Blog Archives

What’s the point of librarians?

I’ve been chewing on this question ever since I went to NAEYC PDI and had a mind-blowing, navel-gazing discussion with the folks at Follett Early Learning over some great Thai food.

So, what value DO librarians bring to the world? Books. We do books. But is that what we bring to the world? The organization, care and dissemination of books? Is the value of a librarian based around libraries as physical spaces? Evaluating media? Offering read-to-a-dog programs? Teaching teens how to make duct tape wallets? Free wifi? Storytime?

I put the question to the Little eLit think tank, and we began trying to define what it is that the manifesto of a 21st century librarian should include. Since our normal topics deal with the use of technology with young children, we also considered working on a position statement specifically for children’s librarians about tech & kids (in the same kind of vein as the NAEYC position statement) but it quickly became apparent that A) technology is not separate from anything else we do anymore and B) our tech statement would become obsolete very quickly.

It all comes back to answering this question: What value do we bring to our communities that doesn’t come from anywhere else?

Librarians pride themselves on their roles as stewards of information, and of their dedication to intellectual freedom, authoritative resources and the freedom to read. But what happens when the very definitions of “information,” “reading” and “authoritative” are no longer static, and the mission of providing equal access to all is hampered by the very structure of our organizations? What can libraries do that Parks & Rec, Amazon, iTunes, Goodreads, the History Channel, Smashwords, Starbucks and Reddit can’t?

What’s the point of librarians?


NAEYC PDI proposal accepted:Links with Libraries: The Surprisingly Diverse Ways Libraries are Supporting Developmentally Appropriate Early Learning in Partnerships with Schools and Programs

institutebanner950x250_1-1 (1)

I just received confirmation that the proposal Lisa GuernseyKaren Nemeth and I submitted to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Professional Development Institute  (San Francisco, June 9-12 2013) has been accepted. There’s no link up yet, and the details may be different in the official program, but below is the description we submitted. This program is part of my personal/professional campaign to break out of the library echochamber and collaborate creatively with other professions who work with the same demographics that we do.

Links with Libraries: The Surprisingly Diverse Ways Libraries are Supporting Developmentally Appropriate Early Learning in Partnerships with Schools and Programs

Public libraries are doing amazing things for early learning and developmentally appropriate practice. Ideas for collaborating with libraries should be part of early childhood teacher preparation and training. This session will present exciting examples of library initiatives that meet diverse language needs, offer access to technology, and build family literacy.

See my other upcoming speaking engagements.

iPads in Programs for Under 2s

More great discussion! See the following email from Mary Glendening, Director of the Middletown Free Library, and my response below:

I think, in part, [using iPads in storytime] depends on what age we are talking about. Certainly we should not be bringing iPads and other screens into storytimes for kids under age 2. Even with preschool children I think it’s something that needs to be thought about carefully and it would be great to have some best practices to fall back on. I do think we should be reminding parents about the AAP recommended screen time limits as I would hate for the take away for parents to be that screen time is ok as long as it’s an app.

There are things to consider regarding brain development and how screen time affects that. I recently heard Dr. David Walsh speak for a second time and I think he has a lot of great info on brain development and how media affects developing brains.  Too much screen time affects attention and I feel that by using iPads and more screens in storytimes we are giving a bit of a stamp of approval to screen time over book time. Both are important/useful but too much screentime is detrimental to brain development and has consequences. Kids learn through experience and using an app is not the same as an experience that happens in the real world.

I do think there is value in the iPad and apps and they can be especially useful for kids with learning disabilities but at the same time, aren’t parents coming to story time for that bonding experience with their child and for the focus on books and experience and not for more technology? I think this can vary from community to community but I have had parents complain about the AWE Early Literacty Station in our children’s department at my last job and their main complaint was their kids were more drawn to the computer and it made it hard for them to get them interested in taking out books.

I don’t think it’s an all or nothing proposition but I do think it’s something that needs to be added with consideration and care. What are you trying to accomplish by bringing the iPad or other technology into story time and does it add value to what you are doing? Just because it’s there and being used by others doesn’t mean you NEED to add it or that it will improve your program. Other educators generally get more time with the kids they serve so instead of seeing them for an hour each week they are working with kids on a daily basis or at least for more time than we get them in a story time.

I think the Little eLit website is a great first step and at least gives people a place to start looking at what’s available and how it’s being used. Looking at something on a screen is different than looking at a phyiscal book and it is valid to look at brain development research and how screens affect that. I don’t think it’s anti-technology to have some hesitation on adding this to a story time as we should always be evaluating what we do and why we are doing it.

Mary Glendening
Middletown Free Library

Hi Mary

You make a lot of good points here. I want to address just one; I too wanted to avoid using the iPad in my under 2s programs, and I always try to tell parents about the NAEYC position statement for technology use with young children. I generally don’t use book-based or educational apps in programs for under 2s, but I have realized that the iPad is often just a better presentation tool overall.

If I am running a book babies program and I want to teach the moms new lyrics or songs, I put them up on the screen instead of hand-writing them out on the white board like I used to do. Then I can send them the link to the SlideShare file after the program or have it available on the library’s website. I can also have a slide with that day’s parent education tip “Repetition is good or your child!” to help second-language learners or just plain old sleep-deprived moms take more information away from the session. I might include a slide or two of an animal (not an app; just a Keynote slide with a picture of a bunny on it) when we do the bunny rhyme that we do every week. This provides a visual cue that we’re moving on to the next activity. I still use physical cues too; puppets, scarves, shakers, whatever; the iPad does not replace those things, it is yet another tool in the storyteller’s toolkit.

We have to keep in mind that in many of our programs, a lot of the content is geared toward the parents as well as the child, and by presenting the information more efficiently to the parents, they are more likely to remember what we’ve shown them. I know of many librarians who use powerpoint or flip-charts in their book babies programs; an app on your iPad is just the next evolution of this function, and it allows for better distribution of the content.



Content, Context and the Individual Child

Great article from NAEYC by Lisa Guernsey entitled How True Are Our Assumptions about Screen Time?

The article debunks 5 common assumptions about screen time through an examination of scholarly research.  I felt myself alternately nodding wisely while musing:

“Fascinating.  I shall use this information in my programs. How interesting that study was! Content, Context and the individual child, what wonderful and useful alliteration! How lovely!”

And rolling my eyes and thinking:

“WTF? There are parents who let their 4 year olds watch CSI? What is WRONG with these people? Some parents still think that TV teaches their kid how to do things? They think that violent or scary movies won’t affect their preschoolers, even though they’re specifically designed to freak the f^c7 out of people?”

Views on children’s media consumption are so polarized it’s mind boggling. I rant regularly about die-hard luddite librarian-types who think children should never look at a screen EVER, and that even book-based apps have no place in a library; and then I read something like this which respectfully recounts the straight-up stupid assumptions and decisions some parents make about the media they expose their children to. I realize there are huge socioeconomic and educational factors that can account for these differences, and that it is part of my job as a librarian and digital literacy advocate to provide information and resources to both ends of the spectrum.  But come ON.  CSI?!

My big take-away from this article is the aforementioned cleverly alliterated “Content, Context and individual Child.” What matters is how the screen is used; that the content is age-appropriate, there is context enough for the child to learn something from the content, and that the child’s interests and abilities are respected.  Below are some excerpts that I felt were particularly relevant to interactive media (much of the article focused on television).

Assumption 3: All media for children under age 2 is damaging.

What the research shows: If parents use media with children under 2, they should make sure that screen time leads to social interactions with their babies and toddlers, instead of replacing those interactions. Parents should avoid exposing their very young children to adult-directed programming.

But the fact is that many children under 2 do use screen media, so some researchers point to the value of paying attention to how those families select and use that media. Researchers are coming to agree:  How parents approach media matters. For example, Alan Mendelsohn, a pediatrician and researcher at New York University, has shown that negative impacts typically associated with television watching can be lessened when parents talk to their babies about what they are seeing on screen (Mendelsohn 2010).

But the fact is that many children under 2 do use screen media, so some researchers point to the value of paying attention to how those families select and use that media. Researchers are coming to agree:  How parents approach media matters. For example, Alan Mendelsohn, a pediatrician and researcher at New York University, has shown that negative impacts typically associated with television watching can be lessened when parents talk to their babies about what they are seeing on screen (Mendelsohn 2010).

[Cen’s gut reaction: “Babies should NOT watch TV! I don’t care how much you talk to them while they’re doing it. All you’re doing is damage control if you do that.  It’s NOT educational.  If you’re going to sit your less-than-2 year old in front of a TV, just own up to the fact that you’re doing it to keep them from shoving a walnut up their nose or falling down the stairs while you get the dishes done.]

Assumption 5: E-books are distracting to young children.

What the research shows: It’s all about how they are used.

It’s true that many e-books for children come with so many bells and whistles that children merely click around on the screen without paying much attention to the storyline. It’s also true that some research has uncovered parents’ tendencies to focus on the technology (telling their kids when and where to click) and not the story when reading an e-book with their children. This is leading children to recall very little about what was read. In a small study conducted at Temple University, for example, “behavioral directives went through the roof” while reading comprehension sunk (Parish-Morris, Collins, & Hirsh-Pasek 2006).

But after reading these studies carefully, it becomes clear that at least two factors are at play: the design of the e-books and the behavior of the parents. Tackle these issues, and electronic books could be no different or better than printed books. Some e-book companies, for example, are designing picture e-books to favor highlighted text and engaging storylines over distracting playthings. As e-books become less of a novelty, parents may also become less inclined to order their children around on how to use them. A more positive approach to e-books, however, will require parents and educators to stress the importance of content, context, and the individual child (the Three C’s) in choosing media for our children.

Note: Technology changes quickly. Use the research-based NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center position statement on “Technology and Interactive Media in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8” for guidance on when and how to use technology with young children in ways that will help, not harm.

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.

NAEYC Position Statement: Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8

I was doing a little research for another post and I came across this document again, which is a joint effort of the NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center.  The key messages contained in this position statement are as follows:

  • When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development.
  • Intentional use requires early childhood teachers and administrators to have information and resources regarding the nature of these tools and the implications of their use with children.
  • Limitations on the use of technology and media are important.
  • Special considerations must be given to the use of technology with infants and toddlers.
  • Attention to digital citizenship and equitable access is essential.
  • Ongoing research and professional development are needed.

There is a 21 minute webcast that you can view here: Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs