Last month, the ALSC Children and Technology Committee hosted our monthly Twitter Chat on “Incorporating New Technologies/New Media into Your Service” and we came up with the following questions for participants:
- How do you learn about new technologies or new media?
- How do you evaluate new technologies and media?
- What sources do you use for evaluation?
- What is your process for bringing new technologies and new media into your service?
- What is a recent new technology and/or new media you added to your library’s service? Was it successful?
Keeping up is one of the hardest things to do in any profession. Of course we have our standard, reliable, and credible sources: School Library Journal, American Libraries, this blog, Children and Libraries, conferences, and many can extend this list. What should not have come as a surprise but frequently does is that many participants have a common reply for answers one through three: our users. Basically, our users are often the best source of knowledge, feedback, evaluation, and news on new technology and new media. Often, many online sources addressing questions like keeping up on children and technology focus on safety and security. This is indeed laudable and necessary, but hardly the full story. Parents coming to a librarian to discuss or get advice on new media or new technology are not solely focused on these issues, but want to have a fuller understanding: who, what, why, when, and how of children and technology. Who is the intended audience, what are the best devices, when is a good time to introduce a certain technology to a child, how to best use a new technology, and why is a particular technology or new media worth it (or not worth it). Yet, sharing experiences and getting patrons to share these experiences with each other may be worth more than a thousand blog posts.
Another issue that came up is that while we are trying to keep up with technology from the outside, are we properly trying to assist our users in keeping up with the new technologies and new media in our own libraries? Parents can be more interested in the simple programming we offer than our understanding of complex technology trends. Yes, we often are curious about what new devices or services our savviest users are using, trying out, or forsaking. And keeping up is a worthy goal, but researching technology trends is exhausting and not always fruitful to our users. What about our users who are looking to us? Are we actively and widely discussing our streaming video options, library market devices (i.e. launchpads), media labs, technology related programs, etc. Do we tout apps libraries are creating themselves, like my own library, NYPL’s SimplyE app? The major part of media mentorship is acknowledging our own role in promoting technology to children, parents, caregivers, and educators, but part of this is discussing the very services we create, maintain, or subscribe to. Many libraries are promoting their own innovations and services to patrons. Skokie Public Library in Illinois has a weekly program called Boombox to facilitate STEAM learning. The themes change monthly, and one can imagine all the hard work the Skokie staff put into keeping this program fresh and relevant. In a similar way, Hennepin County Library has STEM Saturdays, a drop in, hands on program that changes each week. The Mountain View Public Library in California has its Coding for Kids program for 3rd to 6th graders in which Mountain View staff use a mix of commercial software and staff guidance to teach coding basics.
In the January 2001 edition of School Libraries Worldwide, Professor Lesley Farmer wrote “When parents benefit from library services, they can model positive behavior and help teach their children more effectively at home and at school…Technology can play a significant role in facilitating this development, but in the final analysis, learning comes through personal engagement with people and ideas. And this is the mission of the library—in the digital age and any age.” So our patrons are both a wonderful resource for finding out what works, what people are using, what they want to learn about as well as the most immediate and accessible audience for our own services. The most important part of media mentorship is not always the actual technology but that personal engagement that libraries offer so well and that is hardly ever successfully replicated in the commercial market.
Michael Santangelo is the Assistant Director of Acquisitions at BookOps in New York City and a current member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee.