ALA Annual 2013

Junk Food, Beer and Books–Incredible Food for Thought #ala2013

Susan Linn, Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, gave a compelling presentation this morning that urged librarians to consider how commercialism plays a role in the lives of children, in and outside of the library.  A few insights from the handout distributed:

  • Marketing to children is unfair.  Kids are more vulnerable than adults.  Their developing brains are no match for today’s invasive and sophisticated advertising.
  • It encourages unhealthy eating
  • It glorifies violence
  • It sexualizes kids

I think most people in the room are aware of these facts, but Linn gave countless examples that really brought the message home; e.g. SpongeBob Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, a toddler toilet with a tablet/smart phone holder, and the ubiquitous Disney princesses.

She also cited the recent ALSC Blog post “Going Commercial Free” in her discussion of what libraries can do.  Linn acknowledged that removing coloring sheets and toys from the library is a positive step in the right direction.  While weeding the collection of all the Dora books and Thomas the Tank Engine tie-ins might be a Herculean task in terms of policy change, it’s a conversation worth pursuing.

When asked about parents who request DVDs for  children or ask which items are educational, Linn emphasized that access to items can be balanced with access to information.  Providing handouts with research showing that screen time does not influence literacy for children is one way of sharing information in a non-judgemental way.

Other suggestions for advocacy included:

  • Change public attitudes (e.g. be considerate of what you promote and don’t promote)
  • Change policy (e.g. Toronto Public Library recently re-evaluated what they allow and don’t allow)
  • Change children’s environments (e.g. offer opportunities for creative play and critical thinking rather than pre-assembled crafts)
  • Change how children spend their time (e.g. have your library participate in screen free week)

Linn herself acknowledging that the topic is overwhelming and depressing.  However, I left the session feeling inspired and ready to forge a path.  And that’s just what she’s urging us to cultivate for the children and caregivers at our libraries–the opportunity to see beyond what is prettily and sneakily presented before us.  So go ahead!  Abandon the trademarks and pick up a sock puppet!


  1. Claudia Haines

    I’m a little confused about something in this post.

    While I appreciate the comments about commercialization of children, I am wondering what your definition of “screen time” is? When you say “Providing handouts with research showing that screen time does not influence literacy for children is one way of sharing information in a non-judgemental way,” are you referring to passive media (ie. the video/DVDs you mention in the previous sentence)? Or are you referring to the interactive content found in a growing number of apps and other digital media?

    I agree with many other librarians and researchers that all digital content is not equal and that thoughtful use of interactive digital content has a place in early literacy.

  2. Tessa Michaelson Schmidt

    Claudia, yes, that sentence does refer to “requests for ‘education’ DVDs” of the likes of Baby Einstein, etc. Linn specifically talked about providing consumer education for products that are marketed with brain research claims.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.