The right book for the right child at the right time.
– Anne Carroll Moore
Starting with Anne Carroll Moore, the first children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, one of the most important roles we have as children’s librarians has always been to get great books into the hands of young people. As the definition of “book” changes, Moore’s quote might be modified today to read “The right content in the right format for the right child at the right time.”
The mission behind our work has changed over the years, from the Progressive Era “Child Protector” librarians, to the “Child Advocate” librarians of the 1970s, and now, as content shifts from print to digital formats, we have a new responsibility in making sure young people have access to the best possible content whatever the format.
When I started as Assistant Professor at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science in Fall 2012, one of my charges was to help train our future children’s librarians to critically evaluate digital content—from apps, to transmedia, to multiplatform books—so that they in turn would be able to weed through the massive amount of content currently available, and think critically about their purchasing choices.
My course “Youth Literature in the Digital Realm” is designed to help future librarians become savvy consumers and critical evaluators of digital content, knowledgeable about the production process, and excellent presenters of all things digital. Some of the questions we explore during the semester include:
- When is a digital format better than print?
- How do digital formats blur traditional roles of content creators, librarians, and readers?
- What are the legal, ethical, cultural, and sociological issues in reading in digital formats?
- Do digital formats erase (or enhance) the digital divide?
- If the content in question was first published as a print book, does making it digital enhance the reading experience?
Picture books exist in many formats, from 32-page hardcover books, to board books, bath books, and pop-ups. Apps represent the latest trend in picture book content, and there are many excellent examples out there. One of my favorites is Bats: Furry Fliers of the Night by Mary Kay Carson and published by Story Worldwide and Bookerella. The complex, multi-tiered content in this example makes for a rich reading experience, and it is clear that this was created as an original book app.
But what about when digitization of backlist titles primarily focuses on gamification of the reading experience? One such title is the highly gamified Peter Rabbit app, in which (as my colleague Junko Yokota has demonstrated) a splatting blackberries activity distracts from the story. I wonder what Beatrix Potter—or her dear friend Anne Carroll Moore—would think about this one?
Marianne Martens is Assistant Professor at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science and a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee. You can read more about her work at mariannemartens.org, and she can be reached at email@example.com.