Media Mentorship is the role librarians play in supporting a family’s decisions and practices around the use of media, defined as both print and non-print resources. Librarians have been practicing media mentorship since, well, the beginning of libraries. On any given day, the Youth Services staff can be found recommending the best book to read aloud, a great movie for family movie night, an engaging audio book from our CloudLibrary platform for a long car ride, or a fun and interactive app.

So how does Media Mentorship work?

Media Mentors support the literacy needs of families in our community by evaluating, curating, recommending, and providing access to materials in a variety of formats. For instance, if our print copy of a book is out, we recommend our ebook platform. Whenever possible, a Media Mentor strives to offer information, not judgement, so parents can make the best media decisions for their families on using digital technology.

Evaluating digital media

The smart phone is integral to our everyday lives. We store everything, including our library cards, on them. Children born in the last ten years are the first generation to be exposed to these powerful tools since birth. When deciding what apps to download to keep a cranky or restless child engaged, search for those that have a purpose beyond being a passive activity. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center strongly recommends selecting games that encourage family engagement vs passive viewing.

Before purchasing or downloading any app, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

• Is the app free of links to social media and the Internet? If not, can those links be disabled?

• Is it free of in-app purchases or in-app ads? If not, is there a way to add a password?

• Is the app’s privacy policy easy to find?

• Is the content appropriate for the targeted audience?

• Does the game offer open-ended play?

• Does the app foster creativity vs. passive play?

• Does the app reflect diversity by including culturally and ethnically diverse characters, environments, and experiences?

Over the past several years, there has been a significant increase in the number of apps for mobile devices for children that are labeled “educational.” Upon closer examination, research has shown that very few of these apps take into consideration a child’s development and learning process.

Here is an example of how to pair technology with a real-world experience. Read a book, like “Draw Me a Star” by Eric Carle, then draw a star with materials you have at home while singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Use an astronomy app that lets children see the night sky above their heads. Families can visit the Library’s YouTube channel and watch the program, “Night Sky Tour for Families” with Seth Lockman, a NASA Solar System Ambassador who did some programs for us last year. To further family engagement, borrow the Library’s telescope for some cool nighttime sky viewing.

Be intentional.

The Fred Rogers Center emphasizes that any digital tool must be used intentionally, be developmentally appropriate, and support goals, such as learning to read. Think engagement rather than babysitter. You want to use this attractive technology with purpose.

To find a listing of curated apps, visit the American Library Association’s Notable Digital Media list. This committee (on which I currently serve) includes “real-time, dynamic, and interactive media content for children 14 years of age and younger that enables and encourages active engagement and social interaction while informing, educating, and entertaining in exemplary ways.”

Visit the Scarborough Public Library. The Youth Services staff would enjoy the opportunity to have a conversation with you about best practices surrounding your child’s media use.

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