This June, I (Amy Laughlin) was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago, Illinois after receiving a scholarship from Pratt’s Student Chapter of the ALA (SILSSA). Not only did I represent the Pratt SILS community, I also proudly represented the Darien Library (Connecticut), whom I currently work for part time, and will start working for full-time as a Children’s Librarian on August 1.
Many topics and hot-button issues interest me in the realm of library service. From my position at the Darien Library, I have become increasingly entrenched in library service to children, especially with understanding and becoming familiar with digital tools and their use by pre-readers (ages birth-five); how libraries can increase STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programming for children; and the exploration of MAKER spaces in libraries. The sessions that I attended at ALA all related to these interests, and I am excited to share my experience with readers of this blog. It’s taken me about a week to let my thoughts from the conference develop, so please forgive my belated post and please read on to learn about my biggest ALA takeaways.
Maureen Sullivan at the ALA Opening General Session, Friday June 30 4pm:
“Libraries are one of the last trusted institutions in this country… librarians must take that role seriously”
The first session I attended at ALA was the Opening General Session, where librarians and attendees alike were treated to speeches by ALA President Maureen Sullivan, and keynote speaker Steven Levitt, author of Freakanomics and co-author of the forthcoming Think Like a Freak. Maureen spoke eloquently about library service in the present and threw out the amazing quote “Libraries are one of the last trusted institutions in this country… librarians must take that role seriously,” alluding to the recent government information leaks and a general distrust that many citizens likely feel towards government forces. This particular statement got me thinking: if we really are one of the last trusted institutions in the country, then we REALLY have to know our stuff. We have to be knowledgeable on a myriad number of subjects and be confident of our skills and knowledge when queried by colleagues, patrons, and bosses alike. We have to serve our patrons without judgment, aggression, or dismissal. We have to be passionate about our line of work without crossing that fine-line separating zest from hysterical importance. In short, we have to know our stuff, and continually stay in contact with others in our profession to stay abreast of the sentiments being traded by our peers.
Children’s Services 2.0: From Digital Storytimes to MAKER Spaces
The big theme for the array of ALA programs, lightning sessions, and conversation starters that I attended this year all looped back to STEM. An acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM programs inspired me to attend as many sessions as possible that would inform my professional development within the realm of STEM. I wanted to enrich my knowledge of digital literacy for pre-readers, and understand better what exactly a MAKER space is and what we as librarians are supposed to “do” with them. In Darien, the Children’s Library is getting ready to unveil a new MAKER space, and my attendance at ALA seemed to fit in perfectly with my goal of becoming as MAKER-fluent as possible!
“How do we turn digital media devices into tools for engagement?”
There’s the old adage in children’s libraries that says “it’s never too early to start developing early literacy skills.” Most children’s libraries around the country that host storytimes have dedicated lap-sit story hours for pre-walking infants, as studies have shown that children are more likely to be better students, readers, and learners if they are read to as infants.
So where does digital media fit in with current Early Literacy Standards? I attended a session which helped shed light on this issue which is dominating many children’s library departments across the U.S. The session, entitled Apps from A to Zoo, was hosted by none other than Sarah Houghton, AKA The Librarian in Black. Attendees heard from a slew of great speakers about the importance of early literacy training for staff who work with children. A representative from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media (yes, he and Mr. Rogers are one in the same) spoke eloquently about how digital devices fit in with early literacy development and how we as librarians can better our communities. He recommended first working on one’s own digital literacy before embarking on adding digital tools (like iPads, Nooks, Kindles, etc.) into a library program. After all, how can someone truthfully or expertly recommend how to use a device if they aren’t familiar with them?
Another great recommendation on digital literacy from the Fred Rogers Center is to simply apply developmentally appropriate practices to a new set of tools, which in this case are digital tools. If you can teach a child a new concept, such as letter recognition, by using an iPad app, do so! If the device itself will inhibit or add difficulty to the lesson itself, don’t use it! It’s that easy. Using iPads in a program or storytime should add to the early literacy experience, not detract from it. Parents and caregivers will regard our usage of digital devices as a model for how to use them in their own home, so it is important to test a device and be 100% confident with it before using it in your own storytime.
Sarah Houghton put it quite succinctly during the session when she said “You automatically have credibility by saying that you are a librarian.” Having knowledge of and being fluent in the different digital tools and apps available today is essential to our field. Library patrons listen to what librarians have to say, and we must be experts in these fields for the sake of our own credibility and so that we may continue to enrich children’s learning. Success in life now depends heavily on being technologically savvy; children who have access to digital tools are learning both tech skill and literacy skills. Digital literacy and digital tools are a one-two punch that all of us children’s librarians should be on board with!
I’ll have more on Maker Spaces in a bit!