Blog Archives

Meeting with Fred Rogers, TEC Center at Erikson, ALSC, Children’s Technology Review, LittleeLit &


On October 3 & 4, 2013, a small group of individuals representing a few mighty organizations met at the Technology in Early Childhood Center at the Erikson Institute in Chicago, IL. The group (above) included Iara Fuenmayor (TEC Center),  Joanna Ison & Aimee Strittmatter (ALSC), Rita Catalano & Mike Robb (Fred Rogers Center), Carisa Kluver (, Cen Campbell (, Chip Donohue & Amanda Armstrong (TEC Center) and Warren Buckleitner (Children’s Technology Review, though Warren joined us remotely). The group got together to discuss an idea that we’ve been working on at LittleeLit for some time now; unified, wide-scale librarian involvement in the children’s digital publishing marketplace. Chip Donohue offered to facilitate our little convention after meeting with Carisa Kluver, Starr Latronica (ALSC President) & me at ALA Annual in Chicago right after the A to Zoo for Apps conversation starter, and during our 2 day meeting in October we discussed the need for children’s librarians to be much more actively involved in developing resources and programming that include new media.

Initially my plan was to develop a comprehensive app evaluation, curation and aggregation tool similar to A to Zoo but for digital media, but the emphasis of the project has shifted away from the tool and more toward the training. I do think there is a pressing need for a tool that is populated with data (and metadata!) by children’s librarians, but the development of a large piece of software with buy-in from many different parties seems to require more bandwidth than most of us can handle right now, and there are concerns that the marketplace is changing so quickly, and there are many other “recommendation” projects in existence, that the resources and time it would take to build a truly comprehensive tool may not pay off as well in the long run as the training. I’m working on ways to build the development of a tool into the training materials themselves, though, even if it makes use of existing tools or takes more time to build than we’d initially hoped.

The working title for the project is Access, Content & Engagement: Media Mentors @ Your Library and the vision for the project is as follows:

In every community library there will be a media mentor who develops early childhood programming that models the intentional, appropriate and healthy use of mobile technology with young children and recommends high quality, age-appropriate digital media as a part of normal reference & reader’s advisory services.

The plan right now is to go for an IMLS planning grant to expand on the work we’ve been doing through (like individual consulting projects and New Media in Storytime workshops), trainings with Carisa Kluver and the California State Library, as well as Betsy Diamant-Cohen and Mother Goose on the Loose. Through all of these projects we’ve been working toward the development of training resources, the training workshops themselves, and early literacy technology projects within public libraries. For the planning grant we’re seeking partners to both guide the development of the training tools, and partners to act as pilot sites.

The cast of characters who are lending their resources and guidance to this initiative is impressive, and I am humbled by the continued outlay of support for what we’re attempting to do. Not only are the aforementioned institutions lending themselves to the project in an advisory capacity, we also have representatives from the Every Child Ready to Read Oversight Committee, the New America Foundation (Lisa Guernsey, who put the “media mentor” idea in my head in the first place) and representatives from other State Libraries and library systems all around the continent offering their institutions and services.

I have a few months of heavy-duty grant writing ahead of me, but I have a whole team of experienced and enthusiastic people from libraryland and beyond who see the need for guidance in this area, and who realize the potential of the public library to provide that guidance to families and educators who are struggling with managing and using new media with their young charges. The project is still in its infancy and I am working on details about who is going to do what. All we know is that librarians are finally stepping up to fill a very big void, and if we get funded, we’re going to do it nationally.

Many thanks to everyone who joined us in Chicago, especially to Chip & Amanada, our gracious hosts. I look forward to future discussions, preferably where no one gets sick!


eBook vs Tree Book: A technology terminology metadiscussion that ends with “New Media”

People-Press-300x200There’s been a lot of new media meta discussion recently; I wrote a post for the ALSC blog called “Screen Time” is Bad, which discusses the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad phrase “screen time” and Carisa wrote a related piece on the Digital Media Diet entitled Screen Time Vs Screen Quality: Why the Current Media & Kids Debate is About the Wrong Topic.

Then this morning she sent me this report from the Pew Research Center: In a digital age, parents value printed books for their kids. I barely got through the first paragraph when I realized I was confused; they use the word “print” to refer to paper books, as opposed to electronic books. We had a yabber about that, and it was decided that there is little or no ambiguity when you compare the terms “ebook” and “tree book.” But then I got thinking about some of the conference and institute proposals I’ve submitted with a host of other awesome people, and I realize I’m being way too app-centric.

Apps apps apps! That’s all we seem to talk about these days, and I think that’s short sighted. Fran Simon talks about “app mania,” both with reference to the use of technology for technology’s sake, and also in the sense that we ignore simpler tools (like spreadsheets, cameras and text editors) as center points for engagement when using technology with young children. When did the word “apps” come to refer to any kind of technology you might use with a child? (See a fabulous Slideshare presentation by Fran Below)

It’s exciting that we exist in such a tumultuous time, but it means we’re all going to have to renegotiate and redefine the words we use. The words we use shape the thoughts in our heads. For my next conference proposal I’m going to try NOT to use the word “app” too much, in favour of “new media.” We’ll see how that goes.

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!

Children’s Librarians Curating Apps

Children’s Librarians! We need to build a mechanism by which we can work together to evaluate and recommend apps for kids on a large scale, and I know how we can do it.

Yesterday I spoke with Carisa Kluver of Digital Storytime for the first time. She is full of wonderful information, is incredibly well spoken and knows the kids’ app world better than anyone else I know.  She told me that it’s the highest compliment she can receive when someone asks if she’s a children’s librarian (she’s not) because her area of expertise is book-based apps for kids. She told me how in 2010, when she went into her local library to get recommendations for book based apps to share with her son, she was given the cold shoulder by the children’s librarian and told to read a paper book instead. So she took it upon herself to take her background in teacher training and social work and become an expert in digital media for kids.  “If librarians are not going to supervise this new playground of [digital] children’s literature to make sure the equipment is safe, then I am.”  Compared to Carisa’s work, Little eLit is in the dark ages.  She saw a need for this way before I did, and I see the need for this way before most other children’s librarians do.  Colleagues; we have some catching up to do.

I told Carissa about a recent conversation on the ALSC listserv and blog where some librarians were recommending that we as children’s librarians should stick our collective heads in the sand, pretend the technology doesn’t exist and only recommend paper books. She and I agreed that the long-term studies that will support the inclusion of digital media in literacy programming for kids is at least a decade off. Does that mean that we AREN’T going to begin to develop best practices around using this new format with kids?  NO! Tablet technology is pervasive and parents are using it anyway. Abstinence-only education doesn’t work.  Telling parents that they shouldn’t use technology with their less-than-five-year old child is not an acceptable course of action for professionals who pride themselves on evaluating, curating and recommending high quality media for children.

So what can we do?  Carisa had an amazing idea. What if children’s librarians work together to build a tool for evaluating and recommending apps?  Sure there are review sites like SLJHorn BookKirkusAppiticCommon Sense Media and Digital Storytime, but even these only scratch the surface of book based and educational apps for kids.  It’s time we started working together to apply our collection development and programming expertise to the ever-expanding, dynamic, and useful world of children’s interactive media. Carisa has offered to help us build a system by which we can tag, comment on, organize and curate apps that we discover that are high quality, safe, educational and well-designed. All we have to do is tell her what kind of information we’d want in there, and she’ll see what she can do about building the database.

Here are some more specifics from Carisa:

We could set up a test server for you & anyone else from ALSC to test it out. It would be based on the software we built to show price drops on kids apps, with curated ‘tabs’, although most of the elements & visual look of the page can be changed, this give you an idea:
We can customize it quite a bit & remove the price-tracking feature and/or add in other types of categorization, maybe based on a group of at least 6 people willing to act as a steering committee and committed to beta testing before the software is opened to a larger group of librarians (and to help handle technical questions as it launches). Initially I can simply have a version of the blank database set up at one of the url’s we use for testing, just for you to log in and play with it. We can host it, or if you have technical folks who are willing to step-up, we can simply give you the code.

Children’s librarians! Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff in the app world for kids.  Let’s bring those evaluation skills into the digital age. Comment below, contact me on Twitter, or fill out my contact form to start this conversation.

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.

Happy Halloween!

Check out the Digital Media Diet’s Top 10 iPad Book Apps for Halloween!  And for the record, I prefer weird, misshapen pumpkins too.

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.

How to Rate an App

Many app review sources use rating systems to rate apps for young children.  There are a number of factors to take into consideration, like the 6 Early Literacy skills, but there are also format-driven elements that can determine the quality of an app or eBook for kids.

Common Sense Media has a detailed, thorough description of their rating system which describes how they arrive at the conclusions they do about apps for kids.  There is a section that describes in detail what’s appropriate at each age and includes information about cognitive, social, emotional, physical and technological development. For app ratings they take into account the following factors:

  • Age Appropriateness
  • Consumerism
  • Drinking/drugs and smoking
  • Ease of play
  • Language
  • Learning potential
  • Online privacy and safety
  • Positive messages
  • Positive role models
  • Scariness
  • Sexy stuff (ha! I like how they word that)
  • Violence

Digital Storytime gives an in-depth overview of their rating system as well.  They take into account the following factors, as well as a general editorial overview.

  • Animation
  • Audio
  • Bedtime
  • Educational
  • Extras
  • Interactivity
  • Originality
  • Re-Readability

If you do a Google search for “how to rate an app” there are a whole bunch of websites that rate apps and publish their rating system.  Once we get our ducks in a row with funding and devices for our circulating tablet programs we’ll be taking a look at many of these sources, and putting together our own app rating rubric to determine which apps and eBooks should be included.

Digital Storytime has Expanded!

I’ve been on the hunt for great apps that are available on the Kindle Fire or for Android, and I see that Digital Storytime now has the option of sorting by apps for Android, Kindle, iPad or Nook.  You can still sort by age, rating, length, and, my favourite, quality.  The quality setting includes the overall rating, and also individual ratings for animation, audio quality, interactivity, re-readability,   bedtime, educational, originality and games/puzzles/extras.

I’m so glad that there are so many more apps out there for Android, because while I love Dr Seuss and Sandra Boynton, there still aren’t nearly as many good quality apps and eBooks available for anything other than the iPad.  Many other review sources only review content for Apple products, and it’s nice to see that the market for non-Apple apps is getting strong enough that developers are putting effort into making their products available for a number of different platforms.