App Advisory for Parents

Screen shot of the apps we suggested for toddlers and preschoolers.
Screen shot of the apps we suggested for toddlers and preschoolers.

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.)

The Operation Math app, which was a big hit at our program. It's math meets a James Bond-esque spy.
The Operation Math app, which was a big hit at our program. It’s math meets a James Bond-esque spy.

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.

Little Fox Music Box app, a fun app for preschoolers.
Little Fox Music Box app, a fun app for preschoolers.

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.


  1. Marge Loch-Wouters

    We load our two in-room ipads for kids with our recommended apps. We ask parents to stick within arm’s touch of their children when they use the ipads – partly for gentle ipad use but mopstly so caregivers can get a close up glimpse of apps that are excellent.

  2. Ann

    Are you willing to share the handout of suggested apps?

  3. KathyK

    I think what you are doing is endorsing commercial products. You are helping to put money into the pockets of particular companies. Your endorsement is worth money and you should get a cut on the sales, don’t you think?
    Librarian endorsement of apps has significant value. Vendors don’t have research to show the value of their products. That can be expensive, takes time and the results may not be at all what they need to make sales. With librarian cache you have a lot of marketing value that they can’t seem to get anywhere else. Why not leverage this? We are talking business at this point and good business sense says you should negotiate a cut and find out which companies will give you the best deal.
    If we want to be really savvy about it, ALSC/ALA should negotiate at the national level. Well-marketed, nation-wide “librarian” endorsements of these commercial products will produce the maximum boost in sales and maximize our commission.
    Very sincerely, I think that if we are going into business we should do it in a way that shows how smart we are and accrue all benefits, leave no money on the table. Our other option is to simply be librarians.

  4. KathyK

    I just checked the ALA Code of Ethics:

    “VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.”

    I believe “expense of library users” would, in this case, refer to cash expenses, at minimum.

  5. Liz Fraser

    Ann, I’m going to try to get the handout up on our library website in the next couple days. I’ll post the link here when I do. Thanks for the interest!

  6. Natalie Houston

    What professional sources do you use for app recommendations?

  7. Liz Fraser

    Natalie, my absolute favorite is Children’s Technology Review ( They review a wide range of technology for children, not just apps. They are subscription only, however. I also look at SLJ ( and Kirkus Reviews (

  8. Emily Lloyd

    I love this idea–thanks for the great post! I thoroughly agree that app advisory is desirable in public libraries. I recently held my library’s first app advisory session for parents & caregivers of the preK set. We have one staff iPad and are currently limited to downloading free apps, so I stuck with those (with the exception of Endless Alphabet–which was free when I downloaded it, but has since become a paid app. It’s such a strong app that I was reluctant to remove it from the presentation, and explained this to the audience). The audience was small but enthusiastic and grateful, and I plan to do more similar sessions. I tied the selected apps to the five practices laid out in Every Child Ready to Read 2 (so the session also gave me a great excuse to talk about those quite a bit!) The slides are here: I also highlight a “fabulous free iPad app of the month” on our early literacy bulletin board, and provide a link to an online-only presentation I put together, “iPads & Early Literacy: 50 Fantastic Free iPad Apps for Prereaders” (, to parents & caregivers who ask for early lit app recommendations. I’m just starting to explore apps for older kids and am inspired to see a library doing so!

    PS–Children’s Technology Review has an open YouTube channel that includes a good number of reviews: YouTube’s a good source for learning about what an app contains and does–you get to see them in action.

  9. Emily Lloyd

    PS–Liz, both your staff and the parents you serve might appreciate (if you don’t already know about them) learning about free apps Apps Gone Free ( and App Price Drops ( Every day, Apps Gone Free highlights 5-7 apps that are usually paid but are free for the day (sometimes longer) & include a rating and review right inside the app. I’ve picked up some high-quality kids’ apps this way–Toca Builders, Dr Panda’s Handyman, etc. App Price Drops features both apps that have gone free and apps whose prices have significantly dropped. For those of us who provide app advisory, both of these are a great way to see more of what’s out there (and sharpen our judgment as to what works and what doesn’t, which app publishers make solid apps and which don’t) without incurring expenses.

  10. Liz Fraser

    Emily, thanks so much for your comments. It sounds like you are doing some great app advisory–it’s very aspirational! I think I’m going to start doing a “fabulous free app of the month” immediately!

    One thing I didn’t have space to get into in the blog post is that parents in our community are VERY interested in free apps. This came up at Appy Hour and several times in the weeks since. We were a little surprised, both because we work in an affluent area and because we figured people would be more comfortable experimenting with free apps than they are (and lack of time is an issue for parents as well). We’re definitely going to be focusing more on free apps going forward. And it can be hard to find high-quality apps that don’t have an agenda (like selling additional products), so I’m grateful for those links!

  11. Liz Fraser

    Here’s the handout from my program, for anyone who’s interested:

  12. Clara Hendricks

    I am presenting my first app advisory for parents program this Monday. Similar to what Emily did, I am structuring it around early literacy, focusing on apps that parents can use with the children to read, write, sing, talk, and play. I plan on collecting feedback from parents at the program to see what other app-related or technology-related topics they would be interested in for future programs, as we are just getting started with this type of thing. Beginning in November, a colleague and I are putting out themed “app lists” for display, and compiling them in a binder for patrons to reference (in addition to creating boards on our library’s Pinterest page for each theme). Our idea for these lists is that it is much easier to navigate “the best apps for ____” than try to compile a comprehensive list of the best apps for kids. Our first list will be on apps about colors and shapes, and go on from there.

  13. Pingback: App Advisory: Where to Start? | ALSC Blog

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