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Grow A Reader Early Literacy App

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Grow A Reader Early Literacy App

Calgary Public Library, Alberta

Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

The Calgary Public Library’s Grow A Reader mobile app takes the fun, interactive content from our popular early literacy programs and delivers it to parents via their smartphone or tablet. The app includes videos of Library staff performing rhymes, fingerplays and songs; recommended booklists; and tips for parents.


The Calgary Public Library (CPL) offers a number of popular early literacy programs, including Parent Child Mother Goose. With the city of Calgary in the midst of a baby boom, the Library is challenged to meet the demand for early literacy programs, which frequently have long waiting lists. In addition, not all parents and caregivers are able to visit a physical location to attend the program, and parents who have returned to work after parental leave often cannot attend the sessions. CPL’s Virtual Services department was eager to develop a Library app to expand the Library’s virtual presence, and saw an opportunity to meet this demand. With funding from the CPL Foundation, the Virtual Services and the Services for Children, Teens and Families departments worked together to create the Grow A Reader app. Based on the five early literacy behaviors identified in the Every Child Ready to Read© program, the Grow A Reader app extends the reach of CPL’s early literacy programs by making the content available to anyone with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Parents who are not able to attend a program in person with their baby can learn some of the same skills and tips at home, and those who have attended a program can use the app to practice what they learned at home.

Key Elements of Innovation

Creating Grow A Reader involved two critical steps: filming the video content, and building and coding the app. To film the content, we worked with Crescendo Productions, who created 35 videos starring ten of our Children’s Services staff. These staff were all experienced storytellers, but performing in front of a camera was a new experience for most of them, so we scheduled extra time for multiple takes. To build the app we sought quotes from a number of companies and decided to work with Decoder, a local startup app developer. One of our key requirements was that the app content be updatable by Virtual Services staff, so that we can add or remove books from the booklists, and add new tips or videos. Once the first build was complete, a number of library staff tested the app, before it was made live and available for download. To promote the app, CPL’s Marketing department produced business-card sized “app cards” with information and a link to download the app. These were handed out to participants in our early literacy programs. We also used social media to announce the launch, and sent information about the app to a number of websites that review apps.

Achieved Outcomes

In the month and half since Grow A Reader launched, it has surpassed 1200 downloads from the App Store, and has been mentioned on several library blogs, including Library Journal’s InfoDocket. We’ve also received questions and feedback from across North America. Diana, one of the staff featured in the app told us this story: At one of my Parent Child Mother Goose sessions, one little boy came right up close and deposited himself near my feet, staring intently. At the end of the program, his mother came up to me and told me he was staring because he loves watching the videos in Grow A Reader, and recognized me from the app!