How often have you been asked “Can you recommend apps for my child?” If you haven’t had that question yet, it’s probably just a matter of time as more families and schools acquire tablets that they need help figuring out. I’ve been getting that question with increasing frequency at my library over the last couple years and have had conversations with parents, kids and teachers about apps. While librarians have access to a few great professional review sources, it can be really frustrating for parents who are looking for curated lists of app suggestions. The typical app review website can be difficult to slog through and the reviewers’ qualifications are often ambiguous. Cen Campbell of Little eLit has been working with librarians and others in the early childhood education field to develop an app recommendation, curation and evaluation tool, which is much-needed and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product. However, even with better online tools, there will still be demand for one-on-one advisory that helps people find the right apps for their specific needs. And that’s where we public librarians come in! “App advisory” is a natural extension of services we already provide to our patrons, like readers’ advisory. To help satisfy this need, my library introduced a series of app advisory programs this fall, called “Appy Hour.” The concept is that we provide food–“app”etizers!–and show patrons a variety of apps around a theme. (I can’t take credit for the cute name or concept; a bunch of other libraries have used the name over the last couple years.)
Last month, another children’s librarian and I did our first Appy Hour on “Kids’ Apps (For Parents to Know About).” Our adult librarians will be doing sessions on “Librarians’ Favorite Apps for Adults and Teens” and “Library Apps” later this fall. For the program on Kids’ Apps, I started by briefly going over a few websites I like to recommend to parents for finding app reviews. Then it was time to get to the apps! We provided a handout with about 50 apps we selected, divided into three groups: toddler/preschool, grades K-2, and grades 3-5. They were on a variety of topics, from alphabet apps for the younger kids to math apps for the older kids, and across a range of price points, although most were in the $1.99-$3.99 range. We focused on apps for Apple devices because that’s what we have at our library, but about half were also available for Android through Google Play. We projected our iPad and demonstrated how to use about 15 of our absolute favorite apps, pointing out why we selected them and highlighting some of the features. Because the patrons couldn’t see how we were manipulating the apps (they could see the projected screen, but not the iPad screen itself), we described what we were doing as we went along.
We got a very positive response to the program and our patrons seemed happy with our suggestions. It also ended up being a great way for us to gauge our community’s needs; we learned more about what types of apps our patrons are interested in and at what price point. With this knowledge, going forward we’ll be better able to anticipate and respond to our patrons’ app advisory needs.
Are you doing app advisory, either as a program or informally, at your library? Tell us about it in the comments!
Liz Fraser is Children’s Librarian/Technology Coordinator at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, IL and is a member of the Children and Technology Committee.