Children’s Librarians as Digital Media Mentors

There are approximately 16,000 public library branches and bookmobiles in the United States, most of them with staff trained specifically to serve young children and their families.amy-300x226

One of the mainstays of library services to children is storytime, where library professionals plan and implement early learning experiences designed to expose families with young children to high quality content (reader’s advisory) and model strategies for engaging young children in literacy-supportive practices. These efforts are often based around parent engagement models like Every Child Ready to Read, Mother Goose on the Loose, the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program, PRIME TIME Family Reading Time, and others.

Evaluation and curation of children’s media have always been essential elements in the children’s librarian’s job description, along with the planning and implementation of programs for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, and the adults who love them. With the swiftly changing realities of the digital age, however, that job description is changing and expanding.

Children’s librarians are now incorporating new media into library collections, services and programs for young children and their families. Many libraries are beginning to use apps or ebooks in story times, for example; this serves both as “appvisory” (reader’s advisory for apps!) and also as a model for healthy media consumption for caregivers. Librarians make recommendations to parents at the reference desk about how to best use media together at home, or share the latest research on the intentional and appropriate use of new media with very young children with child care centers and teachers.

Since digital books are now available as a reading choice for many families, librarians are applying their traditional skill set to new formats of books and other media. For example, librarians like Amy Wright at the Garfield County Public Library District in Colorado who’s creating digital felt boards on iTunes at her library’s new media storytime.

Why are children’s librarians incorporating new media into library collections, service & programs? 

1.     Digital reading is a legitimate reading choice for many families. Librarians help bring the right resources to the right people at the right time, and increasingly, some of those resources are digital, even for the youngest of children.

2.     There is a great need for curation and reader’s advisory services in the children’s digital media marketplace. Librarians need to offer guidance in this area or content developers and those with a commercial stake will fill the void.

3.     Adoption rates for mobile technology are increasing exponentially, even for young children. Parents need reliable recommendations from trusted sources for high-quality, age-appropriate content.

4.     The digital divide is alive and well, and providing access to technology alone does not bridge the digital divide. Librarians can support the development of information capital in at-risk communities by intentionally and appropriately using new media in programming for young children.

I am a founder of LittleeLit.com, a professional learning community of over 200 children’s librarians, library administrators, professors, graduate students, teachers, app reviewers, child development specialists and social workers who have been crowd-sourcing solutions to challenges, sharing programming ideas, and advocating for children’s librarians as media mentors. Our mission is to develop promising practices for the use of new media in library collections, services, and programs for young children. Since it began, Little eLit has grown into a community that advocates locally and nationally for the intentional and appropriate use of new media with young children.

We take our guiding principles for the use of new media in storytime from the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Children, Adolescents, and the Media, and the NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center Joint Position Statement on Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs, and use the guiding principles of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center to support parents to be their child’s first and best teachers.

While technological competencies vary greatly from community to community, and many libraries struggle financially to provide access to emergent technologies for staff use, let alone for lending to their communities, there is a professional sea-change in the way children’s librarians are addressing the changing information needs of their communities. We are mobilizing to serve as media mentors in our communities.

Talk to your librarian about the use of new media with young children! We serve individuals, families, child care centers, preschools, schools, non-profit organizations, and everyone else in our communities.

Top Photo: Amy Koester of St. Charles City-County Library District’s Corporate Parkway Branch in Wentzville, Missouri. Courtsey of LittleeLit.com.

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