Technology · Youth Materials · Youth Services

Early Literacy iPads–Research, Proposal, & Training

Are you telling me that iPads serve as an information gateway for patrons?



librarians assemble batgirl

It all started one dark and dreary day when our third boombox broke, leaving us with only one for kids to use. Inevitably, this one device would now be receiving the brunt of the damage. It was only a matter of time until it too would fall prey to impatient, sticky fingers. Retailers were no longer selling boomboxes with audio outputs so we were out of luck. Located next to the “read-to-me” book kits (includes one book, one CD), my department liked the additional service that the boomboxes provided, giving children another activity to do while in the library.

Eventually, these CD kits will be obsolete. Most laptops are now excluding CDR drives to make them lighter. Tablets run solely on downloadable materials. Cars are replacing CD players with USB connections. Information is shifting to downloadable materials. We shouldn’t be afraid because it’s just another format, like cassette tapes, records, and cave walls (except now these materials can be controlled a lot more by the distributors. *cough cough an $80 copy of one e-book cough*).

So what new format should we invest in that still provides the features of the CD kits? Enter tablets. Tablets are portable, hand-held computers that use software called apps, allowing interactive access to information for various needs and wants. This post is gonna be a long one but gal dab it it’s going to be useful for other libraries doing research.

Here’s the basic timeline I followed:

  1. Develop basic idea for how tablets will be used in library–in-house circulating only
  2. Identify and interview other libraries using tablets (about 1 month)
  3. Form committee
  4. Present findings to committee and formulate parameters around use (1 meeting)
  5. Prepare proposal to Director and Assistant Director by dividing responsibilities (about 3 months)
  6. Propose dat shiz & get approved!
  7. Create timeline for release of tablets with list of all necessary materials that need to be created (about 2 months)
  8. Publicity Storm (1 month before release)
  9. Release the iPads!

First and foremost, our library is not a trailblazer. We’re not big enough to take big monetary risks and we don’t have the staff power to drive radical initiatives. But not being a trailblazer does not mean that we ignore coming changes to libraries. So, our library director was hesitant about a tech petting zoo (where a library offers one of each device for patrons to experiment with in the library) or in-house circulation because he heard from other libraries that their use was dwindling. Circulating expensive tablets (such as the iPad) would be a big risk that he was not inclined to take. I had to identify a middle ground. Because we wanted to replace the listening station boomboxes and we had the space to add something new, I (along with an agreement from the department) wanted to have at least one mounted tablet always available for use. We also wanted to take a baby step towards circulating e-devices out of the library, so we decided that in-house circulation provides a nice safety net to test out the waters of our patron’s interest in this technology. Finally, we chose the Early Literacy age limit 2-8 because (1) this gives us a more constrained set of rules (already in place) to apply to users, such as needing to be accompanied with an adult at all times in the library, and (2) we have been pushing Early Literacy initiatives recently and Early Literacy tablets will be a nice complimentary feature.

In order to show my library director that tablets are still valued by patrons, I had to do my research. I wanted to interview libraries in our area, hopefully with our same demographics. I used a local library organization’s listserv to search for posts about library’s best apps, knowing that these libraries obviously had tablets circulating.

I used this set of questions during each interview:

General Questions

  1. What is your library population?
  2. What type and how many tablets are circulating? In-house or out-of-house circulation?
  3. How many circulations in a month

Preliminary steps taken leading up to public access

  1. Why did you choose your brand(s) of tablets?
  2. Are there any cataloging concerns when adding the tablets to the system?
  3. For books, are you only using apps or are you also purchasing books for the tablets?

Current Use

  1. What was the initial public response? How is it now?
  2. If they’re not circulating, what are your next steps?
  3. How do you publicize this service?Stolen devices?
  4. What are your security measures?
  5. What is your weekly or monthly upkeep? Who is responsible?


  1. Who may use the tablets?
  2. What is your check-out procedure?
  3. Have you needed to revise your policy since it was first instated?

Here are the results of the interviews, if you would like to see them: Libraries-tablets

The questions above helped me to identify how other libraries are approaching tablets and I would soon use their successes as an impetus to start using tablets at my library. With this information, I assembled a committee to tackle all the details and formulate our own plan of action. We then transferred all our research into a proposal to the Director and Assistant Director. This included:

  • Overview with importance of tablets in the library
  • Area library research
  • Tablet Research
  • What, when, where of iPads in YS department
  • How, cost, future plans, budget commitment of library

We used this Prezi and our research (Proposal for Public Use Tablets) to present to our Director. For the skimmers, I’ll sum it up with some more of those bullet point thingers and more condensed language.

too-muchI know but just hang in there.

Why tablets in the library?

The importance of tablets in public libraries is three fold: Why are tablets important in public libraries? Why are they important in your library? Of the many devices out there, why did you choose your device?

Why a public library?

  • Provide patrons with the technology they crave
  • Librarians help filter through enormous wealth of apps and choose the best for kids
  • iPad owners may test apps before they buy them
  • Educational assistance for all children regardless of income or developmental ability
  • Cost effective (apps range from $free.99 to $15)—Playaway Views are $100 each, AWE stations (Early Literacy computers) are infinitely more expensive

Why Fremont?

  • Replaces boom boxes
  • Supports Strategic Plan
  • High School use:
    • Carmel has 1:1 tablet program with an Android-based Samsung tablet
    • Lake Zurich HS has 1:1 program
    • By 2015, Mundelein HS will allocate funds to a 1:1 tablet program. Currently, they are implementing a Google Apps pilot program, using Android-based tablets in the classroom

Why iPads?

  • Patron preference is 3x more than other devices (via area library research)
  • Better quality and abundance of educational apps
  • More “solid” design

Tablet Research

I suppose starting off that we had an affinity towards the iPad. Most of the libraries I interviewed used them and patron preference was much higher for the iPad. However, we wanted a solid reasoning behind Apple because the costs were much higher. This research was given to one team member who looked at the following devices:

  • VTech InnoTab
  • L eap Pad
  • Fuhu Nabi Tablet
  • KD Kurio 7
  • Nook Tablet
  • Kindle Fire
  • Android Based Tablets
  • Apple iPad

After reading professional reviews in PC World and Consumers Reports; as well as consumer reviews, we did not feel the first 6 devices listed were acceptable for the following reasons:

  • All the devices designed for children were subject to substantial software issues.
  • Price:  The Kurio and Nabi priced in at around $200 which is the same as a mini tablets of far-superior quality and adaptability.  The cheaper children’s devices are really just fancy toys.  Some even require you to use a stylus to use the “touch screen” and load games and books via cartridge!
  • Children’s devices are limited to software from the original vendor, which is much less than the software that Apple offers.  Using academic reviews to purchase apps from the lesser known tablets would be impossible.  Furthermore, many of the “educational” Apps and books (especially for the VTECH and LeapPad) were re-hashed representations of overly-commercial characters such as Dora, Disney Princesses and various Pixar characters.  Apps of a non-commercial nature were not very plentiful for any of these devices.
  • Slow processors on Vtech, LeapPad, and KDKurio.
  • Cost of individual books and Apps for the children’s devices is much higher.  Average App price is $5-7, and books were $14-24.
  • Less ability to restrict patron access to app store, internal settings, etc.

At least for the start of this venture, we will use identical products so that staff will not have to learn how to operate multiple devices.  Furthermore, using just one brand will allow us to share apps and books among devices. For Apple, 5 devices is the max number for sharing apps.

iPads in YS department

  • Two iPad 2s for in-house use, checkout at YS desk
  • Three iPad 2s mounted
  • Age restrictions
    • Ages 2-8 years, to be checked out by an adult 18+
    • Hopefully the elementary material will discourage older children from using the mounted iPad in the E Room
  • Time restrictions
    • One hour, if there are patrons waiting

What will be on the devices?

  • The tablets will only have materials selected by the tablet committee.  All Apps and books will be of significant educational value. The list of starting apps was chosen from recommendations by the School Library Journal and various RAILS libraries’ “top patron use.”
  • Each tablet will have pre-loaded books and apps appropriate to the intended use audience.
    • New apps will be added monthly and the device will be checked for updates.
  • Wireless access will be enabled for app use; however, access to the internet will be disabled.
  • Starting Apps & Books
    • Interactive Book Apps
      • Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App! – $6
      • The Monster at the End of This Book…Starring Grover – $5
      • Barnyard Dance – $4
      • PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit – $5
      • The Cat in the Hat – $4
      • Miss Spider’s Tea Party – free
    • Books (Nook Read to me)
      • Llama Llama Red Pajama – $11
      • Curious George’s Dinosaur Discovery – $4
      • But Not the Hippopotamus – $4
      • Froggy Goes to Camp – $6
    • Apps (supporting color & shape identification, matching, differentiation, patterns, music creation, singing)
      • Spot the Dot – $4 (shapes & colors)
      • Peek a Zoo (by Duck Duck Moose) – $1 (animals)
      • Dr. Panda’s Hospital – $2 (animals, compassion, vocabulary)
      • Shapes and Puzzles by Pirate Trio – $3
      • Bugs and Buttons – $3 (counting, patterns)
      • Bunny Fun (Rosemary Wells) – $2 (singing, offered in different languages)
      • Dr. Seuss Band – $1 (music)
      • Eric Carle: My Very First App – $2 (sorting, identification)

Security Concerns

  • Patrons will not be allowed to download or alter the content of the tablets in any way.  iPads allow a special feature to disable downloading and deleting apps. Access to the internet and iTunes will be disabled.

ADA Compliant

  • Via an article published in American Libraries, “As of right now, pretty much the only general consumer reading devices that meet accessibility standards are the Apple iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch families” (Harris, “Kindle Fire Adds Accessibility Features,” December 2012).
  • The iPad offers VoiceOver (gesture-based screen reader) available in 36 languages, inversion of colors, large text, and zoom for the vision impaired.


  • 5 iPads (with discount): $1920
  • 3 iPad mounts: $480
  • 2 Otter Box cases (with discount): $115
  • 5 y-splitters: $16
  • 10 headphones: $195 (2 headphones with each iPad to promote parent-child interaction)

Grant Funding

In searching for grant funding sources, we have not found a source that would allow us to implement our own program without having to comply with specifics set about by the granting agency.  Funding parties often thrust their own agendas onto how these materials and services are to be implemented.  Grants also require a lot of documentation that is costly in terms of staff time and wages.  Because the start-up of this undertaking is relatively small in terms of the library’s total budget, we are hopeful that this project can be funded locally through direct budget allocation and/or the Friends of Fremont Library.

Proposal Success?

You betcha! We even got more than we bargained for. By clearly and concisely presenting our research in a professional manner with a lot of passion behind our proposal, our committee showed our director, without a doubt, that funding this project is the right step for our library. Instead of just 3 iPads, we were approved for 5! Awww yeah.


We soon bought the merchandise and started experimenting. The mounts were great because the height was adjustable, the case could tilt up and down, and the case could rotate from portrait to landscape. This was crucial because most apps can only be viewed one way or the other. No for the bad features. The pole for the iPad mounts was secure, but the case was a little on the cheap-o side. Not only was the plastic flimsy but you could easily press a button and the iPad slide right off. Cool! – _ – Our facilities team was able to drill a hole through the arm and attach a cable to the case allowing this really cool button release to serve no purpose.

The iPad security settings are pretty nice. They are in Settings/General/Restrictions and can only be accessed with a password (once a password has been set up). You can turn off several “permanent” apps such as Safari, camera, iTunes, installing apps, and deleting apps. You can also turn off “in-app” purchases and prevent patrons from accessing/editing your Apple account. As an extra security measure, we bought an iTunes gift card so that if someone were to ever exploit our Apple account, they would not have access to our library credit card.

For adding apps, you can set up wireless, automatic downloads for all iPads connected to the same account. Make sure your tablet is connected to wifi, use iTunes to purchase an app on your computer, and the app will download immediately to all your devices. Pretty sweet–especially for the iPads that are secured to a table.

Staff Training

Our next step was staff training. This included three parts: (1) The philosophy behind tablets in libraries, (2) rules, check-out and check-in procedures, and (3) Using the iPad and playing with our apps. The following are our procedures.

Checking Out Tablets

  • Remind patrons of the rules
    • Tablets stay in Youth Services. Do NOT take home. Should they leave the building, they are considered stolen.
    • No food or drinks near tablets, just like patron computers.
    • Damage and replacement costs are very high so please keep an eye on where they are and treat them nicely
    • Please stay within “touching distance” of both your child and the tablet.
    • Check out procedures
      • Tablets will be located _____
      • Check tablet for signs of damage (Damage includes cracked screen, main buttons not working, and screen not displaying properly [potential water damage])
      • Check out with patron’s card
      • Hold patrons Driver’s License on clipboard inside cabinet
      • No waiver needs to be signed

Checking In Tablets

  • Make sure all pieces are returned—1 tablet, 2 headphones, 1 y-splitter
  • Check tablet for any signs of damage
    • If patron reports trouble or you see problems, please check it out to YS repairs and post to the wiki.
    • Discharge
    • Return Driver’s License
    • Check battery level. Charge if battery shows less than 50%
    • Power off
    • Clean screen
    • Return tablet to ______

We did two training sessions so that everyone could have their own iPad to experiment with.

Future Plans

In the future, we anticipate the need to purchase more devices for school-age kids. Apps and books will include:

  • Common Core standards to assist with research and homework
  • Summer reading and awards lists during the high-demand season of high-demand titles
  • Reading for leisure, encouraging a lifelong love of reading
  • Bridging the digital divide and offering patrons opportunities and access to these devices with a variety of apps to explore for both entertainment and educational purposes (educational games, photo editing and drawing, etc.)

We will reassess the types of devices for further purchase (more iPads? eReaders?) based on our hierarchy of needs at that time. We suspect we will want to have both kinds of devices available. We also expect to develop a plan for patron use outside of our building (check-out for home use).

Thus concludes this incredibly long blog post. Is your library circulating tablets? What have been your biggest hurdles or issues that have arisen?

9 thoughts on “Early Literacy iPads–Research, Proposal, & Training

  1. What a great way to introduce new technology into the library system. I would bring my little girl in just to have chance to interact with Don’t Let the Pigeon Run this App! I heard this is a fantastic interactive book/app. Nice job!

    1. This post did all the things! It had all the information I needed about choosing a tablet device, circulating the iPads to promote early literacy, AND (most importantly) it has not one, but TWO Dean Winchester gifs. Just what my Thursday morning needed. Thank you!

    1. Hi Chris! We will not *heavily* control the 1-2 hour time restrictions, especially if no one comes up to the desk and requests one while the other is out. If someone does come up to the desk and wants to check one out, our staff will notice that one is out and will check the time that it was checked out. If it’s over an hour, the staff member will locate the device. Because their use is restricted to our department, it would be easy to find the person with the “overdue” iPad. No fines will be accrued if it is over the 1-2 hour.

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