Feliciter -- The rapid adoption of mobile technologies, with over 50% of children having access to a mobile device at home (Common Sense Media 2011) and 47% of teens owning smartphones (Pew Internet 2013), has changed the way information is searched and accessed. On average, 83 apps are downloaded per iOS device sold and 53 apps per Android device activation (ASYMCO 2013). Simply put, apps are the new containers of information and imagination—and youth librarians have the opportunity to become the go-to source for kids, teens, parents and educators as they set out to navigate this new world.
At West Vancouver Memorial Library (WVML), fostering 21st century literacies and facilitating meaningful engagement are priorities of our 2011–2015 Strategic Plan. Director of Library Services Jenny Benedict says, "Since our founding, we have selected and recommended the best resources for our youth. It is more important than ever, in today's digital environment, that we give expert advice on what is high quality and age-appropriate to support parents, educators and children in building the next generation's skills."
WVML's Youth Department has applied tried and true library principles to develop an app advisory service: making quality selections to curate a collection, organizing the collection to make it easy to search, promoting the collection through an accessible format, training staff to deliver the service, and evaluating the community feedback.
Finding the Best of the Best
For many librarians, app stores represent the ultimate in organizational dystopia. Discoverability and browsability is virtually impossible with the sheer number of apps that are broadly (and often questionably) categorized by age or interest. Combine this with the fact that apps by trusted developers sit alongside those created by questionable experts and it's no wonder that many people just stick to the "Top Charts" category when making selections.
These problems become even more of an issue when it to comes to apps for youth, as app descriptions often make claims about being educational and fun when they are not much of either. And, unlike a book, there is often no way to "flip through" or "try before you buy" with an app (only some offer free trial or lite versions).
Using criteria that are similar to other formats, WVML youth librarians selected free and paid apps for the collection based on:
• professional reviews (School Library Journal, Kirkus)
• respected industry publication recommendations and "best of" lists (ex: Wired, BoingBoing)
• popularity of books/characters with kids in our community
• apps recommended by staff on the West Vancouver School District's website
• their potential to aid in productivity and/or school assignments (ex: graphing calculator app, periodic table app)
WVML's App Collection
The WVML Youth Department currently has approximately 90 apps downloaded on two iPads, an iPod touch and a Google Nexus 7. We also have a Nabi Tab (Android tablet) that came with dozens of pre-loaded apps suitable for young people. Patrons of all ages are able to use these devices in the Library as part of our Youth Department's Technology Petting Zoo.
On our Apple devices, we have sorted the apps into folders with broad grade recommendations (Preschool–Kindergarten, Kindergarten–Grade 3, Grade 3–6, Grade 6+) based on our librarians' experience with the app in combination with the developer's recommended age group. But we soon found that simply sorting apps into folders was not enough; patrons were soon asking us for recommendations, the costs of various apps they loved and wanted to purchase, and other details about the content on the devices.
Promoting our App Collection – Tumblr (wvmlyouth.tumblr.com)
With the launch of our new website looming, we wanted to make our app advisory service accessible for both public and the staff. We settled on Tumblr because it:
• is a popular platform already known to many of our patrons (and particularly popular with youth)
• allows for tagging and searching for easy, accessible organization of our apps by grade level, platform (Apple and Android) and subject
• easily accommodates embedded videos of app trailers or demonstrations of WVML librarians using apps in storytime
• does not require a library card to access, meaning that other professionals and patrons from outside our community can access the resource
• has options for archiving content, meaning that we can preserve it in the event that the site ceases to exist
The functionality in tumblr far exceeded any other option that we contemplated. Excel spreadsheets at the desk would have been cumbersome to update and most importantly, weren't accessible by patrons. A webpage wouldn't have offered tagging or filtering functionality and list-making features in BiblioCommons wouldn't have provided the ability to sort the apps.
Getting Staff on Board: Make it Fun and Start Small
With almost a dozen full-time and casual librarians on the WVML Youth Department team, experience and comfort with mobile technologies varied drastically. We had some staff that had never operated a touch screen of any kind, let alone a tablet, while others were totally well-versed in the Apple and Android universes. Rather than charging all staff with the daunting task of becoming intimately familiar with dozens of apps right away, they were asked to just pick one personal favourite for each age group. The result was an informal, relaxed process that was meant to feel more like play than formal training. Our Library's robust staff technology training plan, facilitated by our Digital Access Librarian, also supported the creation of this new service with two levels of app instruction for beginners and more advanced users.
While permanent staff did the initial selection, several members of the team worked on populating the Tumblr, familiarizing themselves with the content and choosing favourites for inclusion in the collection. Librarians who were not involved in writing annotations had access to all the devices and apps to experiment and play with during quiet moments on the Information Desk.
WVML's youth department is capturing both anecdotal feedback and usage. To date, the response to our acquisition of devices and apps along with our ability to jump into the fray of youth apps has been tremendously positive. School district staff and early childhood educators involved in the West Vancouver Child and Family HUB are extremely excited at having a "technographic" resource with our particular community needs in mind. Our partnership with these organizations has been strengthened as they have come to appreciate our staff expertise in this area. Visitors to the Youth Department have quickly become regular borrowers. Not a day goes by without the devices and apps in our Petting Zoo being used by youth and families.
Where are we going next
While the Tumblr seems like the ideal thing to meet or needs around tagging, filtering and sorting, an optimal solution would obviously be one where this information could be seamlessly incorporated into the Library's catalogue. While this integration is not on the imminent horizon, it is not far off, and in the meantime, we are confident that the Tumblr will work effectively.
Now that we have a solid cache of apps for preschoolers to secondary school students, our next area of focus will be curating collections for special populations–in particular, we have received questions around using apps with autistic children and would also like to build our selection of productivity and study skill apps for older students.
Where to look for more information
Offering app advisory and curation for youth is a growing service for public libraries. To find out more, check out these sources:
• Visit our WVML Recommended Apps Tumblr for our tops app picks for youth. (WVML Recommended Apps 2013)
• Darien Public Library in Connecticut features monthly app picks and recommendations from librarians on their website, in addition to loaning early literacy iPads with librarian-curated content. (Darien Library 2013)
• The Association for Library Service to children also holds frequent twitter chats about apps. Also, the ALSC blog includes posts from librarians from across North America implementing app advisory or app programs into their service models (ALSC Blog n.d.).
• ALA Annual 2013 held a Conversation Starter entitled "Building A to Zoo for Apps: Time-tested librarian skills meet cutting edge technology for kids." Just as A to Zoo remains to the go-to subject indexed resource for picture books, this session was designed to get the dialogue started around a centralized, authoritative resource for librarians to use when giving app advisory to youth. (American Library Association 2013)
ALSC Blog. http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/category/bloggers/blogger-children-and-tech... (accessed July 26, 2013).
American Library Association. June 3, 2013. http://ala13.ala.org/node/12214 (accessed July 26, 2013).
Common Sense Media. October 25, 2011. http://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/zero-eight-childrens-media-use-... (accessed July 26, 2013).
Darien Library. 2013. http://www.darienlibrary.org/ (accessed July 26, 2013).
Dediu, Horace. ASYMCO. May 31, 2013. http://www.asymco.com/2013/05/31/100-billion-app-downloads/ (accessed July 26, 2013).
Denver Public Library. 2013. http://denverlibrary.org/ (accessed July 26, 2013).
Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Maeve Duggan, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser. Pew Internet. March 13, 2013. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-and-Tech.aspx (accessed July July26, 2013).
WVML Recommended Apps. 2013. http://wvmlyouth.tumblr.com/ (accessed July 26, 2013).