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New Media in Storytime


Cen Campbell …

Cen Campbell
Traditional early literacy programming supports the development of early literacy skills, fosters caregiver-child engagement and provides professional recommendations for high-quality, age-appropriate content. Now that books and other literacy-supporting media are available digitally, children’s librarians are applying time-honored librarian skills like curation, evaluation and recommendation to the digital realm.

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  • My name is Cen Campbell. I’m the founder of a blog called and the librarian for an online reading service called I’m a children’s librarian. Are there any other librarians in the room? Not enough at a conference about books. Books are our stories. Children’s books are the way we remember ourselves to our children. That hasn’t changed just because our stories are digital.
  • I’d like to share a story with you today. My story, which I hope will explain why I’m here. It started a few years ago, in the mid 80s when my mom took me to storytime at our local library, read books and sang me songs. Storytime, both at home and at the library was a magical time, and the magic came both from the books and songs themselves, but mostly from the adults who shared those songs and stories with me. I viscerally remember being told that I had aged out of storytime and had to vacate my space on the carpet for younger kids. Maybe the work I do now is just me, trying to get back to that spot on the carpet again.
  • I don’t know that I ever consciously knew that I’d end up as a librarian, but my first job was in my high school library, I worked in the Lingustics library during my undergrad and by the time I was 24 I was managing a bookmobile. I then moved on to running a branch library, then a region of branch libraries. I learned that leading storytime was MUCH more fun than managing a unit of a large public organization, and I learned how to tell stories for large crowds of kids at a library in central California from some very experienced and talented storytellers. Then life happened. I had a little boy, we moved, and I took a few years off to be mommy.
  • A part time substitute librarian position opened up at my local library in Mountain View, California when my son was 2. One of my managers there encouraged some of the wild notions I had back in 2011 about combining my storytelling experience with my new interest in exploring the use of tablet technology with my little boy (that’s him in this screenshot reading Hanna Rosin’s “touchscreen generation article”). I started a blog called to record the experiments I was doing with incorporating apps and eBooks into preschool, family and toddler storytimes in various venues around the Bay Area. I didn’t really expect too many people to read what I was writing, and used the blog primarily as a documentation tool for the libraries and institutions I was working with.
  • This is the kind of program my blog documented. Here’s me at the Mountain View Public Library, using my iPad and AppleTV to share some book apps, and also paper books, puppets, fairy wings and musical instruments. (I have the BEST job in the world). I also lead a pilot project at the Santa Clara County Library District called Tablet Tales, where I went around to different libraries in very different communities in Silicon Valley (both very affluent, and also much), and I also did an entirely digital set of pilot programs called Books on Screen at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Everything I tried, every survey that got filled out, everything that went right and everything that went wrong went onto my blog.
  • Once I started writing about it, hundreds of librarians and storytellers began contacting me asking for advice on implementing new media storytimes, training staff, buying and managing the devices or what book I’d read to learn how to use my iPad in storytime. There was no book written by any of our storytelling gurus (there was a young body of research coming out of early childhood educators, but nothing specifically for use in libraries), there was no professional guidance for us. So I sent out a call for other librarians who wanted to work with me to develop a community of practice around the use of new media in early literacy programming. Now, WE’RE now writing the book (seriously. A publisher approached us and asked us to write it. That’s the blogger’s dream come true, right?) and I have a team of about 40 bloggers or think tankers who are all pooling their resources to share what we are learning when it comes to intentional and appropriate use of technology in a storytime setting in public libraries. Children’s librarians are mobilizing to provide the same kind of guidance for digital books that they have always provided for print books. This is from Desk Set by the way; Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. I love them. They’re so good together.
  • There’s been some buzz recently at a federal level about the increasingly vital role of the librarian and the library as essential resources to families with young children. This very civilized & progressive report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services called Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries create Lifelong Learners issues “a call to action for policymakers and practitioners to fully use the capacity of libraries and museums in their early learning efforts.” They outline 10 ways in which libraries and museums are already supporting lifelong learning with examples from around the country. I’ve taken the call to action to heart, because I believe the skill and the placement of children’s librarians makes them ideal to guide parents in the jungle that has become the children’s digital publishing space.
  • One of the projects that I’ m working on now is funded through the federal Library Services and Technology Act, and is administered through the California State Library. The Early Learning with Families Initiative is a state-wide project designed to bring together expertise of child development specialists (like Dr Josh Sparrow of the Brazelton Institute), Early childhood educators, zero to three, First Five, Head Start, play experts, academics, researchers and children’s librarians to create a set of resources for supporting California’ young families not specifically around technology, but technology plays a large part because of the ubiquity of the devices, but also beause a lot of parents aren’t sure how to develop the whole child now that these interlopers are in our midst. We’re running a number of events like conferences, webinars & on ground trainings & unconferences for librarians as part of the initiative, but my big task is to create an online toolkit that guides librarians or storytellers through incorporating new media into storytimes. As an especially exciting part of this toolkit that I’ve been blessed to ahead on, because it was a project that I was spearheading on my own, and the California State Library is now participating in it.
  • We held a conversation starter called A to Zoo for Apps. A to Zoo is a big yellow book; it’s a thematic guide to picture books. A to Zoo for Apps is the name of a new media curation and evaluation idea that LittleeLit has been kicking around for over a year now; we presented the idea in Chicago with a small army of my bloggers, Carisa Kluver of Digital, Chip Donohue of the TEC Center at Erikson, and Lisa Guernsey of the New America Foundation, plus some movers and shakers from the library world. To me, the mission of this project s very large, very weighty, and very necessary. Children’s librarians to curate and evaluate the children’s digital publishing space, just as they have been doing for hundreds of years for paper books. Curation is a large part of the problem that we see before with this ever growing sea of content, but how to use that content is equally important.
  • Along my “mobilize the librarians” journey I’ve made friends with some very inspiring people, one of whom wrote this book (you may know her; Lisa Guernsey is the Director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation) and she and I, along with Karen Nemeth, presented a webinar and then a conference session at NAEYC PDI in San Francisco this summer. Lisa, along with Chip Donohue at the TEC Center at Erikson, planted the concept of the media mentor in my head, and I’ve been running with it ever since. Who mentors the mentor? Because to me, the children’s librarian is the ideal media mentor for families searching for guidance in the use of technology with young children and storytime is the ideal setting to model healthy healthy media behaviors and to guide parents and caregivers toward high quality content.
  • My vision is to harness the evaluation, curation and recommendation power of children’s librarians, and combine them with the expertise of some of the people in this room, actually, we’re having a meeting at the TEC center in Chicago next week with Rita Catalano & Mike Robb from Fred Rogers will be there, Chip Donohue will be hosting us at the TEC center, Warren Bucklietner of Chilren’s Technology Review will be weighing in, along with me representing the California State Library, Carisa Kluver of Digital Storytime and representatives of the Association of Library Services to Children. It’s a very lofty goal, and we’re going to meet to discuss the feasibility of building a tool, probably some kind of database, available for free through every public library’s website. The content in the tool will be as comprehensive as we get it (and it will take an army of reviwers to populate this tool; luckily there are many many librarians out there willing to help.) Along with the tool itself will be professional development tools for children’s librarians to become media mentors for the young children & their families in the communities they serve.
  • Why children’s librarians? We specialize in the evaluation and curation of media; we always have. We just haven’t mobilized on a wide scale yet to standardize our curation approach to new types of media. We provide regular, ongoing early literacy programming free of charge in a safe, welcoming environment. There is a library in most communities Parents trust librarians to offer high quality, age appropriate recommendations. The problem is that a lot of librarians don’t feel qualified to answer questions about screen time because we don’t have any long term research. So we need to develop the tool to allow them to become qualified to answer questions in this space to the same degree or capacity that we do for print.
  • Many of you have probably read this book: Giving our Children a Fighting Chance, which was mentioned in the Growing Young Minds report as well as Pioneering Literacy Report about the two neighborhoods in Philadelphia where they were trying to level the playing field with allowing access to technology. The most profound piece of knowledge that I gleaned through reading this book, and what guides my philosophy when I’m using technology in my storytimes is that Access is not enough when it comes to bridging the digital divide. You can have all the access and high quality conent there is, but if there’s no parent-child engagement around that technology or the book, or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter.
  • One does not simply offer access without modeling engagement. That’s been my sounding call for librarians and I’m developing a model to help guide libraries and librarians around the use of tablet technology with young kids: there are three things that any given library or librarian has to figure out before embarking on a program: what kind of access does their community need? What kind of content to use, and how to support parent-child engagement around the use of the content.
  • Luckily there are a number of storytelling or parent engagement initiatives to guide us when it comes to the structure of the storytimes. The big kahuna is Every Child Ready to Read, which is a parent Education Initiative developed by the Association of Library Services to Children and the Public Library Association. It’s a storytelling framework with parent education tidbits and outreach tools like ppt presentation about early literacy, bookmarks about early learning practices (talking, singing reading writing playing) and also early literacy skills. ECRR is working on developing guidelines for the incorporation of new media into their structure, and I’ll be helping to launch those at the Public Library Association conference in March in Indianapolis.
  • ECRR is geared toward children 0-5 and is more literacy based, Mother Goose on the Loose is a Music based program for children age 0-3. Mother Goose on the Loose was developed by Dr Betsy Diamant Cohen, she’s based in Baltimore, and it’s a similar set of research and parent education, and a framework for storytelling as well, aimed at younger kids. MGOL has actively begun to take a stance of the appropriate use of technology with very young children, so much so that we’ve developed a workshop based around MGOL and New Media.
  • I also talked Betsy into developing a parent-child engagement app based around the felt board pieces that come as part of the MGOL toolkit. This is us in Maryland last week; last Sunday we received in our little testflight boxes the beta version of the Mother Goose on the Loose app, which was developed by software Smoothie, the folks who do the Felt Board app. It’s a free app, designed to help librarians and storytellers to gently incorporate music and felt boards into their programs.
  • I could talk about this all day, but the point that I want to get across is the mentoring and modeling piece. For those of you who want more information about using apps or ebooks with young children, contact your local library. Modeling the healthy use of tablet technology (or really, whatever new technology is coming down the chute next) is quickly becoming one of the most important reasons that librarians are starting to find ways, even with the large capital outlay that launching these kinds of programs often entail, to incorporate digital books into their traditional early literacy programs. The goal is that if we model healthy use with high quality content in our programs, families are more likely to read with their kids at home.
  • Our society is struggling with how to balance and moderate our use of these devices. As parents, educators, librarians, developers, researchers, advocates we’re even more perplexed about how to use devices with our youngest citizens. There is a library in almost every community in this country, staffed with people with the professional skills to guide families in the intentional and appropriate use of technology with young children. Librarians can offer expertise in accessing high quality content, and using it effectively. Librarians can offer parents and caregivers the skills and confidence they need to sit down and cuddle up with an iPad just like they can with a book.


  • 1. New Media in Storytime Cen Campbell Founder, Librarian,