Give Us Some Mo! Children’s Programming in a 21st Century Library

Graduating with my B.A. in 2012, my family, relieved after my 17-year-college stint, asked what I wanted as a graduation gift. I was afraid to ask because of the price, but I knew an iPad would be beneficial to my career in librarianship. At the time I worked as a teen liaison. That fall, while applying for a children’s position, I had to prepare a storytime for the interview panel. “What skills or tools do I have that others may not?” I asked myself. “An iPad!”

So I ventured down the rabbit hole of the World Wide Web to find out what others were doing. Closer to home in Colorado, I discovered the article “Once Upon an App: The Process of Creating Digital Storytimes for Preschoolers” , by Kate Lucey and Melissa Della Penna, in CAL’s online journal, Colorado Libraries. These Douglas County librarians developed digital storytimes using iPads by first surveying their patrons and then carefully incorporating the six early literacy skills and the five supporting practices from the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) program. In their list of app suggestions, I found Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App. At the suggestion of a teacher friend, I had already planned on reading Mo Willem’s classic, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus for my interview—synchronicity was at work! I found some other library bloggers who utilized this app successfully and decided it was a go!

Digging deeper, I found while there was information from bloggers and presentations from various conferences, there still were not many librarians utilizing these tools—until I discovered pioneer, Cen Campbell.  At that time, she was the primary blogger for her site, Little eLit. Today, the site is filled with posts from other libraries as more children’s professionals begin to use digital technologies in their programming—reflecting the community they serve and a 21st century society.

It is interesting to see the findings from Common Sense Media (2013) echoed in the expansion of Cen’s blog. The report shows that the use of mobile and interactive technologies among families of 0 to 8-year-olds increased from 8% in 2011 to 40% in 2013. And, nearly the same amount of children in 2013 have their own mobile devices as the number of parents who owned them in 2011. The time all children spend using mobile media platforms (iPads, smart phones, tablets, eReaders) and applications (apps) has tripled since 2011.

I feel a little sheepish writing about Cen, the only time I have talked directly to her was this summer when I attended two webinars she hosted, I think I typed something lame like, “Right On!”, or “Sing it Sister!”  The webinars, ALSC’s “Best Practices for Apps in Storytime” (enter as a Guest and download slides on the bottom right) and the other, from InfoPeople, Early Literacy Programming in the Digital Age, cohosted by Genesis Hansen, provided and instilled a number of takeaways  I continue to explore in my research and professional development. The most pertinent takeaway for me was when  Cen said (paraphrasing), “It is the ‘Wild West’ out there, we need to actively curate and evaluate educational apps …We need better criteria for evaluation and we need more librarians using, evaluating, reviewing, collaborating, and crowd-sourcing. Parents need our help in wading through all the options—more ‘Appvisory.’ ”

As we approach 2014, parents and caregivers, will be coming into your library asking about how to download apps on their new device, or they will want suggestions on what apps are educationally sound. The big question they may ask about is (insert ominous music here) “Screen Time.” While I spent this semester in library school researching the issue, instead of boring you with more of my diatribe, I defer to Cen, who has some excellent postings and resources, including the joint position statement on technology and young children from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College and Lisa Guernsey’s book,  “Screen Time : How Electronic Media-From Baby Videos to Educational Software-Affects Your Young Child”. Just keep this in mind—passive screen time and active screen time are very different. Using technology in programming is active and engaged, not passive.

When using apps in storytime, the focus is still about the stories—the technology just enhances what we do, just like when we use music, flannel boards, and other props. An easy way I incorporate these tools in storytimes are with animal sound apps. What is great about these apps is that many of them are free, and you don’t even have to show the kids the screen if you are still trying to determine how to best serve your population and thoughtfully incorporate new media literacies. Another one of the library superstars I follow, Melissa Depper with Arapahoe (CO) Library District, did just this in the Tech Together pilot program instituted on the heels of a visit from Screen Time author, Lisa Guernsey in August (still kicking myself for not ditching work to go to this). Depper’s careful research and planning paved the way for a successful program.

Of course, I’ll always have Mo (oh yeah, I got the job, thanks for the iPad, Pops). Last month we hosted a Pigeon Party to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. After reading the book, I used the same app from my job interview—Don’t Let the Pigeon Run this App. The kids became content creators, collaborating on their own Pigeon story and watching their creation come to life on the screen (a sort of interactive Mad Libs). Mo Willems himself taught them how to draw the Pigeon, each taking a turn on the white board (analog style) following his step-by-step instructions. We ended the hour with good old-fashioned crafts, games, and cake.

While still dipping my toes into this new and exciting landscape, I hope by the end of 2014, I can look back and see that my digital programming has progressed; and maybe even perhaps the technology then might include an opportunity to use a Mo Willems hologram (Princess Leia style) for my next Pigeon program ! In a 21st century library, we can do it all, and then some! Give us some Mo!

Pigeon Party!

Tiffany Paisley is a children’s specialist for the Old Colorado City and Ute Pass Community Library branches of Pikes Peak Library District. When not spending time working on her MLIS from San Jose State University, she can be found drinking copious amounts of coffee and singing off-key to toddlers who fortunately do not care.


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