Public Libraries, County Jails: Best Ways to Break into Correctional Partnership

Since the 1790s, American prisons have provided books to inmates (Darby, 2004; Mfum, 2012) and many facilities staff correctional libraries. As you might imagine, substantial literature exists on the subject of prison libraries, but very little concerns local level correctional facilities. With a trend in increasing populations and 1 in 35 adults under some form of correctional supervision, the United States of America holds the largest number of inmates in the world (De la Pena, 2004; Eggers, Munoz, Sciulli, & Crist, 2006; Hass & Saxon, 2012; Schwartz, 2005; Crayton et al., 2010; U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS] 2014 & 2015; Yamatani & Spjeldenes, 2011). Still, short-term facilities—jails and detention centers—often rely on public libraries for services and programs (De La Pena, 2004), and libraries are encouraged to respond. In the late 1970s, the American Library Association’s service standard policy first called “public libraries to extend their services to residents of jails and other detention facilities within their taxing areas” (American Library Association, n.d.; Baley, 1981).

A lack of research specific to jails has caused them to be seen as smaller prisons, an attitude causing widespread misunderstanding. (Pogrebin, Dodge, & Katsampes, 2001). The term prison refers to a secure State or Federal location holding persons convicted for crimes (De la Pena, 2004), and generally serving longer terms (Crayton et al., 2010). This contrasts detention centers and jails, terms often used interchangeably, which typically hold inmates for a shorter period of time and are locally operated (Crayton et al., 2010). While prisons house convicted felons, jails detain individuals awaiting trial, conviction, or sentencing (De la Pena, 2004). Most persons in jail have not yet been judged innocent or guilty (BJS, 2014) with 62% in a pre-trail status (Crayton et al., 2010). Some jail inmates may be serving short-term sentences for misdemeanors (Crayton et al., 2010). Another distinction is that jail populations can fluctuate with turnover averaging over 60% per week (BJS, 2014).

Libraries seeking information about partnering with a local jail may be disappointed. There is a gap in research for local level correctional facilities and public libraries. Even though “nearly three-fifths (59%) of all jail jurisdictions held 99 or fewer inmates” in 2006 (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011), the literature has rarely addressed the needs of rural public libraries and jails (Conrad, 2012; De la Pena, 2004; Ellern & Mason, 2013; Gee, 2006; Pogrebin, Dodge, & Katsampes, 2001). How are public libraries and jails partnering with one another to provide programs to inmates and released persons? Which program components are considered successful?

To gain access to incarcerated persons, public libraries will need to establish a working relationship with jail staff. In order to maintain a healthy, productive partnership with a local jail, public librarians will need to fully understand the limitations inherent in working with a detention facility. This includes frequent interruptions like lockdowns and late lunches (Fife & Fong, 2015). Establishing and maintaining good rapport with jail staff will encourage open communication and is one way to develop support for new programming (Fife & Fong, 2015). Programs work best in facilities in which the staff is pro-education (Mattucci, 2006).

Understanding the needs of jail inmates is also important and needs has been defined in multiple ways. Simply put, “a need can be seen as a problem that can be solved” McKillip (as cited in Young, 1994). Grant (2002), though, identified need in the following ways: “felt needs (what people say they need), expressed needs (expressed in action) [sic] normative needs (defined by experts), and comparative needs (group comparison).” The normative needs of prison inmates are known and may overlap those of jail inmates, but that assumption should be validated.

Statistically, incarcerated persons tend to have lower educational levels than the general population (Darby, 2004). According to the 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics for Education and Correctional Populations, 47% of local jail populations had not acquired a GED or high school diploma. Programs for adult inmates are often designed at the sixth through twelfth grade levels (Shaw & Berg, 2009; Crayton et al., 2010).

Beyond basic education it is important that life skills be developed: parenting, personal financial management, nutrition, and employability (Bates, 2005; Eggers, Munoz, Sciulli, & Crist, 2006; Khatibi & Grande, 1993; Schwartz, 2005). To this end, programs commonly address literacy, allowing inmates increased access to materials that address the issues above (Bouchard & Kunze 2003; Conrad, 2012; De la Pena, 2004; Khatibi & Grande, 1993; Shaw & Berg, 2009). Mental illness and addiction complicate an inmate’s ability to successfully access materials and programs (Alemagno & Dickie, 2005; Bates, 2005; Khatibi & Grande, 1993; Sheehan, 2014; Yamatani & Spjeldnes, 2011). Substance abuse treatment and domestic violence counseling may be a more appropriate beginning (Bates, 2005; Schwartz, 2005; Yamatani & Spjeldnes, 2011), which may be outside the scope of many public libraries’ services.

Multi-organizational support is a prerequisite to fully addressing the needs of an incarcerated person, for whom recidivism is of critical concern (Yamatani & Spjeldnes, 2011). Released inmates experience many barriers to successful reintegration such as difficulty finding gainful employment, denial of housing assistance and food stamps, or refusal of federal aid for educational development (Doherty, Forrester, Brazil, & Matheson, 2014; Hass & Saxon, 2012, Khatibi & Grande, 1993). These combined needs go far beyond the abilities of a library/jail partnership; support from social services will be necessary both before and after release. When considering a jail partnership, investigate whether other organizations are contributing to the cause.

While the above evidence-based needs have been true for decades, the idea that programs must adhere to them is changing. A more modern approach to program development is to consider what the inmates want to pursue and learn, another way of stating felt needs, which would only be determined by soliciting their feedback (Bouchard & Kunze, 2003; Conrad, 2012; Mfum, 2012).

The most successful library programs for this demographic include common components. Adult inmates require opportunities to solve problems on their own. Blending instruction with hands-on experience is critical to engagement (Mattucci, 2006). Intensive programs are more successful than lengthy curriculum (Mattucci, 2006). A literacy education program may incorporate the inmate’s family, as does the award-winning Read to Me program (De la Pena, 2004; Lilienthal, 2013; Schneider, 1996). Incarcerated parents can feel removed from their children’s lives and programs like this establish family connection (Pogrebin, Dodge & Katsames, 2001). Incarceration is not the limit of impact on an inmate’s life, but rather the wellspring for loss: property, vehicles, residence, jobs and personal relationships (Pogrebin, Dodge, & Katsampes, 2001). Calling the inmates to action for their own cause is vital:

A reentry process that does not engage the offender in becoming a productive member of society is likely to be another notation on the chart of “tried” strategies. The offender must be challenged to become a contributing member of society. Taxman et al. (as cited in Hass & Saxon, 2012).

Finally, evaluating a program is of utmost importance for any facilitator wishing to prove its effectiveness to stakeholders. With fewer tax dollars, rural libraries and jails experience less funding and municipal support than crowded urban locations. At mid-year 2014, 47% of jail inmates were housed in 6% of jails (BJS, 2015). Small libraries need studies that show partnering, programs and benchmarks relative to libraries of their own size.

Of these studies, which significant contributions were present in the literature? In 2006, Mattucci emphasized the importance of gaining staff support and the futility of attempting a program in a facility where staff does not believe in education or rehabilitation. He showed that intensive group learning was more effective than on-going curriculum. That same year, Gee (2006) conducted a comparative study between offered programs and inmates’ perceptions of them. He showed that success of a program must be relevant to the inmates’ needs. Both Mattucci (2006) and Gee (2006) implied that goal orientation is a critical factor for inmate motivation. By 2009, Shaw and Berg seemed to embody these lessons. They evaluated the impact of a word study literacy program for adult inmates in a county jail. The program was short, intensive and designed with the criteria of a jail environment in mind. Inmates’ perceptions were measured quantitatively and qualitatively, including whether they believed the program was beneficial and whether they felt more confident in their spelling abilities at the program’s conclusion. Finally, by 2013, Ellern and Mason addressed the lack of literature for rural jails and libraries by researching their local jail facilities and respective library collections.

In conclusion, further research is needed. The nature of a jail as a short-term facility produces a climate radically different than that of a prison. Future researchers cannot rely on prison studies alone but must expand to the local level correctional facility and examine programs offered there. The product of partnerships between rural public libraries and jails should especially be the subject of research. Rural libraries’ severe limitation of resources (e.g. funding, staffing, and skills) hinders locally conducted evidence-based investigations of the jail and its underserved population.

A platform is needed for the exchange of program ideas, research, and lessons taken from existing partnerships between jails and public libraries. Currently, the information is disparate and difficult to locate, for which the most effective method has been contacting individual libraries. This question arises: what is a better platform for this type of communication? One possible solution I see would be to call upon the existing American Library Association’s (ALA) Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) to support research and communication between rural libraries on jail issues.


Alemagno, S., & Dickie, J. (2005). Employment issues of women in jail. Journal of Employment Counseling, 42(2), 67-74. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (n.d.). B.8 services and responsibilities of libraries. ALA Policy Manual, B.8.2. Retrieved from American Library Association website:

Bates, J. P. (2005). Life skills project. Journal of Correctional Education, 56(2), 101-107. Retrieved from

Bayley, L. (1981). Jail library service: A guide for librarians and administrators, 112. Chicago, IL: ERIC. Retrieved from

Bouchard, J., & Kunze, L. (2003). Teaching diverse students in a corrections setting with assistance from the library. Journal of Correctional Education, 54(2), 66-69. Retrieved from

Conrad, S. (2012). Collection development and circulation policies in prison libraries: An exploratory survey of librarians in us correctional institutions. Library Quarterly, 82(4), 407-427. Retrieved from

Crayton, A., Ressler, L., Mukamal, D., Jannetta, J., & Warwick, K. (2010). Partnering with jails to improve reentry: a guidebook for community-based organizations. Retrieved from Urban Institute website:

Darby, L. T. (2004). Libraries in the american penal system. Rural Libraries, 24(2), 7-20. Retrieved from

De la Pena, K. (2004). Public libraries and people in jail. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 44(1), 26-30. Retrieved from

Doherty, S., Forrester, P., Brazil, A., & Matheson, F. I. (2014). Finding their way: Conditions for successful reintegration among women offenders. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 53(7), 562-586. doi:10.1080/10509674.2014.944740

Eggers, M., Muñoz, J. P., Sciulli, J., & Crist, P. A. H. (2006). The community reintegration project: Occupational therapy at work in a county jail. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 20(1), 17-37. doi:10.1300/J003v20n01-02

Ellern, G. D., & Mason, K. (2013). Library services to inmates in the rural county jails of western north carolina. North Carolina Libraries (Online), 71(1), 15-22. Retrieved from

Fife, D., & Kim, F. (2015). Comparing notes: A conversation about library service to county jails. Public Libraries, 54(3), 31-34.

Gee, J. (2006). Education in rural county jails: Need versus opportunity. Journal of Correctional Education, 57(4), 312-325. Retrieved from

Grant, J. (2002). Learning needs assessment: Assessing the need. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 324(7330), 156-159.

Hass, A. Y., & Saxon, C. E. (2012). From the inside/out: Greene county jail inmates on restorative reentry. International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology, 56(7), 1037-1062. doi:10.1177/0306624X11418914

Khatibi, M., & Grande, C. G. (1993). Correctional education planning: A systematic approach to vocational training. Journal of Correctional Education, 44(3), 152-155. Retrieved from

Lilienthal, S. M. (2013). Prison and public libraries. Library Journal, 138(2), 26-32. Retrieved from

Mattucci, R. (2006). Personal reflections on Austin MacCormick’s 1931 correctional education book: The integration of vocational, academic, and social education. Journal of Correctional Education, 57(1), 26-41. Retrieved from

Mfum, C. (2012). Prospects and challenges of prison libraries in ghana: A case study of the nsawam medium security prisons. Library Philosophy & Practice, 1-24. Retrieved from

Pogrebin, M., Dodge, M., & Katsampes, P. (2001). The collateral costs of short-term jail incarceration: The long-term social and economic disruptions. Corrections Management Quarterly, 5(4), 64-69. Retrieved from

Schneider, J. (1996). Prison libraries change lives. American Libraries, 27(10), 46. Retrieved from

Schwartz, S. (2005). Life skills project. Journal of Correctional Education, 56(2), 115-123. Retrieved from

Shaw, D. M., & Berg, M. A. (2009). Jail participants actively study words. Journal of Correctional Education, 60(2), 100-119. Retrieved from

Sheehan, R. (2014). Women exiting prison: Supporting successful reintegration in a changing penal climate. British Journal of Community Justice, 12(2), 57-66. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2003). Education and Correctional Populations. (Report No. NCJ 195670). Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2014). Correctional populations in the United States, 2013. (Report No. NCJ 248479). Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015). Jail inmates at midyear 2014. (Report No. NCJ 248629). Retrieved from

Yamatani, H., & Spjeldnes, S. (2011). Saving our criminal justice system: The efficacy of a collaborative social service. Social Work, 56(1), 53-61. Retrieved from

Young, G. L. (1994). Needs assessment in program planning. College Quarterly, 2(2), 1-6.

Amanda J St John is Circulation Manager at Hailey Public Library.

Here to Help: Your New Intellectual Freedom Committee


The ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual describes intellectual freedom as “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” For most Americans, this concept sounds fairly reasonable and consequently not of particular significance in our daily lives. Even for those of us in the library world, intellectual freedom is certainly recognized as a core value but rarely a primary concern as we go about our duties. Of course there are the dramatic moments, such as with recent campus protests, when the issue of free speech takes over our news and sparks our interest or even a good debate or two. However, most of the time intellectual freedom is not prioritized in our professional or personal lives.

As the new ILA Intellectual Freedom Committee, this reality has been a quandary for us as we try to discern not only our responsibilities for this group, but also identify issues of value to Idaho. In starting our work, we’ve been looking at a variety of resources and have begun to outline a few topics of interest.


Access to information and ideas– even ideas with which we may not personally agree– is a cornerstone of the role libraries play in our society. Last summer a group of community members in Coeur d’Alene attempted to have John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novella Of Mice and Men removed from the ninth grade curriculum. They cited the work’s use of coarse language and “dark themes” related to the Great Depression as reasons why it should be kept from students. Fortunately, their motion was defeated by a 4 to 1 vote by the school board.

Some patrons do not like profanity in library materials. Others do not like depictions of violence, sex, anti-capitalism, religion, homosexuality– the list goes on and on. Still others object to people accessing certain websites or digital materials within the library. As the ILA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, we stand firmly against censorship in our libraries, but as librarians we recognize that even as we battle attempts to control or restrict library materials, we must also continue to work with the patrons who are most adamant about removing “offensive” materials. We know what we believe; how do we spread those beliefs throughout the community? That is a question we hope to answer by working with other librarians in Idaho.


One good way to make our beliefs known is through clearly stated policies regarding intellectual freedom, censorship, etc. These can be difficult to craft! As your Intellectual Freedom Committee, we want to start reaching out to Idaho librarians to offer our assistance in making strong policies. Whether we can serve you best as a sounding board or if you need examples of other library policy statements, we are here. In the future months we will be offering webinars on this very subject.

Responsibilities and Capacity Building

In exploring these issues, it is important to acknowledge the complexities and deeply held personal beliefs that create challenges to intellectual freedom. Most librarians believe information can enlighten, but it is also reasonable to believe that information can be used to discriminate or even victimize. Whether it’s micro-aggressions, hostile workplaces, propaganda, or an attempt to groom a victim, words can hurt. How do we enable intellectual freedom while not ignoring the harm that can be done?

Yet if we desire to achieve the great ideal of intellectual freedom, how can we realistically increase capacity within the state’s library workforce to handle these intellectual freedom situations. Even a basic question like, “The Library Bill of Rights: What’s in it and does anyone ever really use it?” can be a challenge. What topics are of interest to you? What issues would you like training on? What resources would be valuable to you?


As your state’s Intellectual Freedom committee, we exist to assist you. If you encounter any challenges to materials in your libraries, please let us know at We can offer explanatory materials and operate as a liaison between your library and the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. However, you don’t have to wait until a challenge arises to get involved! This winter we are offering our first (of many!) Google Hangouts for Idaho librarians to connect with one another and discuss their understanding of the intellectual freedom challenges we face today. More information will follow soon on the ILA Facebook page. Please join us, so we can start building a strong consensus among librarians in our state about how we can best protect the right of our patrons to access material and have their personal information protected. We are excited to start working with you!

3D Printing: Establishing a Legitimate Service through Skyforge

Originally printed in PNLA Quarterly

3D printing seems to be blowing up the internet and the world right now. From owners printing prosthetic legs for their dogs, to a Sonic Screwdriver for our Teen Doctor Who Christmas Party, the applications and uses of this technology continue to excite and amaze us. In addition to democratizing manufacturing, it has equipped entrepreneurs with easy access to prototyping, and given students the ability to see their theoretical designs take shape in the real world. Although several staff members, and a few Friends of the Library, were interested in 3D printers, it didn’t seem like an attainable project for my library. The Community Library Network is a rural county system in North Idaho. We have seven library locations including Athol, Harrison, Hayden, Pinehurst, Post Falls, Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, as well as a Bookmobile. Altogether we serve over 100,000 Idaho residents across 1,150 square miles and two counties.

Offering programs, events, community outreaches and online services for members of all ages, 3D Printing was something we hoped to do in the future, but it was an ambition that didn’t have wheels on the ground yet. But then, my library  was dropped into this new world when we received an open source RepRap MendelMax 3D printer through the Idaho Commission for Libraries pilot project, “Make It @ the Library.” Seeking to bring the concepts of makerspaces into libraries, “Make It” has trained three different cohorts of librarians in robotics, circuitry, building, and 3D printing, and provided tools to use with members in each subject.

Immediately after having our 3D printer shipped to us, we couldn’t wait to bring it out into the community. We scheduled several school showings during Teen Tech Week 2014, and also featured it at several library events. Every teacher, student, and library member was dumbfounded not only that we had a 3D printer, but also by the potential it had. Several community members heard about our printer and requested we print their designs. Immediately we realized there were many aspects of facilitating a 3D printer service that we had not yet considered. A few key questions we asked included who will handle the manufacturing process of the 3D printer? who will troubleshoot designs? who will pay for printing? and how will all of these things flow together?

In these initial prints, a staff member received a 3D design from a library member, typically through email, and carried it through the entire process of 3D printing. Most of the time this included three different computer softwares, knowledge on troubleshooting failed prints, and sometimes up to fifteen hours of calibrating, baby-sitting, and troubleshooting the 3D design. Bear in mind that staff members were still unfamiliar with many aspects of 3D printing and were having to research and experiment with different fixes to common 3D printing problems. It quickly became obvious that the ratio of staff time to completed prints was too great to consider it a legitimate model for a public access service. Consequently, staff still used the 3D printer at special events in the library and out in the community, but community members did not have access to the technology.

Fast forward a few months, and a networking opportunity at Gizmo-CDA, a Coeur d’ Alene Makerspace, completely changed the story. Staff had the chance to meet Chris Walker, the CEO of Element Robot, when our hot pink 3D printer, Pinkie Pie, caught his eye. Element Robot is a local tech company based in Moscow, Idaho. After some calibration and network setting, he was able to demonstrate his Skyforge system. In the simplest terms, Skyforge is a cloud-based service that streamlines and simplifies the 3D printing process. Skyforge allows organizations and their members to upload designs, adjust the settings of a design, accept payment, and finally automates the 3D printing itself: from heating up the nozzle to cooling down the bed. Impressed with the potential of the service, staff asked for and were granted a trial period with Skyforge.

The trial period consisted mainly of visits to high school classrooms. Students were initially familiarized with the underlying concepts of 3D printing and design, given instruction on using the Skyforge network, and then asked to order a design from the library using the Skyforge system. Close to ninety students were included in this preliminary test of the service. Without counting the time of actually 3D printing the designs themselves, or any allowance for troubleshooting difficult jobs, ninety prints would have taken far too much staff time to undertake without Skyforge. Staff members would have had to collect ninety different files, ensure the files had the proper 3D printing settings, change any that didn’t, and then ensure the 3D printer correctly manufactured each of the designs.

Skyforge allowed us to complete the printing of ninety student prints in about a month and a half. Putting that into perspective, Skyforge allowed us to print an average of three designs every workday. This was in addition to the regular work of staff members who still hadprograms, events, and other responsibilities to complete. Some of the primary benefits of the Skyforge system are the ability for users to upload files from any internet-connected computer and to adjust design settings themselves, thus automating the 3D printer manufacturing process. Each of these aspects of the service cut down on staff time dramatically. Besides offering the initial training, clicking a start button to begin the print, and removing the finished object from the printer, the only task staff had was troubleshooting a few student attempts at uploading their designs.

Following the simplicity and success of the pilot project, the Community Library Network currently has a contract with Element Robot to use the Skyforge 3D Printing system. While we have had the service, we have been greatly impressed with its features. Several members who have had experience with 3D printing enjoyed the ability to complete a 3D print without having to oversee every step of the process. Members who had no experience whatsoever were also given access to a 3D printer and became familiar with the process of 3D printing. Payment has also become easier since joining the Skyforge network. Members pay for the volume of 3D printer filament their design uses; Skyforge estimates this price before the design is ordered, and members can pay for their design online using Stripe, an alternative to PayPal. Finally, the customer service and support of Element Robot has been invaluable with our 3D printing service. The small team of 3D printing enthusiasts at Element Robot has worked tirelessly to improve the user interface, quickly respond to any technical difficulties in the hardware or software, and has given advice when a design does not work.

While Skyforge was a very effective answer for our library’s needs, it is obviously not the only method for delivering 3D printing services to a community. Several libraries across the state of Idaho have automated services, or offer 3D printing services in another fashion. The Albertson’s Library on the Boise State University (BSU) campus has built a system for handling a large quantity of 3D designs, and the Meridian Library District is another example of a library that is putting 3D printing services into practice. If your library is considering 3D printing services, there is further information included at the end of this article.

So many of our library members have watched a YouTube video describing some awesome feature of 3D printing, have an uncle with a 3D printer for his business, or an older sister who uses a 3D printer with her robotics team at school. This project has allowed us to find ways to take 3D printing from the theoretical idea to offering services that allow anyone to get exposure and experience with 3D printing. Will 3D printing change the future of manufacturing? Will it revolutionize medical practices? Will it change the way we buy things? Very possibly; and because of that possible future, let’s get 3D printing into the hands of as many people as we can, and get those ideas extruding into the future.


  • Albertson’s Library 3D Printing Service

  • Gizmo-CDA; Coeur d’ Alene’s Makerspace

  • Make It @ the Library Facebook Page

  • Meridian Library District’s Nick Grove on 3D Printing

  • Skyforge 3D Printing System


About the author:

Nick Madsen is a Youth Services Specialist at the Community Library Network at Hayden. He received a Master’s in Information and Library Science from the University of Kentucky in 2013. He wears many hats, but typically plans and implements programs for elementary through high school students. Simple science, bringing new ideas to students, and 3D printing are some of his passions.

Children’s Apps and Games at the Meridian Library District

Shalini Ramachandran works at the Boise State University library and is an MLIS distance student at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

With the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, web technology has become part of our everyday lives. Because the touch screen is simple to use, it has made our busy, multitasking adult schedules a little easier to navigate. There is an app for everything from shopping, to getting directions, to finding classes at the local gym. Children are also drawn to the mobile devices that they see their parents use. Because touch screen technology is more intuitive than a computer, we see more children, under the age of 5, playing and interacting with screens. There are also hundreds of apps and games available for children of all ages, many of which claim to be educational or help with school achievement. As a mother of a 10 year old and a 4 year old, both of whom use my phone and tablet to play games, I have wondered about the quality of these games and whether they are actually beneficial for children. I decided to do some research to find out more.

brain puzzle
Image credit: Toca Boca. Some rights reserved.

On the one hand, there is a school of thought that any media exposure, whether through T.V or computer screen time, is harmful to young children. On the other hand, there are companies that advertise astounding intellectual gains for children from use of their digital products. The reality for parents is that we have to look somewhere in between. Zero screen exposure can be unrealistic for families; most homes with children have mobile devices, and often, younger children see their older siblings playing a game and want to join in as well. Fortunately, there is credible research being conducted on gaming technologies and some of their positive effects. Not all of the “educational” apps are truly educational, but there are many really good ones. As a graduate student in library science, I took a class called Apps and Games for Children this summer, and came across some excellent resources that I will share here. I also visited the Meridian Library District in Meridian, Idaho, as public libraries can provide carefully considered suggestions for both reading materials and media resources for kids.

I found the three criteria recommended by educational media analyst, Lisa Guernsey, to be especially useful for how to choose high quality apps and games for children. Guernsey calls it the 3 Cs: Context, Content, and Child (cited in Julius). Context is about the purpose of the activity, what happens while the child is using the program. Young children learn through their senses. They learn best when they are being interacted with, talked to, read to, and played with. Some of you may have seen this sign, often posted in libraries: “There is no App to Replace the Lap.” Most early childhood research confirms that this is the case. What this means in terms of app usage is that for children under 5, the most beneficial apps are those that we can play together with them. Of course, most parents need time, here are there, for a break where we have children tinker independently with devices. There is no harm in that. But the biggest learning benefits for small children come from the human interaction, not just the app; a well-designed app promotes both hands on learning and social connection. The second C Guernsey mentions is Content. Researchers give high marks for apps and games that are creative and open ended. In contrast, games with violence and developmentally unsuitable content receive poor reviews. The final C is the child. Children learn in a variety of ways: active, exploratory, and sensory. The screen is just one of the ways to learn and play. Too much screen time can take away from other important activities such as reading, writing, socializing, pretend play, and active play. Balance is key.

When I visited the Meridian Library District this summer, the library was humming with children and parents, reading and checking out books, playing at computers, and on iPads. I asked Youth Services Librarian, Laura Abbott, about how the library selected their games and apps. She explained that all the technology in the Youth section was chosen for high quality educational content, good reviews from independent sources (such as Commonsense Media and Library Journal) appeal to kids (fun, interactive, and intuitive), and age appropriateness. Clearly, the Meridian Library pays close attention to the 3 Cs guidelines.

A question that is sometimes raised in discussions about childhood education is why have technology as an interface for learning at all? After all, many of us learned to read, write, and think, without apps. Why not just have pencil and paper, like the old days? This argument has some weight. In terms of the learning process, an app may not be superior to the low-tech ways that we gained knowledge in the past. However, there is good reason to expose children to technology at an early age, the main one being that computers and mobile devices are part of modern society. Not being able to use them with expertise will become a significant drawback as children proceed through school, into college, and the workforce. As the NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center joint paper on technology and media for children points out: “Young children need opportunities to develop the early ‘technology-handling’ skills associated with early digital literacy that are akin to the ‘book-handling’ skills associated with early literacy development (National Institute for Literacy 2008). The International Society for Technology in Education (2007) recommends basic skills in technology operations and concepts by age 5.

child with phone
Image credit: Spitzgogo_Chen. Some rights reserved. Cropped.

I was heartened to observe that children had a lot of opportunities to handle technology at the Meridian Library District. Even toddlers were enjoying tapping buttons and making things happen on the screen. Even if they may not be playing a game “correctly,” they are gaining valuable skills. In addition to the young ones, Meridian also caters to the technology needs of tweens and teens. The teen room had a lot of collaborative gaming going on when I visited. The library also holds Game Nights, where teens play “Hunger Games” (via Minecraft) in a group setting.

Given the aggression in the storyline of The Hunger Games, I wondered about the level of violence in the game content during the library’s group gaming events. Guernsey and others have raised concerns about early exposure to intense media content. Gratuitous violence in video games is problematic, but the Meridian library is careful about screening for such negative content. Besides, some exposure to higher conflict themes can be developmentally appropriate for older children. My own 10-year-old plays Minecraft, and I figure that childhood play scenarios that involve difficult and even somewhat scary situations can be ways for children to understand and negotiate the world around them. In previous generations, children participated in backyard war games, “cops and robbers,” or other dramatic play. Today, some of that gaming action has shifted to virtual screens. Interestingly, education researchers Jose Bidarra, Meagan Rothschild et al. point out that online game-play may, in fact, have created more dynamic learning experiences for the current generation of youngsters: “[F]reedom of choice, challenge, participation, transparency, integrity, collaboration, fun, speed, and innovation has become a part of students’ learning experiences. In this context, playing games may be an important aspect of learning as this generation’s game-playing experiences are more widespread than the game-playing experiences of previous generations.”

The Meridian Library District’s technology resources are very good and thoughtfully chosen. Laura Abbott was also excited about the library’s plan to develop a new space for tweens, 10-13 year olds. The library studied the youth demographic in Meridian and found that the 3 top ages of library-card holders are 11, 12, and 13 year olds, whose needs are a little different from the older teen population. The library is, therefore, investing in books, board games, card games, and iPads for tweens. Apps and games are another tool in the arsenal for childhood learning, in addition to reading, school, and sports. Parents and educators can harness children’s natural enthusiasm for games to enhance their learning and academic skills. The Meridian Library District has recognized the advantages of introducing kids to technology at an early age, and is a leader in Idaho for creative digital programming for youth.

List of Apps available at Meridian Library District
ABC Theater: The alphabet Song
Adding Apples HD
Adventures of Captain Underpants
Alphabet Fun
Angry Birds
Animals in Pieces
Another Monster at the End of this Book
Ansel and Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs
Apha Books
Art Makers by ABC
Atlas Matter (By Kid’s Discover)
Bobo explores light
Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe
Bug Zoo HD
Children’s Picture Dictionary
Color Uncovered
Critter Corral
Curious George at the Zoo
Cyberchase 3D Builder
Daisy the Dino
Don’t let the pigeon run this app
Dr. Seuss Bookshelf from Oceanhouse Media
Draw along with Stella and Sam
Easy Studio
Eddy’s Party!
Elmo Loves 123’s
Endless ABC
Faces iMake
Felt Board
Fish School HD
Geography Drive USA
Growing Readers
iLuv Drawing Animals
Kids Discover Space
Kids Maps
Musical Me
My Storybook Maker
OM Bookshelf from Oceanhouse Media
Pete the Cat
Press Here
Reading Rainbow
Tacky the Penguin
The Sneetches
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Toca Band
Twinkle Twinkle
Wild about Books


Bidarra, Jose et al. “The AIDLET Model: A framework for selecting games, simulations and augmented reality environments in mobile learning.” International Journal of Web-Based Learning and Teaching Technologies. 8(4) Oct 2013: 50-71.  Retrieved July 20, 2015.

Julius, Gloria. “The 3 Cs for Choosing the Right Technology (Mobile Apps) for Children.” Feb 18, 2014. Retrieved July 20, 2015.

“Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.” A joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. Adopted Jan 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2015.

Making Makers in Your Community Makes Sense

By Sue Walker, Library Consultant – Idaho Commission for Libraries

This article shares information compiled for a presentation at the 2015 Association for Rural and Small Libraries. The presentation focused on making activities in rural libraries and was developed to document how libraries are incorporating the maker culture into their programming and to demonstrate that making does not require large budgets, spaces, or numbers of staff.

Because STEM has been emphasized in making through Idaho’s “Make It at the library” and Montana’s “Montana Makers” projects many of the respondents had worked with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) tools and programs.  However, respondents also shared information about other making programs that demonstrate the variety of ways making can enhance programming, attract different audiences to the library, and allow the library to address an unmet need in its community.

The following information is taken from the two page executive summary.  The entire document linked below provides detailed analysis of the information gathered and shares specific programming ideas that have been successful in libraries in Idaho and Montana.

Background: Making is a hot topic in many educational organizations, including libraries.  For rural libraries, new trends raise concerns about staffing, programming, and funding new initiatives when staff may feel overwhelmed by current program needs.

Staff from the Idaho Commission for Libraries and the Montana State Library developed projects to introduce the making concept to libraries.  Cara Orban, Montana State Library Statewide Projects Librarian, and Sue Walker, Library Consultant at the Idaho Commission for Libraries, collaborated to develop a better understanding about making in the two states’ rural libraries.

Methodology: Library staff in the two states were invited to complete an online making survey which focused on the following topics: materials, training, space, partnerships, cost, and programming.  Follow-up was conducted to elicit more specific information on some questions.

Staff from two libraries in each state were interviewed to highlight their programs in more detail. The information is compiled in an electronic document that contains the survey questions, each library’s response to the survey, the full responses from each of the four highlighted libraries, and summaries of responses to each question.  The survey is arranged by library size to allow libraries to identify libraries of comparable size if desired.

The full document can be accessed here:

Respondent overview:

  • Response: 35 individual libraries: 28 public, 2 school/community, 4 high school, 1 middle school. In addition, 4 library branches from 3 different library organizations submitted responses, and staff from 4 libraries submitted more than one response.  All submissions are included in the electronic document.
  • Respondent demographics: Library size was determined by the number of cards issued for public libraries, and the student enrollment in school libraries. Libraries were segmented into the following categories: <5000 card holders, 5000-15,000 card holders, > 15,000 card holders.

Survey findings:

  • Materials: A large variety of materials are used in making. Since the Montana State Library and the Idaho Commission for Libraries provided materials to libraries in both states, those types of materials were the most commonly listed.  STEM tools currently are generating interest, especially newer tools such as 3D printers. However, the materials listed include everything from construction and deconstruction, textiles, photography, robotics, circuitry, and tools to create music and movies.  The type of materials used depends on the community’s needs.
  • Training: Most of the respondents had received some formal training as part of the projects sponsored by the two state agencies. This training was supplemented by hands on experimentation and learning from others. Training needs expressed focused on better knowledge of STEM topics such as robotics, engineering, and 3D printing.  Respondents also noted ways to better incorporate the tools into programming would be useful.
  • Space: More than 50% of respondents do not have a dedicated Maker Space. Meeting rooms, teen spaces, and other library spaces are used as needed.  Space components most libraries listed: tables, computers, shelving, and access to electricity. Space components depend on the tools used. Access to the space used for making varies widely. An equal number of libraries provide access whenever the library is open and only when maker programming is occurring. Most are as flexible as space and other programming allows.
  • Partners: Partners are an integral part of making. 100% of respondents listed at least 1 partner, two thirds listed 2 partners, and 11% listed 5 partners.  Partners included trainers such as teachers and professors, musicians and artists, and volunteers to help with activities. In-kind partners provided supplies, refreshments, and publicity.
  • Cost: Initial cost depend on the types of materials purchased, and many libraries received tools from their state agency. 25% of libraries estimated the initial cost was less than $1,000.00 and 70% less than $5,000.00.  Comments focused on the ability to start small and add tools as needed.  Several libraries used grant or gift funds or received material donations.
  • Programming: Many respondents had access to STEM materials provided by the state library agencies and used these resources with teens and other audiences. 3D printers are a big draw-even if participants are not designing or printing designs themselves.  However, other programs such as knitting, construction/deconstruction, and circuitry are also popular.  Programs that were initially designed for teens and tweens have expanded to include other audiences.
  • Program goals and achievement: The reasons for incorporating making into library programming are diverse, but all focused on providing more access to different resources to a variety of audiences. Most respondents feel they are slowly reaching these goals, but the progress is slow and varies from library to library.
  • General comments:
    Comments covered a variety of issues and should be reviewed in their entirety. General themes and accompanying comments:

◊ Don’t be afraid or intimidated
Don’t be overwhelmed just take baby steps and it will all come together.

◊ Start small and build from there
Start small and do it. Watch tutorials online, experiment and get your hands dirty. Try everything first; that will help ease fears and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

◊ Don’t try to do it alone-need staff support and partners
Staff must be interested and excited about the activities they choose to offer to the public. There are many activities and a library may choose some and leave other activities for partner organizations to offer outside the library. The library should be open to having guest instructors who are experts in their field. If a volunteer will help in the lab as a regular instructor or mentor, run a background check on that person and provide them with a “volunteer” name tag so they are perceived as official.

◊ Making is a culture which requires community involvement
The community that you are serving should guide the programming that is provided.


Tech Tools – What the Font?

EllieWelcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.


Microsoft Word 2013 includes 67 fonts, which seems like enough for any one person in a lifetime. But that number doesn’t even scratch the surface – in 2012 there were over 90,000 typefaces available for download, and that number is growing daily (Yves). It’s amazing to me that there could possibly be 90 variations of a single, recognizable letter of the alphabet, much less 90,000.

the letter q
14 variations of the letter Q. From L to R: Agency FB, Calibri, Calibri Light, Antique No 14, Arial Rounded, Baskerville Old Face, Bebas Neue Regular, Bernard MT Condensed, Bell MT, Dekar, Californian FB, Century Gothic, Century Schoolbook, Myriad Pro

What is one supposed to do with all of these fonts? How does one pick? Why does it matter? These are the questions that I attempt to address in this column.


There are several terms that mean something different in the typographic world than they do in common use. Below is a brief glossary of the most important. For the sake of brevity, these definitions refer to contemporary use, and do not include historical references.

bullet Font – A collection of symbols (usually letters, numbers, and punctuation) that are used to render type. Technically, a font includes only one style, i.e. Arial Black.

bullet Font family – A package of styles that is available for a given font. For example, the Calibri font family includes 6 styles – light, light italic, regular, italic, bold, and bold italic.

bullet Font Style – A font style refers to a variation such as bold, italic, heavy, or light. Some fonts come in so many styles it makes my head spin, while others may only come in 1 or 2.

swirlywind A font is what you use, and typeface is what you see. – Norbert Florendo, Font or Typeface?

bullet Point size – The size of the characters as well as the space around the characters. If you’ve ever noticed that some fonts appear larger than others at the same point size and wondered (as I have) why, now you know.

bullet Text – The words themselves and the structure of a series of words in order. Sometimes used as shorthand for body text, which is the text of the main body of a work, excluding elements such as the table of contents.

bullet Typeface – The design elements (style and shape) of a collection of symbols that comprise a font. This is an important distinction to typographers.

swirlywind Ty­pog­ra­phy is the vi­sual com­po­nent of the writ­ten word. – Matthew Butterick, Butterick’s Practical Typography

bulletTypography – “The practice of creating, selecting, and arranging or setting type” (Rosendorf).

swirlywind What font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles? I don’t know. But I can tell you that the name “Absolut” is set in the typeface Futura Extra Bold Condensed. – Allan Haley, They’re Not Fonts!

In common usage, font and type are often used interchangeably, and the word font is used to describe an entire font family. Unless otherwise specified, I’ll use this convention.

Why do Fonts Matter?roundswirl

Make no mistake, your choice of type fonts is as important (if not as meaningful) as the content of your work.

swirlywind At­ten­tion is the reader’s gift to you. That gift is pre­cious. And fi­nite. And should you fail to be a re­spect­ful stew­ard of that gift—most com­monly, by bor­ing or ex­as­per­at­ing your reader—it will be promptly revoked. – Matthew Butterick, Butterick’s Practical Typography

Functional Impact

Font choice impacts your readers ability to focus on your writing in the following ways:

  • Fonts can give (or not give) structural cues about a document. These cues help readers find their place on the page and form a cognitive map of the information (Higgenbotham; Queen).
  • Fonts indicate the relative importance of portions or sections of the content within a document. (Higgenbotham).
  • The shape of the letters themselves (and the white space surrounding them) impact reading speed, comprehension, and attention (Santa Maria).

swirlywind Our ability to recognize words is affected by the shapes they form. All-caps text forms blocky shapes with little distinction, while mixed-case text forms irregular shapes that help us better identify each word. – Jason Santa Maria, How We Read

Aesthetic Impact

On an aesthetic level, your font choices have an immediate visceral impact on viewers. You have about 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression (Levy, 2008), and whether you do or not effects readers’ perceptions of the credibility, value and usability of your content (David).

In addition to this split-second first impression, viewers also experience
emotional responses based on aesthetics. Not only does this matter in terms of how your patrons feel about the library, it can have an impact on reading comprehension. This is because, while a pleasant aesthetic experience increases focus, an unpleasant one splits the readers’ attention between content and the negative emotional experience (Levy).Aside: The jury is still out when it comes to how fonts effect learning comprehension and retention. A 2011 study found that subjects presented with information in more difficult to read fonts were better able to remember the information 15 minutes later. The theory posited by the researchers is that individuals associate ease of reading with mastery, which results in decreased retention. (Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, and Vaughan) However, other studies have shown that if the amount of information or the level of difficulty exceed the capacity of working memory, cognitive processes may be impaired (Yue, Castel, and Bjork).

Finally, consistent use of good font choices in marketing materials enhances brand recognition and keeps readers from becoming confused by materials that are visually diverse yet related (David; Higgenbotham).

Types of Type

There are many ways of classifying fonts, but for our purposes, we’ll talk about four broad categories:

bullet Serif (or seriffed) fonts have a small extra stroke at the ends of each letter. Most books use serif fonts because they flow nicely in large blocks of text.

Times New Roman has serifs


bullet Sans Serif fonts
don’t include these extra strokes. Though the adage that sans-serif fonts are best for on-screen reading has been called into question (Cousins), many of them are optimized for digital publishing.

Calibri is a sans-serif font

bullet Script fonts are designed to look like calligraphy or handwriting and come in two types: formal and casual.

Edwardian Script is quite formal. This type of font is most appropriate for wedding invitations and the like.

Architects Daughter is one of my favorite casual script fonts. I reserve it for personal projects such as designing daily planner printables, though I might use it for a handout if the situation is informal or the topic is artsy-craftsy in nature.

bullet Decorative (or display) fonts are unique fonts that are most often used in advertising, . Most decorative fonts look best when used for just a few words, and at larger sizes.

Archicoco is a decorative font So is Bauhaus 93 This is Magnifica, another decorative font. As you can see, this category includes a wide variety of font designs!




bullet Sometimes fonts overlap categories, such as in the two examples below:

TrashHand is an informal script font that is also decorative

Brush Serif – Colin is both an informal script and a serif font.

Font Personalitiesroundswirl

Another way to look at font design is to consider personality (also called voice). You may have heard that fonts have personalities and presumed that this was a colorful figure of speech.  Actually, believe it or not, people research this, and it’s

examplestrue – people associate fonts with personality characteristics. For example, one study grouped fonts into several personality categories, including directness,
gentleness, and cheerfulness (Li and Suen). Side note: I find these categories to be really weird, do you?

In addition to correlating fonts to personality traits, researchers in the field of visual rhetoric also try to identify the design features that lend a font its specific personality (Mackiewicz).

While this line of inquiry is interesting, it is probably not necessary to learn how to analyze typeface anatomy in order to choose a font that suits your purpose. If you think about it, these studies focus on perceptions that we already have. Therefore, in many cases, font selection is intuitive.

If you aren’t convinced, try the quick “Spot the Voice” test offered by typography expert Even Sorken in his article The Voices of Type. You’ll have to scroll down just a bit to see the quiz. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

swirlywind  When thinking about a typeface’s voice, its categorization/classification is not important. Instead, we need to know if the type is cheerful or dour. Is it relaxed or in a hurry? Is the type serious or frivolous? Luxurious or downmarket? Young or old? Fragile or robust? – Eben Sorken, The Voices of Type

Done? Great! I’m sure you passed the test with flying colors, but just in case, the next section offers some more concrete font-selection advice.

Font Tips

Consider your audience. Older adults will need a more legible font in a larger point size; teenagers may like something a bit flashy, and little kids – I have no idea, you tell me.

Save decorative fonts for titles, headers, and similar brief passages of text that you want to draw attention to.

bulletBe consistent – use the same size, font, and style for headers of the same level, for example.

bullet Don’t use all capital letters, as they’re harder to read. Also, I had a colleague once who used all caps to type emails, and IT SEEMED LIKE HE WAS YELLING ALL THE TIME.

bullet When using more than one font, they should be quite different in form. For example, if you choose a sans-serif font for a title, select a serif font for the body text.

bullet Except under extraordinary circumstances, two fonts is enough.


This column barely scratched the surface of what there is to know about typography, typefaces, and fonts. If you’re interested in the topic, or would like to explore, below are some resources that you may enjoy.

Finding & installing fonts

So the 67 fonts already installed on your computer aren’t enough, hunh? Me either. You can get free fonts from many sites. Fortunately, Creativebloq has a list of 36 Sites to Download Free Fonts.

Need help? Stephanie Evergreen of Evergreen Data has posted excellent instructions for both PC and Mac in her post titled Finding Fonts & Passing them On.

Tools for font afficionados

Flipping Typical is a website that displays your fonts in a browser window. Type text into the input area at the top of the screen, and you can compare how it looks in various typefaces.

flipping typical
I love Flipping Typical!

My Fontbook

Similar to Flipping Typical, but create a free account and use the Font Viewer to organize and rate your fonts.

Font Viewer

Further reading

Fonts in Use – You know how fonts are on signs, packaging, advertising, billboards, everywhere? This website tells you what they are.

Fontology – A typography workbook with a very nice glossary.

I Love Typography – A great blog with interesting and informative articles.

Professional Web Typography – If you’re composing for Web display, things are a bit different. This free online book has the details.

Typedia – An online encyclopedia of typography.

Typography Deconstructed – A very good reference for type anatomy.


David, Alicia, and Peyton R. Glore. “The impact of design and aesthetics on usability, credibility, and learning in an online environment.” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 13.4 (2010).

Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D., and Vaughan, E. “Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes.” Cognition, 118.1 (2011): 111-115. Print.

Higgenbotham, Daniel. Clean Up Your Mess: A Guide to Visual Design for Everyone. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Li, Y, and C.Y Suen. “Typeface Personality Traits and Their Design Characteristics.”Acm International Conference Proceeding Series. (2010): 231-238. Print.

Mackiewicz, Jo. “How To Use Five Letterforms To Gauge A Typeface’s Personality: A Research-Driven Method.” Journal Of Technical Writing & Communication 35.3 (2005): 291-315. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Queen, Matt. “How Much do Fonts Matter Really? (Hint: A Lot).” Creativelive blog. 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Rosendorf, Theodore. The Typographic Desk Reference: TDR. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2009. Print.

Santa Maria, Jason. “How We Read.” A List Apart. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Yue, Carole L., Alan D. Castel, and Robert A. Bjork. “When disfluency is—and is not—a desirable difficulty: The influence of typeface clarity on metacognitive judgments and memory.” Memory & Cognition 41.2 (2013): 229-241. Print.

Yves, Peters. “Bold & Justified: The Typographic Universe in Just One ideographic.” The Font Feed. 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

The Idaho Librarian – Call for Submissions

The Idaho Librarian is seeking submissions for the Fall/Winter issue. The deadline for submission is November 20th. Guidelines are available here. However, we would like to stress that we are open to articles that are not peer-reviewed, including best practices, reports of your recent activities, and opinion pieces. Perhaps a profile of an outstanding library employee or supporter? The Idaho Librarian is our state library association publication, but we need your participation to make it work!