Digital World

Dust or Magic – The State of Digital Media

For the past 15 years, a group of sixty or so game developers, digital media designers, and media researchers have met in the small town of Lambertville, New Jersey to talk about the state of digital media for kids at the annual Dust or Magic Institute hosted by Children’s Technology Review. This year, one librarian joined them.

Claudia Haines presents at the Dust or Magic Institute (Photo credit: Jesse Schell
Claudia Haines presents at the Dust or Magic Institute (Photo credit: Jesse Schell

I expected to hear about the ins-and-outs of creating digital media, discuss the latest research, and discover the latest trends. What rang loudest, though, was the assembled group’s deep commitment to children, their well-being, and education. I wasn’t just at a conference for digital media geeks. I was actually part of an intimate conversation with extremely talented authors, illustrators, and publishers. These creators are just playing in a different format.

Three creators stood out.

“Everything is real when play is serious.”
– Raul Gutierrez, Tinybop

Raul Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Tinybop, a maker of high quality apps for kids, or digital toys really, talked about how Tinybop’s apps are born. He described the evolution of ideas- from remarkable moments, inspiring books, and children’s everyday lives- into opportunities for deeper exploration and story creation. Their most recent project, “Me,” is a unique storytelling app that, by design, provides a launching off point for families and friends to start conversations and create together in new ways. It’s an example of new tools we can use to expand our work with families in the name of literacy, engagement, inclusion, and empathy.

“Is the digital concept different enough from the paper book to have value?”
– Emmet O’Neill, StoryToys

Emmet O’Neill with StoryToys (now part of Touch Press) talked about his company’s focus on creating new play experiences for young children by successfully creating digital content around the characters and stories in well-known, beloved picture books. From a creative and business perspective, Emmet emphasized that when using licensed content, like Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See? the thoughtfully designed digital concept should complement, instead of duplicate, the paper book and I agree. Extending the reading experience, something I aim to accomplish at every storytime, particularly resonated.

“The internet lets us see with people’s memories. VR (virtual reality) lets us see with people’s eyes.”
– Jesse Schell, professor, author, game designer

Jesse Schell shared his latest projects at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center and Schell Games, much of which focuses on augmented and virtual reality (VR). Jesse highlighted the role something like virtual reality can play in education and nudged the limits of my imagination past video games. (Watch the recording of his presentation here.) Now I can visualize the possibilities offered by participating in historical moments or sharing a different perspective, “first hand,” with the help of a tool like VR. Imagine experiencing the March on Washington, the sights and sounds all at one time, as if you were at the Lincoln Memorial when Martin Luther King, jr. spoke? Can adding a tool like VR, which may provide an additional way of “seeing”, to formal and informal learning environments contribute to and expand young people’s understanding of others and build empathy?

In the middle of these excellent talks, I introduced the idea of librarians as media mentors. It was well timed. Shortly after, we visited the Lambertville Free Public Library and Mediatech, a space funded by the Mediatech Foundation that “provides free public access to all forms of digital technology” for neighborhood kids on the 2nd floor of the library.

Expanding the ways we support families’ media, literacy and information needs should include high quality digital media. Check out the ALSC media mentorship resources to learn more.


Photo credit: Amy Russell
Photo credit: Amy Russell

Today’s guest blogger is Claudia Haines. Claudia leads storytimes, hosts Maker programs, and gets great media into the hands of kids and teens as the Youth Services Librarian and Media Mentor at the Homer Public Library (Alaska). She is a co-author of the Association for Library Service to Children’s white paper, Media Mentorship in Libraries Serving Youth and the book Becoming a Media Mentor: A Guide for Working with Children and Families. She trains other librarians as media mentors and serves on both local and national committees that support families and literacy. She blogs at

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

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