Category Archives: Libraries

What is the purpose of a library? Thoughts from Dorothy Stoltz

Let’s take a moment and look for the potential within a library’s situation to create practical, yet extraordinary and inspiring, opportunities where individuals and families become self-reliant and thrive. How can the library add value to the lives of those in our community? Learning and growing are natural forces in humanity no matter the book format or learning platform. Let’s celebrate the spirit of learning.

How can libraries partner more effectively with parents, schools, and others to help a community thrive, especially while treading the convoluted pathways of new and emerging technology and budget concerns? Like Benjamin Franklin’s Junto, a group of likeminded aspiring artisans and tradesmen “formed … a club for mutual [self] improvement” to enhance their community,[i] the library celebrates human creativity, curiosity, and courage.

“Leading the examined life,” as Socrates described it, can inspire the library as an organization to cultivate a creative, reliable, and compelling service environment. By examining, on a regular basis, what works and what doesn’t work, a library can tap the strength of an orderly and poised process for decision-making. In this way, a library is better poised to train staff and otherwise make pragmatic digital media decisions to support parents and children. When a library creates a learning philosophy, where each employee is responsible for their own learning, it can connect staff to the library’s purpose to support human growth. A library’s self-discipline to grow and learn as an organization in order to serve its community magnifies the possibilities and the opportunities to be able to do so.[ii]

Valerie Smirlock, consultant for Maryland department of education, says:

Librarians have the perfect opportunity in storytime sessions to shape interaction with children in such a way as to promote social and emotional skills. By connecting parents to local resources, librarians can also encourage parents as they help their young children develop self-regulation skills, the most important skills for children entering school. Can the children sit still? Do they get along and share with others? Are they beginning to identify and express their emotions? Can they follow directions? Having these kinds of conversations with families in a non-threatening place like the library can effectively get more parents the kind of support they need around challenging behaviors and appropriate social and emotional skill building.

Serving families with high needs—educational, financial, and emotional—often does not yield the same high statistics as other library programs. However, offering library opportunities, including access to technology, to these families is part of serving the community. For deeply troubled parents, making referrals to social work-type agencies has been a successful method. Our relationship goal is to be professional and amiable without becoming drinking or shopping buddies. [L]ibraries [have] the freedom and flexibility to focus resources to support “high needs” families without jeopardizing [a library’s vision] to help every family inspire their children to enjoy learning.[iii]

Libraries can offer opportunities for adults and children, together, to engage their minds through play and learning activities, digital media, books, information, conversations, and reflection time. Libraries can offer opportunities for children to plant seed thoughts, if you will, in their own minds that will germinate, blossom, and ripen as they grow into young men and women. A thinking person will value learning and develop pragmatic habits of contemplation. A thinking person will contribute to the world by treating others with goodwill, tolerance, and helpfulness, and by expressing useful, joyful, and perhaps even dazzling ideas in life.[iv]

The public library is an organization of bits and pieces—books, technology, learning activities, staff expertise, and other excellent resources. The idea is to go beyond thinking about individual pieces and tap the strength of the whole—the central purpose of a library. This purpose can be described as the enlightenment of humanity in a practical way. In this way we are not only helping a storytime mom find recommended early literacy apps, but supporting her efforts to be her son’s first teacher. A thirteen-year-old is not only participating in the Escape the Ordinary summer reading program, but challenging himself to think in new ways to enrich life. We are not so much searching for a copy of The Boys in the Boat for the local barber shop owner to enjoy reading about the 1936 Olympic rowing event, as much as helping him explore the concepts of grit, teamwork, and starting with the end in mind.[v]

[i] Shaw, Peter, ed.  The Autobiography and Other Writings by Benjamin Franklin.  New York: Bantam Books, Inc. p. 53.
[ii] Forthcoming ALA Editions book: Inspired Collaborations: Early Childhood Partnerships © Copyright 2016 by Dorothy Stoltz, Susan Mitchell, Cen Campbell, Rolf Grafwallner, Kathleen Reif, and Stephanie Shauck.  All Rights Reserved.
[iii] Stoltz, Dorothy. “A Smorgasbord of Possibilities: Maryland Libraries Address Their Charge.” Children & Libraries. Summer 2014. p. 23, 25.
[iv] Adapted from Stoltz, Dorothy, Conner, Marisa, Bradberry, James.  The Power of Play: Designing Early Learning Spaces. Chicago: ALA Editions. (2015) p. 11.
[v] Forthcoming ALA Editions book: Inspired Collaborations: Early Childhood Partnerships © Copyright 2016 by Dorothy Stoltz, Susan Mitchell, Cen Campbell, Rolf Grafwallner, Kathleen Reif, and Stephanie Shauck.  All Rights Reserved.


Dorothy Stoltz
Outreach and Program Services
Carroll County (MD) Public Library.

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.

Sago Mini Monsters, an app review by Carissa Christner

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.07.34 PM

Sago Mini has created many delightful toy-apps for young children. Last week, I had an opportunity to use Sago Mini Monsters in storytime at my library and everyone loved it!  Gameplay is simple:

1.  Drag a monster silhouette up from the primordial goo at the bottom of the screen.

2. Decorate the monster using your finger to draw in one of 5 colors.

3. Tap on the checkmark to tell the game you’re done drawing on the monster and your monster will grow eyes, horns and a mouth (although if you don’t like those, you can pluck them off and different features will grow in their place).

4. Feed the monster foods that pop up from the goo (could be cake, could be a boot…)

5. After the monster has eaten, its teeth look quite dirty, so it’s time to brush!

6. Pull more accessories up from the goo (a hat! a bandaid! a lightning bolt! the options are vast.) and finish designing your monster.

7. Take a picture (or don’t) and tap on the checkmark when you’re ready to meet a new monster.

I love this app for the open-ended (but not overwhelmingly option-heavy) art play and for the silliness factor that makes users of all ages giggle. The storytime kids loved telling me how to design the monster (What color should we choose next? Should we draw spots? Stripes? Squiggles? Where should we put this mustache? Do you like these eyeballs?) and they loved watching it eat crazy food and brushing its teeth.  One mom told me that her daughter loves to use the app and then go into the bathroom and brush her own teeth.  Every time. Hooray for the sneaky health lesson!

For a limited time, it’s free in the app store (all decked out for Halloween!), so grab it while you can. Read about the other monster apps I used in my storytime here. Make your own Sago Mini Monster finger puppets by downloading the pdf’s here (then printing them at 25% and adding a strip of paper at the bottom to wrap around your finger).

Digital Storytime Training Resources, by April Mazza

In my role as an Advisor for Youth & School Library Services at the Massachusetts Library System, I like to highlight innovative programming and services to the libraries in our state. One way to do this is by having our own local talent present for their peers. When I saw Clara Hendricks’ post on Little eLit back in December, I immediately asked her if she would be willing to do a training for us at her home library. She enthusiastically said “yes” and even let us record the presentation! You can view the videos and grab Clara’s handouts at our MLS Guide:

We’ve also added all sorts of resources for using tablets in your library, from accessibility issues to app review sources, and of course we feature Little eLit!

Clara’s program was so popular we offered it again this fall to rave reviews. People really like to see the use of storytime apps and eBooks in action. Clara also does an amazing job of explaining the librarians’ role as model and mentor for children and families as they navigate using this technology. We are so thrilled to share this with our libraries, so I hope it helps to share it with an even wider audience!


April Mazza is Advisory for Youth & School Library Services at the Massachusetts Library System.
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.

New App Storytime in Madison, Wisconsin

Little eLit regular, Carissa Christner began a new app-based storytime series at the Madison Public Library last month.  Read more about it (and learn why it’s called the Supper Club) on her blog here. 

An AWE Alternative, by Elaine Betting

The patrons loved our AWE computers. Staff, not so much.

First, there was the cost. We paid a lot of money to AWE for a lot of software we didn’t even want. Of the 30-40 games installed on each computer, only about 10 were ever used regularly. And some of those that were used weren’t really great programs. There was “The Cat in the Hat” that made you get through the ENTIRE book backwards or forwards in order to exit the program and start a new game. There was the anatomy game “My Amazing Human Body” that seemed to crash into a black and white pixilated screen whenever a kid used it for more than ten minutes. We wanted to pick our own games for kids to play that were age-appropriate and held up to the heavy usage these computers were receiving.

Another problem was system maintenance. You pay a hefty fee every few years for AWE to service your machines when our IT staff could be doing this in-house if the computers weren’t on lockdown. If this only happened once in a while, it wouldn’t be such a problem. But it seemed like we were sending computers across our system back to AWE constantly, and at one point the Main Library (where the machines were the oldest and most prone to problems) had two of its four AWE computers off to be repaired at once, with one further computer just barely running and in need of a tune-up.

AWE assured us that when we upgraded to the newest version of their product, all of our problems would be fixed. However, we had gotten newer versions of their product before as we added computers at different locations, and we weren’t sold on the idea that “new” meant “better.” We were no longer able to only get a “software only” package and use our own computers to run the software. We would now be required to purchase hardware from AWE as well, and that was a daunting cost with the ongoing maintenance fees we would have to pay as long as we continued to use the product.

Hatch1Around the time we were contemplating how to pay for the new AWE systems, the Adult Services manager came back from PLA with a brochure from a company called HATCH. They were mostly school-based, but looking to break into the library market. They were offering an all-in-one touch screen computer (AWE was not offering this at the time), which appealed to me because we had experienced theft and vandalism of our keyboards and other peripheral equipment at the Main Library. Their school-based product that we modified can be found here. Also, the HATCH computers allowed you to load your own games and do in-house modifications. Plus, no continuing fees! Once you buy it, they will provide support for as long as you own the units.

We bought one HATCH computer, stripped a lot of the school settings out, and installed some of our own games. Our technology staff did some fiddling to get the computer working the way we wanted, and we were off and running! That first computer worked so well that we decided to buy HATCH computers for all of our branches, including the locations that had never had AWE computers installed.

Hatch2For the most part, our HATCH experience has been great. It was a little bumpy at first as HATCH representatives learned how different the public library market was from the school market, but the support staff at the company has been really wonderful in helping us figure out what we could do with their product to make it work in our locations. We like that we can have different computer games at different locations. For instance, a game in Spanish is great for our South Lorain branch, but wouldn’t be used at our rural Columbia Branch location. And while we still occasionally have computers crash and we have to reboot, it isn’t nearly as often as the AWE issues, and if it is a particular game that is causing problems we can just delete that one. There is no more sending the computer out to be serviced because our Tech staff can just head out to the branch and troubleshoot the problem there.

We’re still learning how these computers can do more for us, and we’re hoping that HATCH will develop a model specifically for public libraries so we wouldn’t have to take so many of their cool school features off the table. Even more, I hope that more companies will take an interest in the public library computer market and develop more options for us to choose from.

Elaine Betting is Youth Services and Outreach Librarian Supervisor with the Lorain Public Library System.
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.

Encouraging Parent & Caregiver Participation During Storytime Using Keynote at La Grange Public Library, by Rachael Dabkey

The staff at La Grange Public Library have had several meetings about ways to encourage parent and caregiver participation during our storytimes. Currently, we offer ten storytimes per week for ages ranging from six months to six years. At the start of every storytime session, we go over our expectations for storytimes where we tell the parents and caregivers that we would like them to participate with us. We have also tried handouts, but they were distracting. How could we expect parents to do the actions to the songs and fingerplays when they were holding a piece of paper? Additionally, we tried printing the words to our songs and fingerplays on ledger paper and displaying them on our easel, but little hands often pulled them down and they took up quite a bit of storage space. Last spring, we were fortunate enough to purchase an iPad for staff to use in our department. That’s when I began experimenting with ways to encourage parent and caregiver participation through digitally displaying the words to the songs and fingerplays that I use during my storytimes.

Finding the Right App

In my search for an app that allowed me to digitally present the words to the songs and fingerplays I was going to share in my storytimes, I wanted to be able to:

  • Access the presentation offline since the wireless internet in our building can be spotty at times.
  • Have the ability to import my PowerPoint presentations into the app so that I could easily edit my slides based on the material I was presenting in storytime each week.

I downloaded the Keynote app after one of my coworkers recommended it. With Keynote you can import your slides via Google Drive. I edit my slides using PowerPoint, then upload my PowerPoint presentation to Google Drive. Both of those are done on the computer. Using the Google Drive app on the iPad, I am given the option of importing my slides into Keynote. Very quick and simple process!

Keynote’s Effectiveness

LGPL storytimeIt works! I am always seeing parents and caregivers looking on our screen and singing along with me. The biggest improvement has been in my lapsit storytime. The parents’ and caregivers’ hands are free to bounce, tickle, and play with the babies, allowing for full participation. I keep the iPad next to me on the floor and I can easily swipe the screen to move on to the next song.

Using Keynote also allows me to stay on track during my storytimes. A big improvement to my post-it notes! Keynote’s ease of use has allowed me to use the iPad in other programs as well. I have used it during my book discussion programs and during our Every Child Ready to Read workshops.

Future Goals

We are currently looking into wireless options for using the iPad in the activity room where our storytimes are held since the iPad has to be attached to our wall panel and this setup doesn’t allow me to move freely through the room. I’d also like to use Keynote for storytelling or to display pictures to introduce the children to our storytime topic/theme. I’d also like to include early literacy tips on the slides in such a way that it is beneficial to the parents but doesn’t take away from them being able to sing along with me.


  • Keynote can be purchased for $9.99 through the iTunes store. It is currently available on iOS devices only.
  • The Google Drive app is available for free in the iTunes store.


Rachael Dabkey is a Youth Services Associate at La Grange Public Library in La Grange, IL. You can find her on Twitter @rachaeldab, visit her blog at, or send her an email at
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.

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.

Incorporating Technology into Summer Reading, by Trista Reno

A little while ago my director asked for information about including technology into our summer reading club program. Her question was somewhat vague and left quite a bit of room for interpretation, which I loved. Here’s the question I asked my colleagues:

“Hi Everyone, Our library is looking to go digital for summer reading club this year. That could mean having an online registration form, reading an ebook, accessing an online game for participation, the sky’s the limit. What are some things that have been done that you would recommend?”

I sent my question to the usual listservs, the awesome people at litteelit, people I follow on Twitter, facebook group ALA Think Tank, and Storytime Underground. I was not disappointed. Here’s a compilation of the suggestions I received:

Digital SRC Compilation (Kids, Teens, Adults)

  • Online Registration
    • Use Evanced for online registration and tracking
    • Use Drupal for online registration
    • for online registration and tracking
  • Additional activities alongside reading
    • Have a website dedicated to additional activities patrons can do in conjunction with “traditional” SRC reading tracking. Example here.
    • King County Library System created a READometer app that keeps track of reading.
    • Download from Freegal
    • Download audiobooks
    • Download from Zinio
    • “like” on Facebook and follow on Twitter
    • Submit reviews online
    • Take pictures and upload to library’s flickr account
    • Use Wattpad, which has over 10 million stories, is free to sign up, available on computers, tablets, smartphones, and has social networking built in.
  • Issue badges as virtual prizes for completed tasks along with physical prizes. Example here.
    • Summer Games and online badges similar to Ann Arbor District Library (They’re willing to share their coding info)
    • Create an entire game-like website like Allegheny County Library Association did for their reading club which can be found here Questyinz

I’d like to send an official “Thank you” to everyone who responded to my question! And if you happen to be reading this post I hope you find the information as valuable as I did.

I’m sure there are many other ways to incorporate technology into summer reading programs. What has YOUR library done or is planning to do?

Trista Reno, Youth Services Librarian
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.

iPads in Your Kids’ Space

So you have new media in your storytimes and other library programming, but what about incorporating into your children’s spaces?

Since their first pilot in October 2012, Sacramento Public Library has installed early literacy iPads into the Kids’ Spaces at four library branches and in a pop-up library project cosponsored by the library and News10. With each pilot program we’ve learned new tips and tricks for getting the most out of tablet technology in our libraries.

Make A Difference Day 039Why put tablets into our libraries at all?

Digital literacy is part of early literacy. We have puppet theaters and writing tables, block bins and early literacy computer stations, so why not include iPads into the design for our children’s areas? A number of the programs that we use extensively in our early literacy programming, such as Every Child Ready to Read and Mother Goose on the Loose, are incorporating new media into their programs. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media put out a joint position statement in January of 2012 with recommendations for using technology with young children. One of the key messages of that position statement was the need for “information and resources to effectively select, use, integrate, and evaluate technology and interactive media tools in intentional and developmentally appropriate ways.” Children today are increasingly more familiar with technology, whether libraries are a part of it or not. And we need to be part of it. Because providing information and resources to select content for children is central to what we do as children’s librarians.

Parents, teachers, and even app developers are looking for guidance. There are so many “educational” apps out there for children, it can be completely overwhelming.  Immediately after we installed the first iPads at South Natomas, we had parents asking for information on the app being featured. There are parents who care about what content they’re giving their children, and they’re looking for recommendations. Librarians are already giving quality advice about which board books or picture books are appropriate for their young children, and we can be just as comfortable giving a great app recommendation. Parents will put their smartphones and tablets into the hands of their young children. Having iPads in the library gives us credibility to recommend good content and best practices for the use of that technology.

Having early literacy iPads in our library supports our goals of promoting literacy. The iPads, like the AWE early literacy stations, are engaging. They attract families to the language-rich early literacy spaces that we’re creating and encourage children to engage with each other, with the technology, and with their caregivers. By loading high quality, developmentally appropriate apps we encourage children to engage in talking, reading, writing, singing, and playing – the behaviors that will help them build a strong foundation for learning to read later in life. When they touch a balloon in “Make It Pop,” it increases their awareness of the alphabet. When they trace a letter in “LetterSchool” it prepares them to be able to write their own name.

By installing early literacy iPads with librarian-selected content in the library, we’re also providing access to all of our families, not just those who can afford to have an iPad at home. With the increased likelihood that children will encounter tablet technology in educational settings, there is a need to address the “digital divide” between children from higher-income and lower-income families.

Whether you’re looking to update your existing children’s area, or designing a new language-rich kids’ learning space, consider incorporating interactive technology to encourage early literacy and digital literacy for all your families.

Amanda Foulk is a Youth Services Librarian at Sacramento Public Library. She became passionate about children and technology when her branch was chosen to pilot early literacy iPads for the Sacramento Public Library system, and has always been opinionated about quality content for children in any format. She can be reached with questions or comments at


Resources for Building Websites for Children

After our recent CLA presentation on Tech Competencies, we got a question asking for resources on web pages for children’s services.

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and though we didn’t get to spend much time on it in our conference session, we thought it would be a good idea to share some resources here. I wish there was a site that I could point to and say “This is perfect. Do exactly this.” The truth is, designing library websites for kids is challenging. Children of different ages have different skills and different needs, and you also have to think about the parents or caregivers and what they are trying to achieve. Needs also vary by community (think about economic factors, education levels, access to technology in the home, etc.). Decisions need to be filtered through those important considerations.

I would start with usability factors. It doesn’t matter how great your site looks and how “kid-friendly” the graphics are if the site is unusable and people can’t find what they are looking for. Good design for websites will ALWAYS go beyond look and feel and will consider usability a foundational element in the design.

The best way to tell if your site is usable is to watch people actually try to use it. When I did a usability testing project for my former place of work, I found Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think was a really great source for DIY usability testing tips. I also relied a lot on the work of Jakob Nielsen. One of the books I used was Prioritizing Web Usability, but there are also a lot of helpful articles on his site including this one specifically on usability issues for kids aged 3-12. For more general information, the research-based usability guidelines at are very helpful, and there is a lot of other useful information on that site as well. You don’t have to test with very many people before the problems with your site become VERY apparent.

TSCPL kids website detailMost libraries don’t have the resources or the desire to create and maintain separate  kids pages for several different age or developmental levels, so there will inevitably be trade-offs. I’ve seen different strategies for dealing with this. For example, the Topeka and Shawnee County kids page has graphical images for various games and activities to draw kids’ attention, and then a “grown-ups go here” option for adults to access more text-based content.

Here are a few more examples of library kids’ sites with some different approaches and different levels of sophistication in the design. Some really try to design the interface for kids, some assume the parents will be in the driver’s seat, some are a mix:

It’s difficult to really judge the success of each one without knowing the particular community and target audience in more detail, but these examples should give you some idea of a range of options.

For me, the guiding principle for library websites is to put the content people want and use most front and center, and streamline everything else as much as possible. If I was designing a kids page from scratch right now, I’d lean towards a hybrid design (good for both kids and parents), with items of primary interest to kids made clear and accessible in an appealing visual layout that’s easily clickable. I’d try to keep the home page and any kid-targeted pages scroll-free, and the navigation clear and simple.

Whether you’re a seasoned web professional or a newbie just trying to figure out how to use your website to better market your services, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of good resources on design and usability that will help you make better choices and improve the site experience for your users.