I’m lucky enough to have a job that gives me the chance to regularly talk with other librarians and educators about the work that we all do with, and for, teens in libraries and communities. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of conversations that got my brain going about ways to integrate some new, and newish, technologies into teen library services.
At this point apps aren’t really new. (Although new ways of using apps and new technologies that expand the capabilities of apps keep appearing.) People tend to know what they are and what they can do. A couple of weeks ago I began to think about what librarians that work with teens are doing to evaluate apps. I also began to wonder what librarians are doing to help connect teens with the best apps for particular purposes. Are librarians regularly looking at apps that teens might want to use and helping to get the word out about these apps? If they aren’t, why not? More and more teens are using apps and it seems to me that informing teens about good resources includes informing them about good apps.
In conversation with other librarians about apps I started to think about the skills librarians need to successfully evaluate apps of interest to teens. These evaluation skills have to include consideration of what teens look for in apps, what teens don’t see in apps but would like to see, and how teens use, or might use, apps for informational and recreational purposes.
One way to get started in thinking about, and coming up with, good evaluation techniques for apps is by looking at the various reading apps currently available. There have been many articles that review reading apps and what works and doesn’t work in these apps. But, what should we look for in apps that a teen might use for reading? What do teens say that they want in a book/reading app? Perhaps it’s time to have teens in the library community look at a variety of these apps and come up with a set of features that should be considered when evaluating them.
Over the past few weeks there have also been more and more apps available for reading magazine content on mobile devices. Slate and Wired both have apps for the iPad and each app makes reading the magazine content an experience that goes beyond the traditional physical magazine reading experience. This too might be an area to look at with teens. What do they want and need from a magazine app?
Of course if librarians are going to work on evaluating apps for, and with, teens, it’s important to have access to apps. That means that if you or the library in which you work doesn’t have a device or devices that support apps, it’s necessary to find ways to access them. If in a school library maybe the public library has devices to use in order to learn about apps. Or, if in a public library if without access to an app friendly device, perhaps the school library is the place to gain that access. And, what about the teens with whom you work? Maybe there are teens who have devices on which they use apps. Is it possible to connect with those teens in order to gain the skills necessary in order to start evaluating and supporting this technology in the library?
Some say that the web is dying and that apps are the new way that people are going to be able to access content. If that’s the case, teen librarians certainly have to be ready and able to support this somewhat new way of accessing information and recreational materials.
Embedding Information with Scannable Codes
This is the technology that is most exciting to me now because of all of the different ways that it can be used with teens and libraries. If you aren’t familiar with QR codes, or applications like StickyBits, they are scannable barcodes on which anyone can embed information. The scanning usually takes place using a smartphone or cell phone camera, and with an application that can convert the scan to readable information. For example, you can scan the code in this part of the post with the Stickybits app and access links on evaluating book apps.
I’ve had a lot of ideas about using embeddable codes with teens in libraries but last week, while I was talking with some librarians in Texas, there were several simple ideas discussed that I hadn’t thought of. One librarian talked about how she scans barcodes on books she would like to read or add to the library collection when she’s browsing through bookstores. When she gets back to the library she can easily see what titles she is interested in right on her phone. She doesn’t have to write anything down. It’s such a simple way to perform collection development and create on-the-fly reading lists.
Another idea that a librarian mentioned was creating barcodes embedded with titles of books on specific themes, or containing lists of new library items, and pasting the codes on the back of bathroom stall doors in the school in which she works. That way students could find new titles in an unexpected place. It could take the place of graffiti on bathroom walls.
Of course the bathroom door use of QR codes might seem a little off the wall and slightly gross to some. What the idea says to me is that this new technology allows for some out of the box thinking, and for opportunities to meet teens outside of the library in new ways. While you might not post barcodes on the stall of a bathroom door, you could paste them in various locations around a school or library. When teens see them they could scan and get new ideas for reading and perhaps ideas related to the area in which the barcode is available. For example, what if in a school you pasted a barcode outside the science lab? Teens could scan that code and find resources for their science fair project, or access a list of science fiction titles.
Having conversations with colleagues who work with teens is definitely a great way to get new ideas and to find out about ways of doing things that you might not come to on your own. Have you had conversations this summer about the work that you do with teens that sparked a new idea for you? Let readers know about it in the comments section of this post.