Engaging the Smartphone Generation

We’ve all seen it…parents engaging with their mobile devices while their children sit idly by, or worse, wandering off unattended…or even WORSE, passing off their smartphone to their young child as a miniature babysitting device. Smartphones and mobile devices are here to stay, at least until the next new technology comes along, which got us wondering…what can we do as children’s librarians to engage the smartphone generation of parents…? Something that will also engage their children…or better yet, engage them TOGETHER? The answer: build an app just for them, one that encourages interaction rather than isolation, and bring the library to WHERE THEY ARE!

Enter the ACPL Family App, designed for parents and caregivers of children from birth all the way through elementary school. This app is intended to be used by adults and children together, promoting age-appropriate learning and literacy development via:

  • Video and audio activities for parents of young children, with very do-able examples of ways to incorporate reading, talking, singing, playing and writing into every day. Not sure what it looks like to play with puppets with a child, or why it’s important? Watch and learn!


  • Push notifications of early literacy tips for parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, and fun facts for adults to share with school-age children. Parents can sign up to receive early literacy tips weekly on their devices!


  • An easy-to-use library events calendar, specifically for children’s programming, searchable by library location and age group. This feature will even add events to a personal calendar, so customers will have another tool to help them remember library events!


  • A reading timer and log to keep track of time spent reading. This feature has the ability to log multiple users, so families can all log their reading time. This will be very handy as we roll out this year’s Summer Reading Program!


  • Librarian-created booklists to help adults find great books to share with their children. Looking for a great book on potty training for your toddler? Look no further — once again, the library saves the day!


This project certainly didn’t happen overnight. It started as many of our library programs do: a need was waiting to be fulfilled.   And it didn’t happen because of one person.   It happened because many people, with a wide variety of interests and talents, were dedicated to one common goal. Talk about teamwork! Children’s librarians, IT technicians, library assistants, as well as other staff from all over the ACPL system were involved in this process.   This, I believe, is the key to its success.   Libraries, as a rule, tend to draw the greatest, most creative minds to their employee rolls, and when you put several of those minds together, with a goal of producing something for the common good, you just can’t help but get great things.

(All screen shots courtesy ACPL Family app)


Our guest blogger today is Kris Lill, a Children’s Librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana and a frequent blogger on the ACPL Kid blog.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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



  1. Jordan

    This is really, really neat! What a great idea!

    1. Kris

      Thanks, Jordan!

  2. Dianna Burt

    Thanks for all your hard word Kris! The Family App is terrific!

    1. Kris

      Thanks, Dianna! As the article states, it really was a team effort. 🙂

  3. cen

    FANTASTIC WORK! I hope more libraries follow your lead on this!

    1. Kris

      That would be SWEET. Thanks, Cen!

  4. Kelly Doolittle

    What a great idea! Such a positive response to an issue that gives me such a viscerally negative response! I am such a dinosaur, though, I’m not from this techy age, so I’m going to ask the question: Does this app cost money to create? If so, is it feasible for a library with a very tight budget? Thanks for any help!

    1. Kris

      Those are very good questions, Kelly. I honestly have to answer “Yes” and “No”.
      No — the app did NOT cost much in the way of direct software or technology purchases.
      But, yes — the app DID cost much in the way of “people”. Many talented and knowledgeable people spent many, many hours making this happen, and continue to work on it to maintain the content.
      So, in answer your second question, I would say that this IS feasible for a library with a tight budget…IF there are people on staff who know how to create apps and who have the time to commit to the project.
      That seems like a very convoluted answer…I hope it makes sense. 🙂

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