App-advisory can be intimidating, especially for those of us who are not heavily engaged in touch-screen technology in our personal lives. Although I am excited to be a new member of the Children and Technology Committee, and this is a professional interest of mine, I must confess: I don’t own a smartphone or a tablet. But I strongly believe that whatever your personal habits or philosophies, as professionals, we need to be willing and able (and enthusiastic!) to be media mentors, modeling responsible new media use and providing recommendations for parents and families. With so many apps out there, many of which are labeled “educational,” we need to be able to provide parents with trusted recommendations and advice. If you can do reader’s advisory, you already have the skills to do app advisory! Here are some suggestions, based on what we did at the Wellesley Free Library.
Get to know your material! Read app reviews (see list of review sources below) and keep track of the apps about which you read. We use a Google spreadsheet, so that all Children’s Department staff can contribute. This includes, when available, recommended age (though this is something significantly lacking in many app reviews), price, platform, categories, and our comments. Keeping this information centralized and organized makes it easy to come up with specific apps to recommend to a patron, or to pull for a list.
Play around with the apps! If you have money to spend (consider asking your Friends group for money for apps, especially if you will be using the apps in library programs), download some apps that seem interesting and try them out. Even if you can’t spend money, you can try out free apps or download free “lite” versions of apps. Playing with the app allows you to give a more in-depth description and detailed information in your advisory (consider the difference between recommending a book based on a review you read and having read the book itself).
Choose your method of advisory. App advisory can take many forms. There is the individual recommendation at the reference desk, there are app-chats (the app version of the book-talk), which have been discussed in an article on the ALSC blog by Liz Fraser, and then there are app-lists. For the past year, we have created monthly themed app lists, mostly for young children between the ages of 2 and 6. The themes have included: interactive books, music, math, letters, and more. Be sure to include free apps as well as apps available for non-Apple devices on your lists.
Provide advice, along with recommendations. On the back of our paper app lists, and on the website where we post links to the app-list Pinterest boards, we offer advice to parents about using interactive technology with young children.
A year later, still without a smartphone or tablet, I feel much more confident about recommending apps to patrons, reviewing and evaluating apps, and building our collection, and you can too! You already have the tools for evaluating media that meets children’s developmental needs and creating interesting and attractive advisory methods for families. The next step is simply taking it to a new platform!
Some of our favorite review sources for apps:
Clara Hendricks is a Children’s Librarian at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA. She is a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee.