Public libraries have a vital role in helping children navigate the digital landscape, the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians (ASCEL) said in a report issued today (2nd December).
“Children are naïve, impulsive, and, thankfully innocent, whether crossing the road or swiping an app,” said the Children’s Digital Needs and Libraries report. “It is the responsibility of adults to guide and nurture them and help them achieve all they can emotionally, economically, physically and socially. In the case of digital knowledge, public libraries are one of the best ways to do that for all children, of all backgrounds.”
The research was commissioned by ASCEL in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), and was undertaken by Shared Intelligence, thanks to funding from Arts Council England.
For the report, Shared Intelligence and ASCEL conducted 25 focus groups in seven authorities; Bexley and Bromley, Essex, Gateshead, Hull, Kingston, Lancashire, and Staffordshire. Out of the children that took part, 72 were under five, 54 were aged 5-7, and 73 were aged 7-11.
The focus groups found that the under fives have digital technology “within easy reach” almost from birth but are not immersed in in it, while the 5-7s use almost every type of technology but not all the time.
However, the 7-11s use digital technology in all aspects of their lives, including at school, so they “there is a significant need for help as they begin their own relationship with digital information and technology”, said ASCEL. Suggestions include helping children find online content about their favourite books, or providing access to technology theymight not use at school, such as educational robotics.
When it comes to younger children, librarians can help their parents choose the right digital product.
“[They] have many questions, concerns and gaps in their digital knowledge; how do they distinguish reputable publishers of online children’s content, which games are being used in educational settings, and which are just fun, or worse - junk? Parents may also want help identifyingtrustworthy online information about parenting – hidden in the online blizzard of unregulated opinion, folklore, and infomercials,” said the organisation.
The report also suggested that worrying about children’s safety online is largely unfounded. “There are real challenges to protect children from having negative or harmful experiences of digital knowledge and technology, but the bigger risk in our view is that some children will lose out altogether, and not through lack of ability but lack of opportunity.”