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Touchable TaleSpinner

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC
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Innovation Summary

The staff at ImaginOn remodeled old PC cabinets and computers to have an iPad2 in a secure enclosure loaded with various “apps” that enhance, connect to, support and develop various literacy and learning skills, such as fine motor skills, vocabulary building, letter knowledge, narrative skills and phonological awareness.

Innovation Leader: Maryann OKeeffe, Planning and Partnership Coordinator, mokeeffe@cmlibrary.org

Problem Statement

In the summer of 2011, faced with a large programming space devoid of interesting self-directed activities needed for ImaginOn’s visitors, staff brain-stormed ideas on how to fill the space. One member came up with the idea to replace fifteen defunct PC computers, which were part of the original “Story Lab,” with a single iPad that could be loaded with cutting edge learning and literacy apps. Immediately, a cost estimate was created, supplies were purchased and a test unit was set up. After a few weeks of successful testing, the retrofit of the entire “fleet” of original TaleSpinners began including: securing funding from Library Administration, purchasing the new components, mounting the new enclosures and iPads, rewiring the cabinets to support power needs, loading the iPads with appropriate apps and setting up the iPad security software. Also, in order to support collaborative learning, one iPad was designated to be connected to a large screen display for group activity. Within two months’ time all fifteen units were retrofitted and placed in the public spaces where they were immediately a “hit” with ImaginOn’s visitors.

Innovation

The steps in making the project successful included the initial brain-storming session, followed by setting up the test unit, securing funding, purchasing all the supplies (enclosures, iPads and new cabling), remodeling and rewiring all fifteen cabinets to support signal and power needs and making certain that any software problems (such as lock-ups or hacking attempts) were remedied during the initial few weeks after deployment. Included at each station is an “App-visory” or signage that defines what the app is, what learning skills it develops, recommended age group and the cost of the app. Since ImaginOn “ages up” in reading and media materials as you advance from the first to the third floors, from birth through age eighteen respectively, the units were placed throughout the building and the apps on the Touchable TaleSpinners also age up as you progress upstairs. To make certain that the Touchable TaleSpinners continue to meet the needs of ImaginOn’s visitors, an App-visory Committee was created, comprised of five Library staff, including the Library Manager, an Administrative Assistant with advanced digital publishing skills, and Library assistants from ImaginOn’s three service areas, Circulation, Children’s and Teen Services. The App-Visory Committee’s primary objective is app research and recommendations with regards to the appropriateness of age and literacy/learning objectives as well as frequency of updates to keep the Touchable TaleSpinners “fresh.”

Progress

The App-Visory Committee’s short-term goals include a web-based list of current apps on the Touchable TaleSpinners that welcome suggestions and feedback from users and a long-term goal of research into ways to capture user stats, including how often and how long the iPads are used daily. With regards to replicating this project in other library systems, assuming a funding source, the project is easily scalable and sustainable because of the readily available hardware (iPad and enclosure) and ease and accessibility of new and relevant apps. Lessons learned fall into two categories, the hardware and the software on the Touchable TaleSpinners. With regards to the hardware - nothing is kid-proof. While the enclosure themselves are well-built, there are issues with cords fraying due to the articulating mount. With regards to the apps themselves, it is an ongoing process to discover which ones do not “lock-up” or default to a password screen as a result of being always on. To prevent the lock-ups & lock-outs, the iPads had to have a customized program installed which took significant time to create and install.