iPad Library Programs: iPad Story Time and App Chat, by Laura Doyle and Cheryl Wolfe
Laura is a Senior Librarian in the Digital Services department at the John F. Germany Public
Library in downtown Tampa. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and is a former
preschool and kindergarten teacher. She is also the parent of a toddler.
Cheryl is a Principal Librarian in the Digital Services department at the John F. Germany
Public Library in downtown Tampa. She has an interest in appropriate use of cutting edge
technology and is also the parent of two primary-aged children.
Technology is evolving and our methods for instruction must evolve with it.
We’ve known for years that children learn through hands-on, playful, collaborative
This is the reason why we incorporate props, sounds, music, flannel boards, bubbles, and
activities into storytimes—to make themes more relevant, concepts more memorable, and
to bring stories to life.
We also know that technology is making great strides every day and becoming a bigger part
of children’s everyday lives. Change happens so fast that librarians, teachers, parents and
caregivers are constantly trying to stay abreast of the best ways to use technology to
benefit children’s learning.
According to a study by Common Sense Media:
-Children’s access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher than it was two years ago:
Among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in
ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013.
The percent of children with access to some type of “smart” mobile device at home (e.g.,
smartphone, tablet) has jumped from half (52%) to three-quarters (75%) of all children in
just two years.
-We’re librarians, we’ve done our research. We know that technology is engaging for
children, but we also recognize that it has its limitations and even dangers if used
-In the last decade, we’ve heard a lot of negativity regarding passive media like TV and
videos and the impact on brain development. Even with watching “educational programs”
there is the risk of occupying and replacing time that would have been spent on activities
like playing with friends, being physically active, doing homework, chores, or hobbies.
Research regarding use of apps and screen technology with children:
Several organizations and agencies have issued statements in the last five years regarding
developmentally appropriate use of technology with young children. Among them:
-American Academy of Pediatrics: “Television and other entertainment media should be
avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these
first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” - See
more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-
Young children need time without the distraction of screens to focus on important skills
including facial cues, kinesthetic awareness, object permanence, etc.
In 2012, a joint position statement was issued from the National Association for the
Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s
Media at Saint Vincent College: Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early
Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8
-“Effective uses of technology and media are active,
hands-on, engaging, and empowering; give the child
control; provide adaptive scaffolds to ease the accomplishment of tasks; and are used as
one of many options to support children’s learning.”
Librarians already provide readers’ advisory, technology education and advice so we are
positioned perfectly to extend this reach into advocating for quality early digital literacy.
The Digital Divide is alive and well:
-Despite this increase in ownership, the gaps remain large. For example, although 20% of
lower-income children now have a tablet device at home, 63% of higher-income children
do; and while 35% of lower-income parents have downloaded educational apps for their
child, 75% of higher-income parents have done so.
-This is an opportunity to not only put cutting-edge technology into the hands of
customers, but also to share and model research-based methods regarding appropriate
-Our challenge was to introduce the iPads in engaging programs that could be easily
replicated by branch staff.
-We also needed to accomplish this knowing that ongoing funding was not an option at this
2012: Planning, proposal, purchases. (Proposal available upon request)
We met with our supervisors, library administration, library system-wide youth services
2013: We piloted programs at branches, refined lesson plans and apps and presented at
the quarterly meeting of our library system’s Youth Services meeting (attended by all YS
staff from 28 branches). We also worked to make the iPads part of Summer Reading
programming and YS staff offered them at different branches throughout the summer.
2014: iPad Storytime is offered monthly at the main library and the iPads are available for
checkout to librarians for programming systemwide. We have also expanded our app
collection and currently have 221 apps installed.
-The number of apps available from Android vs. iOS is comparable
-iOS users purchase more apps, which means app developers are following the money and
often releasing their newest apps to iOS first (and sometimes only on iOS).
-This was largely the reason why we decided to go with iPads over other tablets in order to
have access to the most cutting-edge apps.
-Management of iPads was more time-consuming than anticipated
-Important to have a plan for updates and maintenance
-Currently, 10 devices can be tied to one Apple ID account (which means you can purchase
an app one time and have it pushed out to all ten devices).
-We purchased 12 iPads with the intent of having 1-2 designated as instructor iPads (option
to split into two groups of 5 customers with 2 instructors).
These considerations will vary greatly by library, so really think about how you want your
iPads to be used both now and in the future. For example, we explored options of
physically mounting the iPads (Maclocks), but decided we wanted customers to be able to
access the full potential and interactivity of the apps—ability to shake them, turn them,
We purchased 12 iPads, screen protectors, screen-cleaning cloths, protective cases, and a
VGA to lightning cable adaptor (to enable sharing through a presentation system). We also
purchased iTunes gift cards to allow for easy purchasing of apps to update and refresh the
-Create an ‘image’ for your iPads. This is how apps and settings are configured and
physically arranged on the iPad. Once an image is created on one iPad, it can be saved using
iTunes and used to configure the rest of the iPads.
-Having this backup is very handy should an app inadvertently be deleted or placement of
apps be modified during customer use.
-Document every step of the way so that you can replicate a process if needed.
Documentation will be very useful should you decide to expand your program and need to
configure a new set of iPads or train staff new to the process.
Maintaining equipment and planning time for equipment maintenance are important.
-Physically wipe the devices—we ordered cleaning cloths for this purpose
-Digitally wipe the devices: close open apps, clear browser history, erase any data saved by
apps including instances of where people have logged into personal accounts such as
OverDrive, Facebook, etc. as well as photos or videos. If needed, charge devices for the
Meant to be a shared and guided experience.
This is an active learning experience; tablet is not a babysitter.
We created a sample ‘lesson plan’ for our Youth Services librarians with a farm theme.
*Copies of this lesson plan, as well as a generic iPad Storytime lesson plan template are
available upon request*
Lesson Plan Elements
•Balanced approach—moderation—based on and includes traditional storytime elements
such as print books, music/movement activities, etc.
Our library’s storytimes focus on specific goals from Every Child Ready to Read and we
incorporate these into iPad Storytime as well:
•Parents bring their children to the library for interaction and new experiences, but having
a consistent outline for routine helps both children and parents get more from the
•In setting up the iPads, we placed the apps featured in the program on the front page of the
device. Additional apps are in folders on successive pages and can be swapped out for new
themes as well as explored by customers following the program.
We recommend using Sign-Up Sheets—allow for preplanning, customer-input, as well as
help to keep numbers manageable (child:device ratio)
-Challenges faced and solutions found—
-Child-Caregiver joint activity: make target audience and expectations clear through pre-
programming advertising as well as day-of greeting.
-Maximum two children per iPad—ideally should be one on one with adult
-We received very positive feedback from staff/participants
-Librarians at different branches tweaked the programs to suit their diverse populations.
-Goal of App Chat: Provide knowledge and resources needed to locate, evaluate and
acquire age-appropriate apps
-The library has some devices for borrowing, but participants are welcome and encouraged
to bring their own devices for a more useful experience.
-Demonstrating high quality examples of apps
-Guided activity—showing different features of the app store
-Reviewing app selection criteria
-Exploring different sources for app reviews
-Demonstrating use of library apps, i.e. how to download a book from OverDrive
-Allowing time for individual exploration
-Fielding questions and providing app reference services for those looking for particular
kinds of apps for specific purposes.
There is a world of apps available that meet the needs of very diverse children. While many
apps exist just for entertainment purposes, there are also apps that help to teach concepts,
practice academic skills, and even apps specifically designed for special needs (autism,
speech therapy, etc.)
Don’t forget to tell customers about your library apps and show them how to use them to
access their library account, library databases, library social media pages, etc.
-Schedule programs at a time or similar time that library customers are accustomed to
seeing programs in the library.
-Audience: be flexible and have a plan B if a parent brings a child to App Chat.
-Test your Wi-Fi and have a plan B (handouts, screenshots, etc.) just in case so that you are
still able to show customers key resources.
There are many places to find app reviews and recommendations, but all review sources
are not created equal, so pay attention to who is doing the rating/reviewing and why.
Library staff are qualified to present best practices on appropriate use of technology and
The App Store has a section of “Playtime with Your Toddler Apps,” but many of these fall
into the games category and are not necessarily the type of quality, engaging app that you
might be looking for—be sure to establish and follow your app selection guidelines,
especially if they are fee-based. It’s ok to download a free app, test it out and decide to
Maria Cahill and Anne McGill-Franzen
Remember the 3 C’s!
(from Can Your Preschooler Learn Anything From an iPad App?,” by Lisa Guernsey (May 2,
-Content: quality apps provide an engaging, educational and entertaining experience. They
are easy to use and include accurate information.
-Context: think about how the app will be used and what goals you have for its use
-Child: consider the individual child’s abilities, interests and needs
These are just some of our favorite apps. They are highly interactive and entertaining and
all are based on a physical book that could provide additional content for a child.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App
The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore
The Monster at the End of this Book
Moo, Baa, La La La (Sandra Boynton has several books in app form)
There are many, many places you can find great reviews of apps. These are some that we
looked to for guidance. Many times, it is helpful to start with the purpose of the app that
you want and then find a group that specializes in that area who can give a good
-Traditional library review sources: School Library Journal, Kirkus
-Professionals/Specialists, i.e. Special Education, Speech Therapy, occupational therapists,
Apps are often offered for free or at a discount from time to time and it is VERY beneficial
to keep an eye out. We’ve grabbed some good ones from Smart Apps for Kids, who put out
a Free App Friday blog and Facebook post each week. Apps Gone Free is a free app that
lists apps that are free each day. We have seen great offerings around certain months, such
as Autism Awareness Month, National Reading Month, etc.
These Auryn apps were a great find for us and we grabbed a bunch! These are quality book
apps that allow for interactivity, such as allowing the child record their own narration of a
story and hear it played back to them.
We created this tool to help with evaluation of apps, focusing especially on app function
(content) and design (usability).
-We have listed many, but not all of our apps on our library’s Pinterest page:
-We pin review pages of apps that are on our iPads to give customers as much information
about each app as possible.