ALA Annual 2018

Tech Talk at #alaac18

As children’s librarians, we’re constantly asking ourselves what’s best for the young patrons we serve day-to-day. After all, though we’re not their primary caregivers, we carry some responsibility for their growth and development. Some things are easy: No, you can’t have ten pieces of candy – your mom/uncle/grandma will kill me; yes, we can absolutely read Mr. Tiger Goes Wild again – it’s my favorite, too. But when the question of technology comes up, things can get a little… heated.

This morning, ALSC hosted a panel discussion with researchers and librarians focused on the debate around technology, young children, and the library. Dr. Kathleen Campana (Kent State University), J. Elizabeth Mills (University of Washington), Claudia Haines (Homer Public Library), and Dr. Tess Prendergast (University of British Columbia) provided attendees with a list of research and resources – which you can access through this link – before delving into scenarios you may face in your library.

According to studies conducted by Common Sense Media, Ericsson, I-LABS, and others, families are spending a lot of time with technology (more than 2 hours of screen time per day, says a 2017 Common Sense report). Yet AAP Guidelines (revised in 2016) recommend no more than one hour of high-quality educational media for children 2-5, with unplugged creative play for infants and toddlers (excluding video chat, which has been shown to have a positive effect on toddler’s development and learning). For children 6+, AAP recommends media be consumed, mindfully and balanced with unplugged activities, with a caregiver. So how can libraries help families find that balance? Researchers suggest keeping the 3 C’s in mind: child (each one is different), context (for education or entertainment), and content.

With these 3 C’s in mind, the panel presented a few library scenarios:

Scenario One

In Scenario 1, an aunt is looking for resources for her nephew who has autism. She wants to help him interpret emotions through facial expressions, and is seeking something more portable than picture books for when they take public transportation. Our panelists’ first suggestion – and probably our first instinct as librarians – was to ask some questions: What is her nephew interested in? How old is he? What tech options, if any, have they tried before? Once you have a more thorough understanding, a great starting place would be an e-book service for children, such as Tumblebooks. Make sure to show the patron how to download and use the service, and possibly even help her pick out a few books to get started. And, of course, invite the patron to bring her nephew to programs he might enjoy.

Scenario Two

Scenario 2 features a father seeking help for his child with motor delays due to a developmental disability. Although interested in letters and able to recognize most of the alphabet, the child struggles to hold a pencil, which makes writing letters difficult. While we can certainly recommend letter apps, such as LetterSchool, there are some great tech-free alternatives. For instance, egg-shaped crayons or pencil grips would make holding a writing utensil easier for the child. In addition, using play-dough to create letters would help to build up the muscles and motor skills used when writing.

Scenario Four

In Scenario 4, a grandmother is interested in apps that will help her 3-year-old granddaughter learn how to read. They’re a multi-generational household, and they speak both English and Tagalog at home. Unless you have a patron base clamoring for multilingual early literacy apps, you probably wouldn’t be sure where to start – and that’s okay! Panelists encouraged participants to remember it’s perfectly acceptable not to have all the answers, to say, “I’ll have to look into that.” Take down contact information and do some research before providing an answer to this grandmother, if need be. In the meantime, you can invite them to join library programs, including those offering digital media or with songs/stories in Tagalog. And don’t forget to encourage early literacy-building skills at home!

All the panelists were careful to point out this research is still very much emerging. If you want to stay on top of what’s happening with children and tech, check out these resources:

Fred Rogers Center


Joan Ganz Cooney Center

Libraries Ready to Code

School Library Journal Reviews by Daryl Grabarek

Madison Public Library’s AppFinder

Children’s Technology Review (paid subscription)

Immediately following this session, I headed over to another of ALSC’s panels to talk about a very specific form of technology use with kids: podcasts. Panelists Molly Bloom (Brains on!), Kitty Felde (Book Club for Kids), Pamela Rogers (Buttons & Figs), Jose Rodriguez (Los Angeles Unified School District), and Anne Bensfield (Oak Park Public Library) shared their experiences making and sharing podcasts for kids, the resources available for evaluating them, as well as some of the preliminary research being done into the effect this audio media is having on children’s learning.

While research is really just beginning – Bloom recently received a grant to study the effect Brains on! has on her listeners, which has so far shown a significantly high rate of joint-media engagement – the panelists had some incredible anecdotal evidence available that suggests children benefit immensely from listening to and engaging with podcasts. Rogers shared a story about a little girl named Anna, who didn’t smile once during the initial visit with her classroom but couldn’t stop once she heard the recording of her story about two escaped fish: “For me, that’s the power of this medium. Her mom could not believe it was her when they played it at home. The teacher could not believe it was her when we played it in the classroom.”

Intersection of families, podcasts, and the library

So how can libraries tap into this potential for learning and creativity? Bensfield suggests recording sessions, with books set out to get kids thinking, as well as podcast petting zoos and advisory, where families can listen to “ear snacks” before downloading a podcast listening app as well as a few episodes of their new favorites. You can also check the websites of your favorite podcasts for printable activities to use during programs, and even play excerpts of podcasts as inspiration and prompts.

Looking for resources to find, access, and evaluate podcasts? Here are some of the suggestions panelists made:

Apps – KidsListen, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, Stitcher, Google Play

Evaluations – Common Sense Media, KidsListen Blog, Zooglobble


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: II. Reference and User Services and IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.

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