Blogger Cen Campbell

Early Literacy in the Digital Age started out as a blog that reviewed book based apps for kids, until I realized that there are a lot of other review sources already doing that.  Not only did traditional journals review apps for kids (SLJ, Horn Book and Kirkus all review apps) but there were now all sorts of other review sources for book based and educational apps like Appitic, Common Sense Media and Digital Storytime. There were many places for children’s librarians to find out about good quality apps, but what was missing was a one-stop shop for resources that can help them incorporate apps and eBooks into their early literacy programming.

I began documenting the entire process of the development of Tablet Tales, a musical digital storytelling pilot project based in the Santa Clara County Library District.  Elements of this project have now been expanded to early literacy programs in the Mountain View Public Library and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Tablet Tales makes use of iPad apps and eBooks, an AppleTV, and either a portable screen (like a TV or brightboard) or a projector to mirror the content on the iPad. I use Keynote to display lyrics, app and book lists and images imported from other apps (like Felt Board), as well as using apps and eBooks the same way I’d use a paper book.

Once I started posting my experiences with Tablet Tales I started having librarians from all over the world contact me with ideas and questions, and I’ve begun inviting them to share their experiences with developing digital programs for kids in their libraries too.  My goal is to create a community of knowledge for children’s librarians who understand that incorporating digital media into their collections and programming is now part of their job. If you are using technology with kids in your library, let me know! Other librarians will benefit from hearing about your experience!

Here are some reasons why using digital tools in your storytime is a good idea:

  1. The technology is already here and most parents already give their child access to it. We might as well show them where the good content is, what to look for, and how to use it in a way that supports early literacy development.
  2. You can make the images big so everyone in the room can see it.
  3. You can post the words to a new song, rhyme or fingerplay and have everyone sing along with you, and once you’re done, the file just lives on your iPad, along with your hundreds of books, and you don’t have to keep a massive file of flip-charts.
  4. Outreach is a snap when you can use one little device to show all of the library’s online offerings, use a felt board, do a draw and tell story, share an eBook, display the app version of a paper book you’ve just shared, look an article up in a database, display book lists, play music and access the library’s event calendar.


Our guest blogger today is Cen Campbell. Cen is a children’s librarian at the Santa Clara County Library District and the Mountain View Public Library, and a children’s digital services consultant at She has driven a bookmobile, managed branch libraries, developed innovative programs for babies, young children and teens, and now helps other libraries incorporate digital media into their early literacy programming. She attended the California State Library’s Eureka Leadership Institute in 2008 and now serves on the ALSC Children & Technology committee.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at



  1. Kathy K


    I think that your reasons on why using digital tools in story times is a good idea should be closely considered.

    Your reasons seem to leave out any evidence of the added benefits digital tools may provide in this setting to children. In terms of convenience, adding digital material to my story times would be an added complication and work and not meet any demonstrated need from the audience.

    The validity of the idea that “technology is already here…. we may as well show….” is very unclear to me but it does seem clear to me that this reasoning falls far short of “Pursuing excellence for library service to children”.

    Your reasons do not explain to me why we don’t simply do what we know is great for children and only what we know is great for children.

    1. Genesis

      I’d like to respond to this from a couple of different angles.

      A study by Common Sense Media revealed that nearly 40% of 2-4 year-olds and over 50% of 5-8 year-olds have used mobile devices such as a smart phone, tablet or video iPod. I know all the arguments about not wanting to promote additional screen time, but the fact is that the screen time is happening whether we like it or not, and libraries are in a great position to model and promote more effective use of that time and those resources. I don’t work in youth services, but I am a librarian and a parent of young children, and I believe that is a worthwhile activity for libraries.

      Generally speaking, parents don’t get the opportunity to “try before they buy” with apps and ebooks, and so libraries can step into the gap. Makes apps part of your evaluation and selection duties. Have a list of recommended apps for different ages. Model co-reading behavior in storytime and teach parents how to interact with their children using an electronic device, rather than using it as a babysitter.

      I believe part of pursuing excellence for library services to children involves better preparing them for the world they live in. Helping them develop media literacy skills in addition to (NOT instead of) traditional print literacy skills and teaching parents to evaluate electronic resources and use the effectively at home are important services we can provide. There are studies that show that educational apps can improve vocabulary skills and more (the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has some excellent research which demonstrates both the positives and the pitfalls of digital technology for kids), but how many parents know how to tell the quality apps from the crud? How many are just handing their kid an iPad and letting them play Angry Birds? For both parents and children, learning some of these skills now will better prepare them for school and work in the future as media literacy is becoming increasingly important in those arenas.

      It’s true that there will be an added complication if and when you start incorporating digital elements into your storytimes, but I’ve done a lot of technology-based programming, and in my experience that’s usually a temporary adjustment. After a little practice it flows naturally as part of the program.

      The current pace of technological change is another difficulty, because just when we start getting good at something, something new comes along to change the landscape. And it’s not just affecting children’s services. What’s the dominant question at your Reference desk these days? Chances are it has something to do with ebooks or eReaders. It may be a challenge to keep up, but librarians are learners at heart, and that’s another skill and attitude we can model.

      Libraries are in the early stages of learning how to incorporate these new tools, and I don’t think we need to worry about the overthrow of traditional storytimes. I DO think it’s a great time to start testing the waters and finding ways that we can help our customers navigate the changing technological landscape and develop ALL the literacy skills they will need to succeed.

      1. Kathy K


        Are there educators who have identified technology use as a “literacy skill” appropriately learned in the years 0-5? I don’t know of any.

        Would you say there is any research that shows small screens to be as good or better than the book (has no pitfalls)? I haven’t found any.

        Don’t we honestly know that “just handing their kid an iPad and letting them play Angry Birds?” is fundamentally what the small screen is about, that is the nature of the small screen and that is how it is different than the book. I think the book crushes the small screen when it comes to facilitating caring, engaging human intereaction and that is what small children need more than anything else. And I am afraid they are getting less and less of it. What should librarians do?

  2. Renee Wallace

    I like the whole idea, and am afraid my only question is rather pragmatic:

    My first generation iPad was obsolete pretty soon after I got it. So, if I plug my programming into the newest version of the latest tablet, realistically, how long do I have before the apps won’t upgrade to it anymore, it is outdated, etc.? Our budget does have its limitations!

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