Technology & libraries & children… oh dear?

I am not a librarian catering to babies and small children.  However, I am a mother of a young child and deeply supportive of / interested in / engaged with libraries, so when a mother-friend asked me a question yesterday about children, libraries, and technology, I just have not been able to get it out of my mind.

The question

My friend goes regularly to a public library with her two children (one six months and one three years).  The children’s section of this library recently got computers and placed them on very low tables in the area catering to the under 4 crowd (e.g. board books are nearby).  Her older son now, understandably, zooms in and becomes entranced by the glowing screen of wonder.  When they move to look at books, the inevitable bloops and beeps emanating from the row of enticing screens call to him and make it hard to focus on the books.  She asked me if there was anything she could say or do to avoid this exposure to screens for her young kids.  Her dread and discomfort were palpable as she explained that she heard the library was soon to start using iPads in the same section.  She doesn’t want to stop going to this library as it’s got wonderful programming and is a convenient location, but she is committed to minimizing screen time.

My first reactions

Well, my gut reactions at the time were:

  1. Libraries are universally excited about implementing technologies of all sorts (I cited our 3-D printer and the makerspace movement).
  2. This library probably got some grant to do this and really feel it fits with their mission; and there’s probably not much she can do.
  3. That said, since she was nervous about approaching the librarians at that library (for fear they would label her ‘that outraged mom’ – I assured her, if the librarians are at all ethical and good at their jobs, even if they felt that way about her they’d never let on :-P), she could go to our local library which does not use technology to this extent in the children’s section and inquire about what is happening at the other library, why, and what kinds of questions or requests she could make (and how to make them) so that this point will resonate with them.

This suggestion felt highly unsatisfactory, and the issue started to get me annoyed as well.  I did a little more thinking and a little digging and here are some things that are floating around in, as Hercule Poirot calls them, my little grey cells.

My thoughts 12 hours later

Public (and all) libraries are constantly thinking about relevance, new and exciting services, and how best to meet patron needs and desires (both known and unknown to the patrons).  There is a lot of energy around reinventing library spaces with a primary focus on building and doing.  These are common refrains when accused of being irrelevant in the face of “everything being online” (everything is not online, and libraries now do so much more than provide print books but those are other stories for others to tell).   Lots of good is coming from this, especially with regard to offering technological workshops and gadgets, and of course free internet – all of which serve to minimize the digital divide; a deep, systemic, socioeconomic problem that public libraries have been a part of tackling.

All of this energy can be contextualized, too, against a backdrop of a long-standing philosophical conversation around providing what the people want (Fifty Shades of Grey! Romance novels! Cookbooks!) versus providing what’s good for them, what’s educationally, morally, and ethically valuable for the community (this book by Wayne Bivens-Tatum has a nice chapter talking about the history of public libraries).

Alright, but what if what people want is in some way bad for them?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says (my emphasis added),

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.

They also say,

The AAP recommends that parents establish “screen-free” zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

I just see such a conflict with these statements and all the energy and excitement around integrating technology into the children’s sections of libraries.  A few brief searches of the Association for Library Service to Children’s blog posts suggests an overwhelming excitement and enthusiasm for exposing children of all ages to technology.  I don’t think that’s inherently bad, but I feel very very unhappy about posts like this one which argues that only passive screen time is bad screen time and that rich experiences (like learning a programming language or creating something on an iPad) are great.  I think learning programming languages and playing with iPads can be rich learning experiences, but there’s nuance too:  how many hours a day is a child glued to their minecraft game?  How old are they?  Again, as the AAP states,

Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.

The ALSC does have some posts addressing this age question.  Here’s one advocating for screen-free story time that I really like as it grounds its points in the AAP recommendation.  I love how Kleckner closes:

The new screens and screen uses are in many ways exciting and even amazing. They are part of a very new and enormous cultural change in how technology is used today. Still, screen use is not appropriate and beneficial everywhere, for everyone, at every occasion. Like at the family dinner table or while driving, story times at the library are best without it.

Yes.  Agree.  100%.  And I’m surprised the ALSC doesn’t have any statements to this effect at all.  What advisories I did find on their website related to helping young patrons avoid stumbling onto explicit and dangerous content online (and even this was written 15 years ago at this point).  Real missed opportunity in my opinion.

There is a sense that if children don’t get on the tech bandwagon, they’ll be at a disadvantage.  And again, that digital divide across jarringly unequal socioeconomic lines is real.  But, where does this leave us?  Are the children’s sections of public libraries talking about this?  Are they and the AAP connecting?  Are parents just clamoring for tablets and other technologies and therefore libraries are simply providing services that are being asked for?  What’s the ethically right thing to do in this case?  Is this just an extension of whatever reasons a public library will stock Fifty Shades of Grey?  Or is there something more here that should make us pause and think again about the technology we are offering to our youngest among us?

What say you, children’s library workers??


A favorite thing

NOTE:  This post was mysteriously not published back in March, 2014 (when I was still at Michigan).  So, here you go!  Enjoy!


One of the things I love most about living in this University town for a number of years is attending the dissertation defenses of my dear friends.  It fills me with a special kind of joy to watch people I know in one capacity present some overview of all that they have accomplished in their work from the last four to eight years.  Woah.  Serious stuff!

It’s fascinating to see the difference of styles between departments, the different presentation choices different people make, and the truly vast range of topics covered – really, it’s humbling and inspiring.

Inspiring this post, I’ve just attended a defense talk by a friend about the genes and proteins involved in a blood disorder (something akin to hemophilia but not quite).  Important work and a job incredibly well done.  I may not have understood most of the talk, but I think it speaks well to the speaker that I understood the major issues and major conclusions (and their implications).  Go Lesley!

But, I’ve been to quite a range of these talks – which is just the best!  Many that I’ve been going to recently are for folks getting MD/PhD’s (in that category, my husband’s was obviously a highlight; especially after hearing five practice talks…)!  I’ve enjoyed going to the defense talks of others from his lab, too, though.  One recent defense talk from his lab started in a lovely way: “This could be a story of two loves, but the story of meeting my wife will take too long so I shall only be able to cover my love of science.”    Well played, Alejandro, well played indeed.

One memorable talk I remember just might have been my first dissertation defense talk I had ever been to outside of the department I was in at the time (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology):  Leo’s math talk!  He literally gave a chalk talk (the only defense talk I have been to that used no computer, no slides, no projector… just chalk and the board).  Leo started off with, “So Euclid said…”  After those words I was lost, but it was amazing to watch him give this lecture summarizing his whole PhD using the board.  Math.  That is one incredible field of study.

Another friend, Katie, defended her dissertation in Classics last year – but I wasn’t allowed to attend!  They were not public!  I was so distraught – tracking down friends who are defending is really my thing and I was very sad to miss this one.  Luckily, I helped her with her (ultimately highly successful!) job talk and that sufficed as a defense talk.  Heracles had quite the wild ride, I learned.

A few former housemates were in the Astrophysics department and I went to about three defenses for that program covering the formation of stars, the formation of galaxies, and the formation of the universe.  Those made me feel quite small!  Mark, another former housemate, defended an applied physics dissertation wherein he looked at how we could image breast cancers more effectively.  Turns out it’s quite a challenge to capture a picture of a cancerous mass in some squishy tissues.

Finally, I have loved attending a number of defenses from folks in the Ecology department – particularly those in my original cohort who went on to get PhD’s.  I’ve heard about plant farts (just kidding, plants don’t fart – but they do produce chemicals that can hint to predators of their herbivores that there might be tasty snacks for them), earthworm impacts on forest litter dynamics, predator effects on tadpole communities, complex food web dynamics, community ecology of agroecosystems, aquatic microbiology, and… so much more.

I think what I love most about attending these events is that it’s clearly a time to pause and say, “Gosh, I have done a lot.  Some of what I’ve done makes the world a better place.  Some of what I’ve done really furthers my field and opens up new avenues for research.  And I’m proud of that.”  I don’t know that we do that “pause” in the working world enough.  Preparing for a defense takes a certain amount of effort – and sometimes, it seems to me, the defender feels like they’re on mile 25 of a marathon and is running on fumes.  But, I think it’s valuable to reflect on what one’s research amounted to (even if some projects didn’t work out or failed outright).  In doing that reflection, I think the defender can come out of what, at times, may have been a truly harrowing experience with some down-in-the-dumps time and realize all that they have accomplished, all that they can do, all that they have learned how to do, etc.

In the question period of Lesley’s defense, one astute audience member asked about the ratio of effort to data in this defense.  The audience member speculated that that ratio might have been high (as in, over the course of a PhD, one puts in a lot of effort pursuing one project after another – or many at the same time – and not all yield fruit).  Lesley had a very gracious answer in response, but I find this question to be highly apt for many PhD’s.  It seems to me that in doing such an endeavor, one DOES put in a lot of effort going down paths that aren’t fruitful (on the face of them).  But that exercise is the process of learning to do science.  Sometimes things don’t work out!

Other insights from this exposure?

Crafty Creative Time

At our library, mimicking Google’s 20% time, we spend a (small) percentage of our time on something creative.  Many people take MOOCs, many pick up new skills somehow, and until recently I was blogging about my collection weeding efforts and the new resources I was finding.  I will pick that up again shortly.  But since January, I’ve embarked on a collaborative crafty project with my officemate…appliqué and embroidery!

Let me back up.  When I married my husband, my sister created a beautiful quilt for us by sending out squares to our family and friends to design.  See how lovely it is??

Wedding Quilt

Then, when my son was born last year, she presented us with a blank quilt of the same style.  As I got to know my lovely officemate, Laura, I learned she was incredibly crafty (alas, an adjective one would not ascribe to yours truly).  So, we decided to embark on a collaborative project ourselves:  she’d mentor me and help me stitch on something related to Henry’s first year.  Et, voila!

Me holding Henry's quilt Henry Quilt 2 Henry Quilt 3Butternut squash!  Always a favorite 🙂  And I seriously could not have done it without the amazing mentorship and calming vibes of the amazing Laura R.

Happy springtime, dear readers!


Sponsored Content – not for me!

On two or three occasions, seemingly real people (actually, I bet they are, in fact, real) have emailed me to (1) praise my blog (um, thanks?), (2) suggest that the content on my blog fits well with their product/service/content, and (3) request that I blog about them OR request that I put some banner or ad on my site.  The most recent request even offered me a $300 gift card to Amazon for participating in a “blogger partnership program.”  At first, I was flattered – I even replied to the first person, not realizing that this was just a way for them to get sponsored content onto my site.  But after mulling it over for a minute or two, I realized that this was so not what I wanted to do with my site. 

My site is a place for me to document, to reflect and to question.  It is not a moneymaker!  Not in practice nor in intent!  So, if you have some sponsored content (or “native advertising” as I’m learning it’s also called) you’d like me to add to this site, I’m not terribly interested.  So sorry.

In looking around the interwebs, I did find these articles that might be interesting if you are also experiencing this:

The House on Ann Street: And then there was one

When I first came to Michigan, way back in the fall of 2007, I was a very different person.  Over the years, I’ve learned a lot, found an incredibly satisfying career path, met a great life partner, all good things.  I’ve even decided that Ann Arbor is a truly lovely place to live!  (Though, Boston, I do yearn to return to you one day…).

As an incoming graduate student in ecology, I was pretty overwhelmed, a little nervous, and knew very few people.  But I made a really good decision right off the bat that set my trajectory in a really positive direction*:  I decided to live in a house that was filled with other graduate students – all in different departments.  There was Annie the Masters student in Public Health, Maggie the Masters student in Speech Pathology (learned what that was!), Lou the PhD student in the Program in Biological Sciences, Erin the Masters student in the Computer Science department (or was that Math?!  Now I can’t actually remember), Mark the PhD student in Applied Physics, Nate the PhD student in Astrophysics, Josh the Masters student in Public Policy, and Katrina who worked in a Psychology lab.  Some people left and some people came over the years.  Nora joined us in my second year in the house as an incoming Masters student in Geology to replace Katrina who headed out west.  Robin joined us the year after that with all her bouncy energy she brought to her program, another Public Health student.  Choosing to live in this house was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

There were some troubles of course.  It’s hard with a 9 person house to keep things clean.  I’ll just say that our Public Policy housemate tried to write a paper on the tragedy of the commons effect on the cleaning chores of the house.  Sigh.  But, for the most part, the good far outweighed the mess.  

We had some great times in that house as a group.  From group dinners and “porchings”**, to our annual Halloween party, to canoeing on the Huron River, to a trip to my great uncle’s donut shop (Chum’s!), to conversations about research, to trips to the planetarium led by our Astrophysics housemate… and on and on, we really bonded those first few years I was here in Ann Arbor.  Two housemates collaborated on a paper together (though I think it hasn’t been published… yet).  What was really wonderful, though, was that each of these very different people brought their own network of people to the house – so we met so many people, new friends, all at once.  And that was good for me.  Gave me some instant, distinct perspectives on what people who were kind of similar to me were doing here.

I’ve been reflecting on this time of life recently as one by one, inevitably, unshakably, they up and leave town.  This happens in Ann Arbor.  The cycle is 2-8 years depending on how long one’s program is.  Last week and the week before I attended three astrophysics PhD defense talks.  The first of the three was of one of my housemates, and then the other two were his buddies I got to know through the house.  I didn’t retain too much (though I did learn a bit about galaxy formation in the very early and then generally early universe)!  But they were fun to attend nonetheless.

A short digression:  Dissertation defenses are one of my favorite things about Ann Arbor.  It’s so amazing to go to a talk that represents the culmination of someone’s research for the past several years.  It just makes me so proud of the people defending.  And those I met through this house really do feel like family, so there’s an added level of pride there.  🙂

So back to my housemates.  While the last of them was defending his thesis, I conceived of this blog post.  Really I was visualizing a map of where we all landed.  So I made it and made this blog post to give me an excuse to post my map.  The yellow marker is me – still in Ann Arbor.  The blue markers are all my housemates.  There are fewer markers than housemates because some of them moved to the same city!  Two are in San Francisco, and two are in Pasadena (and… they’re going to be roommates as of this week)!

Where did we land?

Where did we all land?

Anyways.  I’m just feeling very happy today thinking about all of them, and I am happy for them that they all seem to be enjoying themselves immensely wherever each landed.  So I wanted to write about that.  In a year, our little yellow dot will likely move too… to where?  We’ll all find out in March.


*The positive direction was not without some serious bumps in the road.  Deciding to leave one program for another was probably the most difficult decision I have ever made.  I am forever thankful that I chose to switch up my life plan.  I never knew I could be so happy in a career – and if I hadn’t had the guts to take the plunge away from continuing on in a PhD to go to the School of Information, I’d never have discovered librarianship.

**By hanging out on the porch, I saw my then-future-husband walk by several times on his way to and from the hospital.  Thanks house, for enabling that!

Feeling jazzed about #MLA14AL

Today I went to the Michigan Library Association (they’re getting a new website soon I swear!) planning meeting.  It’s my first foray into conference planning beyond my home institution, and I was very pleased with the day overall.  I met quite a few people from all over Michigan in both public and academic libraries.  It was wonderful to meet a few people from Grand Valley State University – I always notice them publishing in places like College & Research Library News.  Seems like a productive group and after today, I can say they are incredibly nice as well.  🙂  Plus, I befriended a librarian from the UP… can’t beat that!

What conference am I planning, you might ask?  I am helping with the MLA’s Academic Libraries conference May 29-30 in 2014.  Our workgroup is incredibly energetic, experienced and raring to go.  We mapped out our program goals and specific outcomes this afternoon and will be dividing into sub-groups over the next few days to map out our programming, special events and marketing campaign. I think I’m going to be involved mostly on the programming side.  How exciting!

I found connecting with MLA much more accessible (both geographically, economically and organizationally) than the behemoth that is ALA.  Ultimately, I do have aspirations to get involved in a national context, but as an early career librarian, I found that just after one day, MLA is a good fit for me.  I can dive right in, offer suggestions and feedback, sign up to plan and execute tasks, and feel generally needed.  I think gaining some experience in this state level organization will give me more confidence if I ever dabble in national-level work groups.

So, get excited for my updates on the #MLA14AL (Michigan Library Association’s 2014 Academic Libraries Conference) in the coming months!

I have a friend, and she’s doing something amazing.

I have the pleasure of being a friend of Dr. The Liz and I wanted to direct you, dear readers, to her recent chronicles.  After earning a PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology here at The University of Michigan, she bought an RV affectionately named The Turtle and took off to explore, learn, talk, listen and record.

So far, she has two shows – though one is on a small hiatus (a fact I am desperately lobbying to change).  Point A to Point B is a show offering glimpses into the lives of people she meets along the way.  Watch out: this show can be a real tear-jerker.  A profound and lovely tear-jerker, but one nonetheless.  I heard about many of these stories from her on the phone as I obsessively called her daily in her early travels to ensure she was, in fact, still alive.  I heard about the events in this episode while in the Detroit airport on my way to Northern Virginia to see some family.  This was just a day before hurricane Sandy.  Cue ominous music.  But, what’s truly spectacular is watching how she weaves her experiences and the conversations she has with people together into each episode.  It’s like a grittier This American Life.

Her new show, Hugabug, is a science show about bugs.  Fair warning, this show is perhaps not for the squeamish?  Though that may just be the first episode (which I loved).  The episodes are short, maybe 10-20 minutes, and you learn some truly fascinating things about bugs.  You know what JBS Haldane said about the Creator right?  That if there is one, he’s got an “inordinate fondness for beetles.”  Well, here you can learn about beetles and other bugs and all their wondrous forms, features and functions.  Remember, hug a bug, don’t squish them.

If you feel so inclined, I would also recommend her back-episodes of “Break your Radio” – her show on WCBN.

So there you go.  Now you know about my friend Dr. The Liz.  She’s a real cool person, so if you meet her, consider yourself lucky.  You don’t meet people quite as cool as The Liz very often.  So there’s my follow friday:  @lizwason.