Media mentorship continues to be one of the hottest topics in children’s librarianship. As touch-screen devices and hand-held (or worn) technology become increasingly pervasive, and more content is created (for better or for worse) for young people, the library is an ideal venue for conversations about these topics. Though the phrase “media mentorship” may be new, the concept certainly is not. While for many it may invoke images of tablets, apps, and the latest in technology, there are ways that all of us are and can be engaging in media mentorship every day, regardless of our technological resources.
The reality is that not every library has the resources to contain within its walls the latest technologies. There are various barriers, including higher-prioritized projects and needs, budget, staffing, etc.. But our young patrons do still have technological needs and the right to digital literacy, and their families do still require mentorship on what media is best for their children. And simply put, you have the knowledge and resources to help parents determine what is developmentally appropriate content for kids of all ages, whether it is a book, a website, a computer game, or an app.
Here are some ways that you probably already are (or easily can be) providing media mentorship to children and their families:
Public Access Computers – Many children and families rely on these computers for internet access for both entertainment and education. For both of these purposes kids almost always still rely on random Google searches. At the most basic level, you can select kid-friendly, fun and educational websites and create icon links to them on your desktops. If you are part of a consortium or larger library system, you may have access to kid-friendly databases or online services. Highlighting these on your desktop or library website is a great way of steering kids in the right direction in the large sea of the internet. This may seem very obvious, but although libraries have been dealing with computers and the internet for decades, several generations later, kids still need guidance. Try to stay abreast with the latest and greatest websites (keep up with updates from ALSC’s Great Websites for Kids) to curate a collection on your desktops.
Downloadable Materials: Do your patrons have access to downloadable materials through Overdrive, Hoopla, or another product? If so, it is still likely that many of your patrons either don’t know about these services or don’t know how to access them. Furthermore, they may have not considered that there are materials available for children. Be ready to inform your patrons and guide them through the download process. If your patrons do not have access to these programs, they may still have devices through which they can access free resources for downloadable materials such as the Internet Children’s Digital Library, Librivox, and more. Save your patrons time and money by connecting them to these resources.
Books about Technology: Consider ways that your book collection can promote healthy media use and encourage digital literacy skills. Books that promote problem-solving skills for young children, books that introduce the concept of coding, non-fiction books about technology – all of these are key resources in a collection that can support a technologically-savvy new generation.
You!: Even if your library’s technology consists of one public access computer with an out-of-date operating system, it’s still important for librarians to stay sharp when it comes to technology. You may be less visible as a media mentor if you don’t have ipads lining every wall, but the way you present yourself as a professional resource matters. Be open to discussing media mentorship when you observe patrons interacting with their children and technology. Share information from the wide and growing body of expertise out there, much of it from librarians. Above all, trust in yourself as the media mentor that you already are!
Clara Hendricks is the Youth Services Librarian at the O’Neill Branch of the Cambridge Public Library, and a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee.