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Kids' iPads at Park Slope Library Get Cool Reception from Parents

By Leslie Albrecht | March 26, 2013 6:44am | Updated on March 26, 2013 6:47am

PARK SLOPE — Some Park Slope parents say a flood of new technology is distracting their children from reading books — at the library.

The Park Slope branch wowed readers with 20,000 new books when it reopened in September, but its collection of iPads and children's computers hasn't been sitting well with some parents, who say their kids are already drowning in a sea of screens.

Head librarian Stephanie Brueckel said she got a flurry of negative feedback about the iPads, which were the first in the Brooklyn public library system devoted specifically to children. After one of the shiny new devices was stolen just weeks after the branch's reopening, Brueckel pulled the remaining iPads out of the children's section and stashed them behind closed doors.

Brueckel could still use the iPads during programs like the branch's ultra-popular story time, but she doesn't plan to, she said.

"I think people are actually quite happy we took them off the floor," Brueckel said. "I think this community doesn't really want a lot of technology in [library] programming."

Dad Josh Skaller is among those who'd like to see more page turning and less screen touching at the library. Skaller, the father of a 12-year-old and a 3-year-old, said he’s hesitant to criticize the library because it's a "good community resource."

But he's put off by the library’s computers, 12 of which are set aside for use by young people. Skaller, a computer programmer, said he and his wife want to immerse their children in literature, but their path to the world of books is literally blocked by distracting computers on tables right next to the library's stacks.

"It’s not so easy to peruse the stacks because the tables with the computers are right there," Skaller said. "There's not a lot space away from those screens... For the 3-year-old, there's an immense opportunity to discover new things to read, and anything that's pulling her away from that gets in the way of the purpose of the trip to the library."

Skaller raised the issue at a recent Community Board 6 meeting. Brooklyn Public Library Chief Librarian Richard Reyes-Gavilan was in attendance and said he was aware of the criticism. Though no hard numbers on complaints were available, a Brooklyn Public Library spokesman said he had "heard anecdotally" that some bibliophiles weren't thrilled about the growing number of electronics.

But spokesman Jason Carey said the library stands by its decision to make computers, iPads and free Wi-Fi a prominent feature in branches. "We play a critical role in providing free technology," Carey said. "There's a real divide out there when it comes to digital literacy."

He noted that a 2008 report by the city's Broadband Advisory Committee found that only 41 percent of Brooklyn households had a high-speed Internet connection. Even if there have been gains since then, there's still "a huge number of people" who don't have high-speed Internet and turn to the library for access, Carey said.

Among them are the kids who use the computers at the Park Slope branch, Brueckel said. Many are children who don't have Internet access or computers at home and use the machines at the library to do homework, she said.

Many of the library's computer users are lower-income kids who attend P.S. 39 next door to the library on Sixth Avenue, said Susan Moesker, P.S. 39 PTA co-president.

"I guess there might be a pre-supposition that since the library is in Park Slope that people who use it are all from Park Slope, but that's not the case," Moesker said. "Within our school community we have students from all over and from varying income levels. Kids who have no access to computers at home need a place where they can use them."

Otherwise, she added, "they'll be left in the dust."

Megan Nicolay, a member of the recently formed Friends of Park Slope Library, said she understands concerns about children getting too much screen time. The topic came up recently in a parenting class she took, and pediatricians have warned against letting very young children spend too much time in front of screens.

Nonetheless, Nicolay, a book editor who keeps her iPhone away from her 15-month-old son, said iPads and computers have a place at the Park Slope library.

"Libraries historically have been a place to house books, but more importantly, in my opinion, they're places for learning," Nicolay said. "The shape of learning is changing, so it seems responsible to offer a mix of sources, from books to iPads to computers, because kids are going to need all of those tools."