We’ve got an obsession.
Tablets to check-out and take home. Touchscreens. Toys that imitate cellphones. Early literacy stations.
App collection development. TV-streaming services that bite more out of our budgets every year.
You want to teach kids coding? You need $350.00 for a Lego Mindstorm and an iPad to download a free
app. If you can’t afford that, no problem. Just buy and maintain 14 laptops.
Once upon a time, my library had 10 early literacy computers–the very first version. We were ahead of
the game. After ten years, though, they fell out of date or broke down or their warranties expired. We
have 1 left and it is relegated next to the adult computers where parents can work while their children
Only… the kids don’t play on the computer.
When I became Head of Youth Services at my library, the first thing I did was expand the play areas. I
purchased the simplest of toys: large, soft blocks and small wooden ones. I updated our puzzle
collection and put out all the storytime toys that had been hidden in the closet. Most of the time, the
kids don’t even need these things. You know what the most popular toy has been?
I left out some printer paper next to our coloring station one day and a boy asked me for scissors or
tape. He was old enough, so I let him have them. Not more than five minutes later, what do I hear but,
“HAHA! NOW YOU’RE FROG.”
Of all things, the group of elementary-age boys had made paper wands and were casting transformation
spells at each other.
How many places does this happen? How many places COULD this happen?
Consider this: when there are no screens, kids look at each other. They play with kids they’ve never met
before and learn to engage their imaginations. In the enclosed space of my library, with air conditioning
and play areas designated in living-room style spaces, some of my patrons have become so comfortable that they’ve taken to treating it like their own house—even to the point that some compulsively take their shoes off when they enter the room (I’ve made signs against this). So when they are here, they feel at home. Strangers feel like family. Their children feel safe. Only what is different about this place is that there is no TV. The only computers are made for adult use and are hidden by make-shift rooftops over private study carrels. There is open space, bookshelves, toys, and people–but very little technology.
So the children play. And they ask their parents to read pop-up books with them. And they imagine.
How do you imagine libraries to be in the future? Do you see technology being at the center of the library’s focus or will screen-free play win out in the long-term? Let us know in the comments!
(Photos courtesy of guest blogger)
Today’s guest blogger is Hannah M. Lee, MLIS. Hannah is the Head of Youth Services at Sayreville Public Library where she leads early learning, STEM, and social skill development programs for ages 0-18. While she considers coding and STEM to be essential for well-rounded learning, her favorite program for teaching computational thinking involves rolling 20-sided dice.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.