Category Archives: Media Literacy

Most Successful Unsuccessful Program Ever

tablettaleslogoLast week was the most successful unsuccessful Tablet Tales program I’ve had yet. Only one family came to this pilot session at the Morgan Hill Library: a mom, a teenage girl, a 9ish year old boy and my most enthusiastic participant, a first grade girl. I had planned a family storytime, and what I did instead was sit on the floor next to my first grader and we looked at the huge books on the screen together and just read, talked and sang. We read Llama Llama. We sang and then read/sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider. We read a few Caldecotts from my recent Caldecott hunt. We guessed what the bunny would do next, we rhymed words, we made funny noises, I learned that she had lost a tooth recently, and she showed me how much she loved reading books.

After we’d run through all the books I’d planned, plus a whole handful more, I showed her the new Goodnight Moon app and then I told her and her family it was the end of storytime. As they were leaving the the teenage sister told me “I like how you sang the book instead of reading it.”

Once outside the storytime room, the mother started telling me about her youngest daughter, the first grader.

“She’s not a very good reader. She doesn’t like reading. We get books but she doesn’t like to read them. What can I give her to make her read?”

The girl was standing right there, between us.

I was speechless for a moment. This mother’s assessment of her daughter, though presumably well intentioned (after all, they WERE hanging out in the library as a family, asking a librarian for help), was so destructive. I took her over to the children’s area, showed her some high-interest books, gave her some book and app lists, and told her more about what services the library offers, but I’m not sure I gave her the answer she wanted to hear. I commented on how much her daughter did, in fact, enjoy reading and singing, and she had done a very good job of reading with me, and if she liked the format of the books we read together in storytime, the library offers some similar ones through Bookflix and Tumblebooks. I described how apps and eBooks can be a wonderfully motivating format for children (I avoid using phrases like “reluctant reader”), but the whole interaction made me so sad.

I wonder about their home life. It is dangerous to make assumptions about people, but after working with people for awhile, you begin to see patterns. I strongly suspect that those children live in a media-saturated environment (ie television) and that the mother may not have known that you can sit together and sing books (digital or paper) instead of reading them (hence the teenager being surprised that a librarian might do something like that in a library program), or talk about what you see in the pictures and make up your own stories. I also wonder if the mother’s feelings about her own language and literacy skills may have been a limiting factor in the family’s reading environment.

We children’s librarians often sit in our ivory towers recommending books and only books (and paper ones at that!) and it falls on deaf ears because a lot of children now grow up bombarded with multimedia experiences, and an old-fashioned book is just not able to hold their attention in the way it “should.” That little girl was incredibly jazzed about sitting with an adult, sharing some cool books (that just happened to be digital), singing, reading and talking. I wish I’d had an iPad full of high-quality apps to give them to take home, to motivate and invigorate their family, which is probably on the less fortunate side of the digital divide. If the mother doesn’t read to her kids because she’s not very “good” at reading herself, an app or an iBook with the narration setting turned on could provide them the cuddling/bonding opportunity that they may miss out on otherwise.

That child was learning with me. We shared the experience together, and the mother did seem to pay attention as I actively involved her daughter in a joint media engagement experience. This may not look like the literacy of 10, 50 or 100 years ago, but we need as children’s librarians to work with it and make it the best it can be. In some cases we have a lot of damage to undo, and using high quality media intelligently can be a very successful tool to reach children who have already been exposed to too much of the wrong kind of media.

Thanks for asking. No, I do not advocate wormholing babies.

A wise and funny colleague of mine once used the word “wormholing” to refer to the blank, zombie-like expression on his baby’s face when the child was exposed to a television show. That face is a really good indicator that the child’s brain is not learning anything. That face is what the good doctors Frederick J. Zimmerman, Dimitri A. Christakis, and Andrew N. Meltzoff took issue with in the Baby Einstein debacle. That’s passive screen time face.

That’s not what we’re doing here.

Wormholing generally doesn’t happen in any of my programs, and I hope it doesn’t happen in yours either. The reason wormholing doesn’t happen in storytimes, even if digital tools are involved, is because storytime is an interactive, wiggly, musical, multi-sensory literacy-supporting extravaganza. Adding a flannel board that happens to be digital does not change that, nor does showcasing a great new book app for which the library also has circulating paper copies. That said, it is very important to take into account current recommendations about screen time for very young children, and to make parents aware of those recommendations.

My son didn’t see a lit screen until after his 2nd birthday, and I don’t just use technology in my programs for technology’s sake. If there are under 2s in the crowd I tell parents about the position statements of the AAP and NAEYC and remind them that the program is geared for preschoolers (or whatever age group I’m aiming for.) I model healthy media behavior and tell parents that the interaction they can have with their children and an iPad is a co-reading experience, or Joint Media Engagement, and is NOT an electronic babysitter. I tell them that I’m showing them some of the really high quality stuff that is available to them through the devices they already use (a service similar to book recommendations). I use digital felt boards, books, apps and presentation software and gear my content to my crowd. I make them wiggle when they need to wiggle, and I read or tell stories in whatever format works best for that program. Storytimes that incorporate digital media are still interactions with caring, knowledgeable adults; they still foster the love of reading; and they still support the development of early literacy skills.

It occurred to me that there really are two different uses for the “digital storytelling” tools that I’ve been proselytizing: A) high quality digital content (appvisory!), and B)  presentation tools. The former is age specific and requires the evaluation skills of a librarian (or educator) to decide what content is appropriate for what program in what community. The latter is just professional presentation skills. Often a digital storytelling program is a combination of the two, but in the case of 2s and under, sometimes all you’re going to do is use your mirrored iPad as a presentation tool to facilitate learning for the parents (who, as we all repeat extensively, are their child’s first teachers). This does not mean you’re exposing babies to more screen time by showing them how to “pop” the blackberries in Peter Rabbit; it means you can be displaying lyrics, resources or other material for sleep deprived caretakers and helping them learn skills to support their babies’ development. You can be providing visual cues in addition to aural so parents and babies know when it’s time to get up and dance. I used to use whiteboards, flip charts and PowerPoint presentations for that.  Now it’s much easier to use my ipad.

As with anything else in life, I try to use the best tool for the job. To teach new songs, I use my voice, my flute, and lyrics and pictures on a screen so parents can sing along right away. To ensure that everyone in the room can see a book (The Going To Bed Book, for example) I use the app mirrored on a large screen.  To learn new nursery rhymes I use Rosemary Wells’ My Very First Mother Goose (paper!) and to re-focus energy I use finger and body movements.

Digital tools are just that; tools. Use them when they’re appropriate, don’t use them when they’re not, and for goodness sake, don’t wormhole any babies!

ReBlog: Tiny Tips for Library Fun

From Tiny Tips for Library Fun by 

Stop Making a Divide!

It has been a rambunctious few weeks on the alsc-l listserv and then followed up on the ALSC blog. What is ruffling feathers and raising tempers?  The basic question of how we as youth librarians incorporate and curate digital content for kids – including very young kids.

A simple request to share thoughts with an app developer passed on to the listserv by Cen Campbell over at Little eLit blog elicited more action than I’ve seen on alscl in a while.  Some people got quite off topic with flame-worthy insistence that digital content had no place in the library lives of kids between 0-5. The ALSC blog guest posts followed – herehere and here.

I never weighed in on this brouhaha except in comments. I will tell you, though, I was dismayed at some of the attitudes displayed and the arguments made against including digital content for young kids. Although we haven’t made much of a leap at our library, it is a direction I expect our team will be going much sooner rather than later.  Again, Cen pointed the way in her Wrestling Your Bear post at the beginning of November. That  coupled with the provocative thinking in the Libraries and Transliteracy blog (now finished) really informed my thinking.

Cen’s thoughts dovetail with mine. This semester I have been teaching a graduate level Children’s and YA Services course for UW-Madison.  One of our textbooks, Adele Fasick’s From Boardbook to Facebook, published in 2011, makes the case for the direction youth libraries will inevitably be moving in. It’s a direction that seamlessly blends traditional print with digital content to meet the needs of our families. I would be remiss as an instructor – and as a practicing librarian – not to look further and more deeply into the future that is truly happening right now. My students need to be open to the possibilities they will experience at the beginning – as well as at the end – of their careers.

While I appreciate the hesitation and worry about screen time expressed by people, I also think it is incredibly short-sighted and darn near dereliction of duty not to stand-up, research-up, read-up, learn-up, understand-up AND change-up for positive support and curation of digital content for kids. Arguing as Luddites that screens time is a no-no below a certain age ignores the rich (and sometimes stupid and banal) content that parents are tapping into already. As youth librarians we need to understand and lead, model and recommend to help our families find the best for their kids.

I hope people stop thinking of why not and start thinking of why and how. We serve our communities best when we add to our knowledge base, bridge the divides – and change and evolve with the times. By learning from and collaborating with each other we all gain.

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.

National Association for Media Literacy Education

I’m preparing a conference proposal with my colleagues Paige Bentley-Fannery and Genesis Hansen for the National Association for Media Literacy Education 2013 conference in Torrence, CA. I’m not a member of NAMLE yet, and it’s outside of my echo chamber.. er, I mean, my library association comfort zone, so I’m reading a little more about what they do, where their emphasis is, and how librarians can contribute to the conversations that they’re having. They have some really great information on their website that I have posted here before, but as I get more and more involved in policy, pedagogical and philosophical discussions about why I’m doing what I’m doing, I find it’s useful to return to some of the basics.

Note: look at their Board of Directors and National Advisory Council. See any librarians?  Yeah.  Me either.

Media Literacy: The Basic Definition

Within North America, media literacy is seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms, including print and non-print messages.

Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages.

The term “media literacy” is often used interchangeably with other terms related to media and media technologies. To clarify what we mean when we talk about media literacy, NAMLE offers these definitions:

  • Media refers to all electronic or digital means and print or artistic visuals used to transmit messages.
  • Literacy is the ability to encode and decode symbols and to synthesize and analyze messages.
  • Media literacy is the ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages.
  • Media education is the study of media, including ‘hands on’ experiences and media production.
  • Media literacy education is the educational field dedicated to teaching the skills associated with media literacy.

Professional is Personal

I got one of the best questions I’ve ever had based on the flaming listserv thread and accompanying ALSC blog post that have been driving my stats WAY up this week.  This one really made me think.

Hi Cen!

I’ve been intrigued reading this thread the past few days. I had a random thought. I’m a reference librarian and a mom to an 18 month old toddler boy. Do you think that being a Mom yourself sheds a different light on how you go about promoting/analyzing this whole children & technology debate? Do you think that children’s librarians who are parents themselves have a different perspective than non parent children’s librarians, for better or worse? Or do you think that they are on equal ground and can both just go off of their library’s practices and the research out there, and using their experiences in their particular children’s programs.

Erin Holt
Reference Librarian
Williamson County Public Library

My response:

I can’t generalize for other parents who are also librarians, but my personal experience greatly informs my professional practice, and vice versa.  I’m not sure if that makes me  more or less qualified to deal with sticky issues like screen time for young kids.  My son is 3, and many find it surprising that A) He isn’t really that jazzed about the various mobile devices that inhabit our house, and B) He goes to a Waldorf school (for those of you unfamiliar with Steiner philosphy, screen time is a big no-no. Like, BIG no no.)  He does not watch TV (we have one but only use it for videoconferencing with grandparents) and he could totally do without apps. My kid is not techy, and he puts up with my storytime preparations on the iPad and waits patiently, playing with his (wooden) toys until it’s time to read paper books.  The apps and books that I make available to him are the same ones that I use in my programs and recommend to my communities, so yes, there is crossover between what I do in my job as a mom and in my job as a librarian.

That said, my kid’s media behavior is not the norm, and his life circumstances are better than most. He was born into a household with 2 parents, both of whom have graduate degrees. We are actively involved in his development and make conscious choices about how we introduce him to the world.  We make him eat his veggies. He is not at-risk in any way (unless you consider the time he spends in the backseat of my car on California freeways). Is it odd that I work so hard to produce high-tech kids programming, and motivate my colleagues to do the same, when my experience with my own child at home is extremely low-tech and media-free?  Maybe.

The early literacy programs that I develop can be looked at in a few ways, and can have vastly different implications for different families in different communities.  Silicon Valley is full of wealthy, educated parents who know that to help their children be successful in life, they must interact with them, feed them good food, provide them with age-appropriate experiences: activities, books, media, preschool, playdates, storytimes etc. These parents benefit from hearing about the latest cool new book-based apps that they can pay for and download on their brand new iPads.  They can learn new songs, signs and rhymes and high falutin things like how dialogic reading which includes function/attribute questions can significantly accelerate the psycholinguistic development of their child (duh!). They see the value of digital media for their children as learning tools, and overall they support early literacy programs that incorporate interactive media.

Then we cross the digital/socioeconomic/educational divide. We have migrant workers, single family homes, families who live near the poverty line, parents who don’t have much education and don’t know not to put Coke in their kids’ baby bottle (I saw this once in one of my previous libraries and I almost cried). We have people who think sitting their kid in front of Dora for hours teaches them something. It still boggles my mind that many of these people actually own some kind of tablet technology! I have seen first hand parents ignoring their children and handing them a smart phone with completely inappropriate content to keep them quiet. Some may feel it’s politically incorrect to say it, but there’s often a high socio-economic and/or cultural correlation for this kind of negligent/exhausted parenting. If I could get them to my programs I’d have a wonderful opportunity to model for them what healthy parent/child media behavior looks like, how using age appropriate apps can help motivate their children when they’re learning to read, and where to find good quality FREE resources.

Lots of parents (and this includes both Silicon Valley yippies and those less fortunate) don’t know that high-quality digital content looks like. They don’t know that they should be interacting with their child when that child is holding a smart phone or tablet. Who is going to show them?  It may be the case that the people who need that kind of information the most are not in the habit of going to libraries (that’s a different discussion altogether), but we need to be developing programs like Tablet Tales in libraries all over to start modeling positive media behavior for all of the families in our communities. We need to normalize high quality, literacy-supporting digital media consumption for kids in libraries, because many people are going to be looking at junk otherwise.

If I was doing or giving something to my child that could harm him, and a professional I trusted showed me how I could help him instead, chances are I’d take their advice. Children’s librarians have the potential to become experts in digital media for kids, and to offer age-appropriate, educational alternatives on devices that are in the kids hands anyway.

Thanks for your question, Erin.  If any of you have questions to do with kids and technology, please ask. Let’s keep this conversation going so we can all learn together.

Little eLit on the ALSC Blog!

Check out this guest blog post I wrote for the ALSC Blog about a particularly hair-pulling conversation on the ALSC listserv. Every day I am more convinced that we need to launch some wide-scale training for children’s librarians so they know the hows, whys and whats of digital programming and services for kids in libraries. It’s our job now. Let’s talk about it, find or develop the resources we need, and get on the same page so that we can all begin offering services and content that is relevant to our communities in this digital age.

High Altitude Digital Storytelling

I don’t know why it took me this long to find this, but there’s a great overview of a digital storytelling project published by the Colorado Association of Libraries.  It’s called Once Upon an App: The Process of Creating Digital Storytimes for Preschoolers by Kate Lucey and Melissa Della Penna (Douglas County Libraries, of eBook fame).

This article chronicles the very beginning stages of developing a digital storytelling program. Their development process took into consideration the Every Child Ready to Read‘s 6 Early Literacy Skills,  as well as the follow-up Five Early Literacy Practices, and ISTE‘s concept of digital literacy. There’s a great table that outlines these skills (below).

Six Early Literacy Skills Five Early Literacy Practices
  • Phonological Awareness: Being able to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words.
  • Narrative Skills: Being able to describe things and events, and tell stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Letter Knowledge: Knowing the names, sounds, and shapes of letters.
  • Vocabulary: Knowing the names of things.
  • Print Awareness: Noticing print as it surrounds you in the environment.
  • Print Motivation: Having fun with books.
  • Talking: Helps children learn oral language, one of the most critical early literacy skills, and develops all skills featured in ECRR 1st Edition.
  • Singing: Increase awareness of and sensitivity to the sounds in words and develops letter knowledge, phonological awareness, and vocabulary.
  • Playing: Represents one of the primary ways children learn about the world and gain understanding about stories.
  • Reading: Remains the single most effective way to help children become proficient readers and develops all six early literacy skills.
  • Writing: Helps children learn that letters and words stand for sounds and that print has meaning.

The authors recount the history of the project, the process of getting to know the audience, creating goals for the program and selecting apps.  This is what their final program looked like:

  • Go Away Big Green Monster app – Read by the Librarian
  • Go Away Big Green Monster app – Musical Version
  • Old Mac Donald Had a Farm app – Rhythm sticks also used by children to keep the beat as they sang along
  • Build-It-Up app – Mimics a color- and shape-identification flannel board
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App – Read aloud by the librarian, as well as the recorded version by the author Mo Williams
  • “Can You Clap” – Song played on iPad performed by Sue Schnitzer from the CD Can You Nap
  • Puppet Pals app – Character-based story created by the children and the librarian
  • “Teddy Bear Playtime” – Song played on iPad performed by Hap Palmer from the CD So Big

The Obsolescence of Picture Books and Reading to Children

I’m a children’s librarian.  In library school, I learned how to pan books around the room during storytime. I know the importance of dialogic reading.  I cringe when parents come to the desk and ask for a DVD that can teach their kids to do something. I don’t think Dora or the Magic Treehouse books are good literature, but the kids are ravenous for them, so I show them where to go.  My 3 year old has mostly Caldecott winners or honor books in his personal collection at home. I use music heavily in my early literacy programs because kids love it, and when they love it, they learn. I can recite the 6 early literacy skills by heart. I support literacy like a boss.

I am NOT out to replace picture books, or reading generally, with technology. Why do so many children’s librarians think that because there are new tools to enhance a child’s use of the library, that the next step is to throw out every other tool we have? Reading books comes first.  I agree. Children reading together with parents, as early as possible, is the best thing for developing brains.  I agree.  Too much time in front of screens is a bad thing.  I agree. Reading a print book is not the same as reading a digital book.  I agree.

Yay! We all agree! We’re friends! We all love books and reading! So stop getting all up in my grill when I say that it makes more sense to project an iBook on a screen so that everyone in the room can see it, not just the 5 big kids in the front.  Stop making that squinty face when I recommend a good-quality book-based app. Parents are downloading stuff on their smart phones and tablets anyway; would you rather they show their kid the crappy stuff with in-app purchases, bad interface, rampant consumerism and potentially inappropriate content? Step up, grab your library’s iPad, and start using the same content that your customers are using at home.

I am not threatening the 30 years you have spent being very good at your job by suggesting that we learn about new formats for children’s books.  I am not advocating that people read solely on their devices.  I am not making you obsolete. I am not suggesting that we remove ALL physical elements from a  storytime in favour of digital facsimiles.

The digital marketplace is FLOODED with content for kids and people need our stewardship more than ever.  This is an opportunity to expand our skill sets and learn about useful tools that can make us more effective and relevant as information professionals and experts in early literacy.

Read this article from the Guardian. The assertion is that the same things that makes a kid’s book great are what makes kid’s apps great: Great storytelling. Strong characters.

This, hopefully, will head off the crotchety commenters who appear whenever I write about children’s apps for The Guardian, saying things like “You idiot! Children should be reading BOOKS, not staring at a screen!” Ridiculous, since children in even the geekiest households are doing both, not replacing the former with the latter.

Beginning the Digital Storytime Journey

I have just begun working in a new library system where I have been asked to facilitate the development of some digital storytelling resources. We’ve begun discussing some exciting ideas for incorporating digital media into our services for children.  What we’d like to do is add more tools to the storyteller’s toolkit; in addition to physical puppets, flannel boards, draw and tell stories, etc, we’re going to be looking for digital tools  to use both in our programs, and to recommend to parents.

There are 2 aspects of digital storytelling;

  1. Virtual storytimes: This would be where we simply record programs, or segments of programs, and upload them so people can watch them at home or on a mobile device.  In the new year we’ll begin pursuing this type of digital storytelling a little more aggressively to develop a dynamic children’s “department” in the virtual branch of the library.
  2. Incorporating digital media (iPads, mostly) into everyday storytimes; this is where the apps and eBooks come in.

Here’s a general timeline:

  • July 1st we begin downloading and reviewing apps for usability in Early Literacy programming. We will establish collection development requirements for these apps just like we would any other media in the library. I will post all apps that make the grade as well as other resources for librarians who are interested in playing around with these new storytelling tools;
  • Develop some resources to give to parents about digital literacy, along with recommendations for apps and review sources;
  • August: presenting some of our work at the Children’s Supervisory Librarians meeting;
  • Begin a dialogue with special needs groups in our service area about integrating some of these tools into programming for those populations.  We will be working with two researchers/children’s librarians (one from Vancouver Public Library, one from Brooklyn Public Library) to develop evidence-based practices for integrating research on special needs education and digital technology;
  • September: checking out the branches for viability with regards to lighting, projectors, physical space etc;
  • Once the Summer Reading Club is over we’re going to look at incorporating some digital storytelling into Every Child Ready to Read and Outreach.

If any of this sounds fun, or you have some ideas to share, please contact me.  This is a brand new world for libraries; not a lot has been done in this area and I hope this process can be as collaborative, creative and fun as possible.