Blogger Cen Campbell

Face It! You Are a Children’s Librarian in the Digital Age

I posted an opportunity recently on the ALSC Listserv for children’s librarians to give some feedback to a start-up based in Silicon Valley that is developing a new eBooks distribution platform.  “This is great!”  I thought to myself.  “Children’s librarians know children’s literature and children’s electronic services better than any other profession, they’re always willing to share their expertise and they’ll understand what a great opportunity it is for them to speak directly with a children’s ebook developer to help create a platform that is well designed, age-appropriate and contains high quality content!”

Boy, was this a learning experience for me.  A conversation erupted from this one post that didn’t have anything to do with Bookboard’s new service. Instead, children’s librarians from all over the country began voicing their opinions about what our profession’s role is when it comes to digital media for children.  The comments ranged from anecdotal evidence for how digital media can support a child’s literacy development to comments that bordered on format-based censorship.

Colleagues, we are NOT on the same page about how to deal with digital media for children in libraries.  We all know where to get good information about books, we mostly agree that DVDs are a necessary evil in most of our libraries, and we know that the best way for a parent to develop their child’s developing literacy skills is to co-read with them.  Apparently, many of us do NOT know that digital media can be used as intelligently as print media to support the six early literacy skills, and that there are many professional bodies and research organizations that are pumping out research on this topic.

This kind of conversation needs to happen more.  We need to be talking about the role of children’s librarians in the digital age, and we need to be sharing our experiences with this new technology. Whether you like it or not, tablet technology is here to stay and parents are using it with their children.

For better or for worse, this is our job now.  If you are a children’s librarian, showing parents how to use technology intelligently with their children is your job now. Knowing where to find good book-based and educational apps for young children is your job now. Developing storytimes that incorporate digital media along with traditional storytelling techniques to model healthy media behaviours is your job now. Being non-judgemental about how families actually use mobile technology is your job now. Working with vendors and developers to create high-quality ebook services for children that are available through public libraries is your job now. Expanding your skill set and learning about new formats and platforms is your job now.

Here are some resources to help you get started, and many thanks to those of you who participated in this important discussion and suggested these resources.

Position Statements:

Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8: A joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College

Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years from the American Academy of Pediatrics


Born digital : understanding the first generation of digital natives

The elephant in the living room : make television work for your kids

Into the minds of babes : how screen time affects children from birth to age five


Effective Classroom Practice: Infants and Toddlers (NAEYC)

Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology and Early Education (Alliance for Childhood)

How True Are Our Assumptions about Screen Time? (NAEYC)

Today’s E-Moms: Engaged, Enabled, Entertained (BlogHer)

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media use in America (Common Sense Media)

Research Organizations

Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media

Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop: Advancing Children’s Learning in the Digital Age

Let’s keep this conversation going.  Comment below or check out for more resources.


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. Sara

    Cen, It’s great to see this conversation move to the ALSC blog. A lot of favorite posts I’ve written have been in reaction to listserv discussions, and I love seeing others do the same. Thank you for all these awesome resources in one place to bookmark!

  2. Angela Reynolds

    I have to agree– this is our job now. Instead of grousing about it, I would love to see more ALSC members sharing how they are using digital media, and how they are sharing those critical early literacy skills via digital media. If we are modeling good practices around books, why can’t we model good practices around eBooks and apps? Parents ARE using mobile devices to share books with their kids. Let’s help them share good books and share those books in a way that their children really get the best experience possible. What a great opportunity for exciting conversation!

  3. Anne

    I believe this is a great conversation for the blog! All we’ve heard so far it seems is “no screen time” and this tells us it can be good. I don’t believe it’s a question any longer, it’s how best to use it and model it for parents, like we do with books and rhymes. Thanks, Cen, for blogging this!

  4. Marge Loch-Wouters

    Speak truth to power, Cen. Change is hard for lots of folks and takes time. The sea change ahead is one that the Children and Technology Committee of ALSC and lots of librarians in pockets around the country are addressing. Sharing the resources above and programming ideas through your blog will help move us all along. People will get there!

  5. Tess

    Well said, Cen! It is time to embrace, include and actively participate in all the ways that people can experience words, stories, language and knowledge across the world. This is the gift of digital technology and we as purveyors of knowledge need to understand the benefits (and mitigate the downsides) of technology in childhood and beyond.

  6. Cen

    Thanks, guys! I was expecting a whole lot of negative backlash from this post (you wouldn’t BELIEVE some of the emails I get from old-school librarians about my programs!) So far I have only heard good things here on the ALSC blog. I would love to have all of you share your digital storytelling programs on Little eLit! Let’s help each other get up to speed with these cool new formats and platforms! Stay tuned. There are workshops, webinars and presentations on the way, and your input will only add to the community of knowledge we are working hard to develop!

  7. Pingback: I Work For Children, Not Technology | ALSC Blog

  8. Jill

    Well said. It’s true that passive screen time is not good for little ones, but digital media and apps are part of our world now and we know that kids of all ages will see and interact with them. Educating caregivers about positive ways to use them for conversation and interaction is part of our job, just as we do with books and music and “Between the Lions” DVDs and puppets and…

  9. Sheilah

    Part of the problem might be the condescending way new adapters are speaking of librarians who are taking a little longer to get onboard. For instance”I think of children’s librarians who are resistant to using technology with children as bears. Big cuddly teddy bears that you have to hug to the ground.” Pretty insulting.
    Calling them “old-school librarians” is again, not helpful.
    I happen to be a big promoter of the new technology but this terminology is putting me off .

  10. cen

    Hi Sheilah,

    I respect your point. I certainly do not intend to be insulting and I’ve had librarians contact me who are loud and proud about being “old school librarians” with all the positive connotations associated with that phrase as well. The conscientious objectors to digital media for kids in libraries often object because they are very experienced and passionate about what they do, and they see no reason to change even though the world has changed around them. I try to show why and how this kind of programming is now necessary in public libraries, and once they see what it looks like, and that it is not a replacement but an enhancement for traditional early literacy programming and services, we find common ground (hug). I advocate for these kinds of programming and services because I too am passionate about what I do. I’m just as much of a bear on this topic.

    I applaud your forward thinking and appreciate your comment.


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