What if we could create a “catalogue” of kids educational and book based apps? There are a few models for services that we could look at; WorldCatBWI TitleTales or LOC. But what I think we’re really talking about is GoodReads or Novelist for kids apps.

How do we choose what apps to include, or is the goal to try to record EVERYTHING? Is there any point in putting all this effort into recording digital objects that could be non-existent any time? Do we limit the time/effort we put on apps produced by smaller, indie app developers (as opposed to Random House or OceanHouse Media, for example)? How can we create something that will be useful for any library to use? Can we partner with a professional organization for endorsement and offer access to the database through that organization’s website, or as an app in itself? (Big ideas, I know- I specialize in big ideas)

What I would be really jazzed about is a field that we can use to include information about how the app could be used in a library program. What if we could include apps that can be used in “traditional” storytimes like ECRR2Mother Goose on the Loose or Parent Child Mother Goose Program? (we’d need permission to do this explicitly, of course)

Let’s talk about this tool! Let’s build something for the children’s library community as a whole!

ECE/Library Partnerships

There are 2 main aspects of children’s librarianship for which I advocate; the intelligent use of technology, and creative collaboration. Normally my efforts are concentrated around technology, but I’m doing a project which has really given me some great outreach ideas.  I’m working with Lisa Guernsey, Karen Nemeth and Fran Simon on a webinar that focuses on Early Children Education/Library Partnerships to promote diversity, and my part of the project is showcasing successful programs.  I sent out a call to my Eureka! Leadership listserv and the ALSC listserv, as well as posting on Little eLit.  I’ve gotten such an awesome response from librarians about the cool things they are doing to reach out to their local ECE centres. I’m going to post one a week to share the wealth. They’ll all be posted on ECE/Library Collaborations.

Alpine County Library & ArchivesChoices for Children

As a creative way to continue offering programs despite working with a skeleton staff, we’ve been partnering with the local Choices for Children program.  For the past 18 months we’ve  provided monthly story & craft times and other children’s events in the Library.  The result is that program attendance is up and costs are minimized. Our arrangement is that Choices for Children supplies the staff person and the Friends of the Library pays for supplies. Since both agencies serve the same rural population of little folks, this arrangement works very well.

Collaboration submitted by:

Rita Lovell
County Librarian
Alpine County Library & Archives

Response to Lisa Guernsey: Little eLit on

ecetechLittle eLit is really getting around these days.  Here’s an article I wrote in response to an article by Lisa Guernsey, author of Into the Minds of Babes: How screen time affects children from birth to age five and Director of the Early Education Initiative at the New American Foundation.

Response to Lisa Guernsey’s A Role for Early Ed Tech: Strengthening Connections among Teachers, Librarians and Coaches

By Cen Campbell

“In a presentation for a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Indianapolis, I talked to early childhood specialists in state education agencies about some untapped areas for enhancing training and forming partnerships among educators, including librarians, via digital technology… But it was the section on “the role of states” that probably had the most relevance for the policy experts in the room. Based in part on recent policy brief published by the Education Commission of the States, Technology in Early Education, I singled out two areas that state-level policymakers could focus on: building partnerships between libraries and early education andimproving professional development and teacher training.  Libraries should be seen as integral partners for early education programs, especially in the area of technology given the online curating skills and technical know-how that many children’s librarians possess today.”

I’ve been developing a community of knowledge to inform, inspire and motivate my fellow children’s librarians to expand their expertise in evaluation, curation and program development to the digital realm, and now I am pleased to see that there are experts in non-library fields that are recognizing the value that children’s librarians can bring to interactive media.

But you know what’s incredibly disheartening? Many children’s librarians don’t think this is their job. (I disagree completely, and so do the most of children’s librarians I know.)

There are far more children’s librarians who contact me asking for help establishing early literacy programming that incorporates digital media than those who advocate format-based censorship.  Digital storytelling and collection development are still new for many of us, and while we have centuries of experience evaluating and curating content for children, the technology itself is often intimidating, and funds and staff time are in short supply. In order for children’s librarians to begin to apply their skills to digital media, they are going to need some training, support and motivation from their administrative, advocacy and funding organizations.  These organizations could include city and county administrations, state libraries, state library associations, local chapters of national organizations, JPAs, library boards or any other body that can support measures to bring in trainers, provide staff time to cover the reference desk, and fund the development of programs, services and partnerships.

Children’s librarians need to take stock of their core competencies: the evaluation and dissemination of media and early literacy development, and apply them to the new world of children’s interactive media.  They need the training to step into their new roles as curators of content in the digital realm, get out of the echo chamber of libraryland and share their expertise with related educational organizations.  We need to start developing some large-scale training through creative collaborations with other non-profit organizations, granting agencies and ECE programs, administrators and teachers.

Let’s start the conversation. Let’s make this happen.

Hear Lisa Guernsey, Cen Campbell and Karen Nemeth discuss new initiatives and partnerships between libraries and early childhood education programs in this upcoming webinar: Libraries and Preschool Programs: Amazing Partnerships to Support Diverse Young Children and Families

Idaho Libraries Commission

In a conversation with Lisa Guernsey today I learned about the Idaho Commission for Libraries Routes to Reading program which is an IMLS and J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation funded extension of their state-wide Read to Me program. Here is some information about the program.  What’s especially interesting to me is the online storytelling component (National Film Board of Canada!!!!) and their partnership with TumbleBooks (also Canadian… hm…. Bibliocommons = Canadian. Perhaps it is time for me to go back home, given that my fellow Canadians seem to be taking over the library world?)

Books to Go Program

By partnering with Head Start, developmental preschools, child care centers, and home-based child care providers to place Books to Go at these locations, parents and caregivers will have convenient, continuous access to pre-packaged books. The bags contain age-appropriate quality books and an early literacy handout that corresponds with the titles. Child care providers will be able to use the books and materials throughout the day and parents will be able to check out “Books to Go” when they pick up their child. Public library staff are encouraged to start contacting potential sites in their communities now. A simple application asks for names of community sites and a commitment from libraries to collect evaluation data and check in with partners throughout the year. We plan on sending at least 50 to 75 Books to Go starter kits to libraries in December 2012 or January 2013. Library staff will then take these kits to their community partners. Another large shipment of starter kits will be ready to place at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. By the end of the grant program, 250 sites statewide will have access to the program.

Idaho libraries are encouraged to apply for the new Books to Go program now! Apply at

Implement a statewide “Storytime Online” and TumbleBooks™ for all public libraries

Many families and child care providers are not able to attend library storytimes. This will bring storytimes to them by creating a parent-friendly website with access to TumbleBooks™ in English and Spanish, daily activities to develop early literacy skills including fingerplays and songs modeled in video clips, and other educational information. This new “” site will be a great resource for Idaho families, librarians, and caregivers.

ICfL staff are currently working on a three-year contract with TumbleBooks to provide access to their ebooks through every Idaho public library website. We hope to be able to answer questions about crediting accounts for those of you who already subscribe and other implementation issues soon. We have set a November 1, 2012 target date for having this additional access point to books available. Funding will also be available to
help promote this valuable service.

Communication, Collaboration, and Coalition Building

ICfL will work with libraries and community partners to increase awareness of the valuable role libraries play to ensure children begin school with a strong foundation of early literacy skills. ICfL will facilitate a minimum of four meetings throughout Idaho to build local coalitions and ensure that the projects started with the grant are sustainable at the community level. Library staff and their community partners will collaboratively examine the results of grant projects, build on successes, and identify opportunities for improvement.

Years 2 and 3 of the grant includes working with a media firm to develop a coordinated, consistent message in English and Spanish that libraries and partners can utilize.

Stay tuned for more details or contact any member of the Read to Me Team if you have questions about how your library can get involved! We hope to have at least 25 libraries apply for the Books to Go route in October and November.

KinderTown and VPL

I’ve been continuing my search for resources and guidance on collection development for apps in libraries. Tess Prendergast, a PhD student at UBC and a Children’s librarian at VPL pointed me to the work of Francesca de Freitas, who uses apps in her position as a Children’s Librarian at the Vancouver Public Library. Carisa Kluver of Digital Storytime sent me  the presentation by Carolina Nugent at KinderTown.

Paige’s Page!

I am so happy to announce that Little eLit will be the home of Paige’s Page; regular app recommendations posted by Paige Bentley-Flannery. Paige is a Children’s/Community Librarian at Deschutes Public Library in Oregon.  She is also the chair of the ALSC Digital Content Task Force and is one of the most enthusiastic librarians I have ever met. Paige uses all sorts of apps in her programs for kids (not just book based apps) and has a real knack for making connections among literacy, art and the digital realm. Paige, Genesis and I presented a program together at CLA 2012 and we all agreed that we’d love to keep working together to create a community of knowledge that helps other librarians begin to incorporate digital media into kids programming in a way that supports literacy development. Show us the apps, Paige!

Tablet Tales Demo at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

Today I did a demonstration of Tablet Tales for the staff of the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, plus some mama and baby guinea pigs that I rounded up from other areas in the Museum. I didn’t do an exact headcount, but I’d say there were about 15 staff members and 25 guinea pigs (if anyone who was there did an exact head count, let me know and I’ll update it!)  The program took place in the Lee and Diane Brandenburg Theatre, which is a 40′ x 40′ black box of awesomeness, with killer acoustics, disco lights and a big screen with projector.  Brett Dearing helped me get all set up with my mic, cables, projector and chairs, and he also let me climb up the ladder to the sound/projector booth and check out all the cool lights and things around the perimeter of the theatre.  What a cool venue!  He took this picture from the booth:

What I did

Come and Follow Me (fife)
Hello Song
Wiggle my fingers
Book: Olivia (iBook)
Open and shut them
Book: Peas Porridge Hot, Mary Mary Quite Contrary (from Here Comes Mother Goose)
Shakers: Shake a Little Shaker, Hey-Ho the Rattle-o
Book: Pete the Cat (iBook)
Flannel Board: Blue bird (Smoothie Felt Board App; image, then lyrics in Keynote)
May there always be sunshine (Smoothie Felt Board App; image, then lyrics in Keynote)
Goodbye song: Blow a Kiss
Clap up high goodbye rhyme

What I learned

  1. The projected image was very big; project low so it’s at the same height as me so that the audience understands that I’m still telling the story, even if the “book” is taller than I am.
  2. In a venue that size, always use a mic
  3. Playing my fife to call people into the storytime room is not going to work in a bustling museum with noisy water features and large school groups.  Maybe I should just do a loop around the first floor and hope that as the program becomes a regularly occurring phenomenon, people will know to look for the lady with the fife.
  4. I will have a little more freedom with content in a museum than I would in a library, and people will have fewer pre-conceived notions of what a storytime “should” look like.
  5. The staff at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose are AWESOME!

What I used

Keynote App
VGA Cable
VGA/HDMI converter
Nexus S (for portable Wifi and Bluetooth)
Projector (specifics forthcoming)

So, what next, and how/why a Children’s Museum?

Next steps will be to meet with the two ladies who thought my idea was a good one in the first place, CDM Executive Director Marilee Jennings and  Education Director Jenni Martin.  We will be working together to submit an IMLS grant to grow this project as a creative collaboration between the Children’s Museum and libraryland.  The idea for this partnership come to me one night when I was feeling particularly frustrated with the slow pace of the development of some of my initiatives; those of you in the library world know how painfully slowly things can move, usually to the detriment of really good ideas.  So I tried to think of other places that I could develop things faster and further, and the Children’s Discovery Museum came to mind right away.  My next step was to find a contact person within the Museum, because the secret to hearing “YES!” is knowing how to ask the right person the right question.  So I sent the letter below to the Chair of the Museum Board and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Adobe, Mark Garrett, who emailed me back immediately and put me in touch with the folks at the Museum.  The rest will soon be history. Keep an eye on this project, people.  We’re going places!

Hi Mark,

My name is Cen Campbell. I am a children’s librarian with the Mountain View Public Library and Santa Clara County Library District, and I run a blog called Little eLit, where I document the development of my digital literacy programming in libraries and keep track of the fantastic new world of interactive digital media for children.

I am writing to you because I have a proposition for a technology-based education project that I would like to implement at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers a number of large grants specifically designed to support innovative, collaborative projects like this. The grant is due in early 2013 and I would be more than willing to put it all together to get the funds for CDM if the museum would be willing to partner (there is a cost share element). It is my experience that going straight to the board is the way to get things done for out-of-the-box initiatives like this; my sincere apologies if this is not appropriate for your organization.

My idea is this:

I’d like to expand on an idea that I’m piloting at the Santa Clara County Library District (they don’t really have the space or the infrastructure to launch a program of the scope I am envisioning; that’s why I’m reaching out to you). I have developed a digital storytelling program called Tablet Tales which makes use of book-based apps, eBooks and other mobile technology to support literacy development. What I would like to do is run larger-scale digital storytelling programs for schools and other community groups, combined with a “tech petting zoo” of book based apps, ebooks, concept and educational apps housed on tablet computers within the museum for use by children and their parents, teachers or caregivers. I am using iPads for my current programs but am open to experimentation with Android. This project would serve a number of functions: helping to close the digital divide that is still alive and well, even in Silicon Valley; train teachers and parents on how to use technology effectively with their students or children; and performs reader’s advisory services in the digital realm (there is a LOT of content for kids in the app space right now, and to be honest, most of it is junk).

I know that the museum already has partnerships in place with local schools (that’s another reason I’d like to partner with you), and there are other ways we could discuss reaching out to the community at large. I am working with two early childhood education specialists throughEarly Childhood Investigations to develop professional development materials on this topic, I will be presenting at the California Library Association conference on this topic and I am currently serving on the Association for Library Services to Children’s Children and Technology Committee (in other words, I have street cred in this area and I’m pretty sure I can deliver a bleeding edge, high quality, never-been-done before program that would make the museum proud).

If this sounds interesting to you, please let me know. I’m open to ideas, too, and would love the chance to speak with you, or whoever else would be involved in a project like this.

Thank you for reading this email. I know your time is precious.

Cen Campbell

It’s a secret. But it’s awesome.

Little eLit and the Annapolis Valley Regional Library are teaming up to do……. something totally awesome that I can’t tell you about yet! Despite the rain and wind, my colleague Angela Reynolds is cooking up new ideas for digital early literacy programming. When we have something fun to share, we’ll post it and get some other library systems in on the fun, too. Keep safe, Angela, and everyone else on the East Coast!


Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

There is an echo chamber in libraryland.  We all love libraries, we do this work because we love it (it certainly ain’t for the pay!) and we hang out with people who love and work in libraries too.  We go out for drinks/professional development and it’s all rah rah libraries! We all know that civilized society needs libraries and that the services to which we dedicate most of our waking hours are absolutely essential to our communities.  We go to ALA, PLA, CLA, BCLA  etc. We preach to the choir.

It’s a paradigm. And what do we do with paradigms?  At Little eLit, we bust ’em!

I’m going to start working with some people who also love children, technology and literacy. They are NOT librarians (gasp!).

Fran Simon, founder of Early Childhood Investigations and co-author of Digital Decision: Choosing the Right Technology Tools for Early Childhood Education has approached me about developing some professional development tools for early childhood education administrators. Karen Nemeth is the founder of Language Castle and author of a number of books and articles dealing with first and second language development (she is co-author of Digital Decisions with Fran). We’re embarking on a partnership to connect the early childhood education world with the library world in our approaches to technology for children.

So it looks like I’m going to go to some new conferences and make some new friends. NAEYC, here I come.