Stop Making a Divide!

It has been a rambunctious few weeks on the alsc-l listserv and then followed up on the ALSC blog. What is ruffling feathers and raising tempers?  The basic question of how we as youth librarians incorporate and curate digital content for kids - including very young kids.

A simple request to share thoughts with an app developer passed on to the listserv by Cen Campbell over at Little eLit blog elicited more action than I've seen on alscl in a while.  Some people got quite off topic with flame-worthy insistence that digital content had no place in the library lives of kids between 0-5. The ALSC blog guest posts followed - here, here and here.

I never weighed in on this brouhaha except in comments. I will tell you, though, I was dismayed at some of the attitudes displayed and the arguments made against including digital content for young kids. Although we haven't made much of a leap at our library, it is a direction I expect our team will be going much sooner rather than later.  Again, Cen pointed the way in her Wrestling Your Bear post at the beginning of November. That  coupled with the provocative posts in the Libraries and Transliteracy blog (now finished) really informed my thinking.

Cen's thoughts dovetail with mine. This semester I have been teaching a graduate level Children's and YA Services course for UW-Madison.  One of our textbooks, Adele Fasick's From Boardbook to Facebook, published in 2011, makes the case for the direction youth libraries will inevitably be moving in. It's a direction that seamlessly blends traditional print with digital content to meet the needs of our families. I would be remiss as an instructor - and as a practicing librarian - not to look further and more deeply into the future that is truly happening right now. My students need to be open to the possibilities they will experience at the beginning - as well as at the end - of their careers.

While I appreciate the hesitation and worry about screen time expressed by people, I also think it is incredibly short-sighted and darn near dereliction of duty not to stand-up, research-up, read-up, learn-up, understand-up AND change-up for positive support and curation of digital content for kids. Arguing as Luddites that screen time is a no-no below a certain age ignores the rich (and sometimes stupid and banal) content that parents are tapping into already. As youth librarians we need to understand and lead, model and recommend to help our families find the best for their kids.

I hope people stop thinking of why not and start thinking of why and how. We serve our communities best when we add to our knowledge base, bridge the divides - and change and evolve with the times. By learning from and collaborating with each other we all gain.

Image: 'Canyon do Buracão' http://www.flickr.com/photos/58817442@N00/352819555 Found on flickrcc.net


  1. I guess my feeling on this is simply - no time. I have lists of additional programming/outreach projects; the special education school, the Hispanic population, Headstart, the elementary school outside of town, the teens and middle schoolers with nowhere to go after school. But, I also do 3-4 programs a week, collection development, outreach, marketing (including social media), fundraising, and staff the children's and general information desk for our service population of 24,000. Our attendance and circulation keep going up and I have more people ask for VHS than for ipads. So, while I'm sure there are people who would appreciate digital reference and programming elements, it's not a sector of our population I have time to put together and market programming for right now and it's really not a priority for me. One thing I see missing in these discussions is what I always consider the bedrock of programming: Consider your community. Do you have a community that's heavily digital? Are the parents showing up at storytimes with ipads, tablets and smartphones? Are you getting asked for advice on apps? Is it a big enough part of your community that they need services and what services are you going to cancel/scale back on in order to offer these new programs/elements of programming, including the fundraising to support them? Rather than dividing into "Everybody Must Go Digital!" or "OMG No Digital EVER" camps, I think we should consider it like any other service or program - some communities need it, some communities don't (at least right now) and librarians have to choose how they're going to spend their limited time and resources. Doesn't mean you can't keep up with the research of course!

    1. While I understand your concern about how much you have to do and is this a justifiable use of time, digital content and use is becoming ever more pervasive. In our community, even our parents in the lowest socio-economic bracket have smart phones and share apps with kids. Libraries have curated content and recommended excellence in print and non-print resources (awards; reviews; displays; promotion of books and non-book material, etc) since forever. Making this leap is easier than we are making it. And if libraries decide this is a hill too high to climb, our parents will pass us by and rely on recommendations from the oddest spots.

  2. Oh, and agree on the no-screen thing. I personally would rather see kids playing outside and never seeing an electronic device until they're at least five, but I do not run a Waldorf School - I run a children's department in a public library. I have to balance what people want and need and if that's Baby Einstein and tons of pink princess...er...stuff, so be it. That's not to say I can't try to educate people and show them healthy alternatives, but ultimately I serve the wants and needs of my population not what I think they should need.

  3. Hey, do you know of resources on simple/easy/non-time-consuming ways to include more technology? Or maybe some things you're doing at your library? A lot of the things I've looked at seem to be aimed at wide-sweeping changes to storytime structure, or lots of online involvement etc. but some small things...that would be doable!

  4. Check out Perrot Library in CT; Bryce Don't Play blog. We use flip cameras; podcasting; animation programs with school age kids. I think just the process of highlighting great apps for kids (reviewed in SLJ and blogs) like Pete the Cat; Press Here; Freight Train and etc goes a long way towards content curation that we do all the time with print. All efforts start with a first small step...and an eye to what other libraries are doing and a willingness to explore ground they have broken to make our walk easier!

  5. Thanks! Hmmm, I see a fun display in our future!

  6. I could not agree with you more, Marge. The world we live in today in becoming increasingly digital and we need to teach kids how to navigate that world. Bringing technology into the library not only prepares kids for the world they live in, but it also give us a chance to teach parents (and kids) about good digital sources (AWE Learning stations, Tumblebooks, and the like) and not so good ones. Library budgets can hinder this effort, but I can see within the next few years, the prices of e-readers/tablets and other such technology going down, making them more of a possibility for library YS departments. Thanks for another engaging post, as usual.