Note to the #DigitalShift: The Librarians Have Arrived!

| July 22, 2014 | 6 Comments

Over the past two years I’ve been working closely within the library community about digital content for children. I’ve attended conferences, participated in the brilliant @LittleeLit think tank and even co-created training modules to pilot for professional development in multiple states.

But until this past month, after attending the exceptional American Library Association (ALA) 2014 annual conference in Las Vegas, I worried that librarians would not catch up in time. I feared that the digital shift towards apps, tablets, gamification, transmedia storytelling and new media formats was simply moving too fast. For the first few years after the iPad arrived, it seemed possible that the library community may have gotten on board a little too late to be at the front of this crazy digital train. Boy, was I wrong!

I began the week-long conference with a professional development training for public librarians who serve the Las Vegas area. Cen Campbell, founder of LittleeLit, and I presented a two-hour orientation to the digital shift and new media for the children’s librarians at the Las Vegas-Clark County Public Library District (LVCCPLD), highlighting the main topics we cover in our 24-unit-hour program that we have been piloting in Southern California. This evolving curriculum has been made possible by the foresight and support of the California State Library.

Several other states are interested and beginning to schedule trainings for 2015-2016 already, so we were delighted to have a chance to test out our materials with a welcoming crowd from the “Sin City”. Training consisted of an overview of what new media and interactive tech means for children in the digital age, how our cultural values are transforming and the need for librarians to act as media mentors for the new millennia. In our longer trainings, we do a lot more app demos and deeper group work, including the chance to try out digital storytime ideas with a supportive peer audience. Our short training for LVCCPLD was well attended by a wonderful group of three dozen children’s librarians from the greater Vegas metro area. The excitement of Vegas was just beginning …

Cen & Betsy demo Felt Board App for use in Mother Goose on the Loose 2.0

On Thursday, things began to heat up (and in Vegas this means both literal and figurative heat)! Cen and I helped Betsy Diamant-Cohen set up her booth for the exceptional infant/toddler program “Mother Goose on the Loose” which includes digital suggestions for early childhood educators and a fabulous, free app called Felt Board: Mother Goose on the Loose by Software Smoothie.

Then we went to listen to an exceptional (and ground-breaking) key-note presentation on gamification by Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the WorldThis set the tone for a conference that was not only willing to talk about the digital shift, but eager to make “new media” the main course for an innovative and optimistic cultural buffet. Librarians in attendance (more than 18K) had 275 workshops (of more than 2700) to choose from with the keyword “children” alone, up over 2o% from the 2013 conference in Chicago, IL.*

The emphasis on “digital” was less alarmist overall in my experience in workshops and within the vast exhibition hall with over 5600 exhibitors, making the change since 2013 in Chicago palpable. Nearly every booth had some nod toward the digital shift, and the overall number of booths featuring eBooks, apps or other digital materials was astounding. In the summer of 2013, I spent over 24 hours trolling the exhibits in Chicago at #ALAAC13, looking for a digital or app connection and found only a few people who could speak thoughtfully about the digital transition happening to the publishing industry and even fewer who could distinguish between formats as basic as apps vs eBooks. 2014 was a refreshing change, where I found many exhibitors not only willing but eager to discuss their new media offerings.

Next up, Cen introduced me to several people as they checked into the conference … including Saroj Ghoting (Early Childhood Literacy Consultant) and Jason Boog, two people I was impressed with but had never met in person. Jason’s book, Born Reading, was just published this last week, in fact.

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age — From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between is a touching memoir about a dad’s exploration of picture books and early literacy with his young daughter, filled with great research about reading to children. It includes specific tips and titles recommended in print AND digital for each age. I highly recommend it, especially to parents of young children (it would be a perfect baby gift, actually).

During the weekend, I spent most of my time on presentations. I was speaking myself on Saturday, including panel presentations for The Apps are All Right! with Barbara KlipperCen Campbell, and Tess Prendergast, and ECRR 2.0: Using Apps and eBooks in Early Literacy Programs – Every Child Ready to Read with Tess & Cen again, along with Dr. Chip Donohue, Claire Moore, Naomi Smith, and Dr Betsy Diamant-Cohen. On Sunday I attended two additional segments from LittleeLit, including one on Diversity & Special Needs Apps and another on Rapid App Evaluations. It was exceptional to see so much energy and excitement not only about apps in general this year at ALA, but about apps in depth, as a format. The discussions were rich and thoughtful, fueling a lot of optimism about the digital shift. Among my own notes for my presentation was this one chart I will share with you here – showing the criteria for reviewing digital book apps in comparison to criteria used for traditional paper picture book evaluation.

Criteria for Reviewing Digital Children’s Content:

Criteria Consistent Across Formats

New Criteria to Consider for Digital

High Quality Illustrations

Relevant enhancements that support narrative

Easy to Read, Large Font

Seamless integration of features & enhancements

Developmentally Appropriate Content (Length, Reading Level, Topics, Language)

Audio & Sound effects that don’t interfere with voice-over or other features.

Well-written, nicely paced & chunked text

Technical polish, stability, ease of use & navigation settings, flexible use.

High Quality Content (not thinly disguised advertisement for game, movie, food, etc.)

No ads, in-app purchases & links that leave the app (unless under sufficient parental gate).

Engaging content worthy of many return visits

Clearly identified author/illustrator/producer.

Ways to extend beyond the book

Quality games or other extras (if present) that do not interrupt narrative or reading comprehension.

Many LittleeLit Think Tank members were presenting during the week, including several great app-themed workshops. Overall, “app” was found in 500% more workshop titles this year over last year (5 vs 25) and “book app” was present in 3 descriptions over none in 2013. There was also a nearly 150% increase in workshops with the word “eBook” (68 vs 48) since 2013. But no statistic can really portray the overall mood I detected this year. At November’s CLA conference I noted a strong interest and anxiety about the digital shift, but no more than the same feeling I had found at 2013’s summer ALA convention in Chicago. The feeling in Vegas was different. Maybe being in a city like Vegas gave everyone permission to consider things ‘outside the box’ of our usual professional construct, but then again, the hour for librarians may simply have arrived!

In my estimation, librarians are the perfect ‘digital docents’ for the 21st century’s digital content. From what I’ve read, many in the field of library sciences have been fretting about where they fit into the digital shift, so the time is now to assert that librarians (as a profession) will be MORE in need by society in the future than ever before. There should be more jobs, not fewer, for library students. They are the professional and ethical curators of the digital world, essential to our cultural transition. And we couldn’t be in better hands!

* All statistics about ALA Conferences taken from keyword search on the scheduler for ALA2013 and ALA2014.

Category: Libraries and the Digital Shift

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.