Cleveland Public Library Pushes Out 54 Early Literacy Stations

The Cleveland Public Library has opened 54 new Early Literacy Stations across its 27 branches in the hope of enticing young learners, ages 2-8, through gamification and other means.

Four-year-old Isabel plays the Dora the Explorer game that's part of a literary program at CPL.
Photos courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

Before time is up on the Dora the Explorer game—a game four-year-old Isabel loves—she’ll jump to something else, excited to play and completely unaware that she’s part of a literacy experiment at Ohio's Cleveland Public Library (CPL).

“She has fun with the keys,” says Isabel’s father, Pedro Anaya, who accompanies his only daughter to the library every other week. “On certain games it asks for her name, and she wants to put it in.”

Isabel is just one of the thousands of Cleveland children (ages 2–8) that CPL is trying to entice with a mixture of games and education lesson plans through the 54 new Early Literacy Stations the library is installing across its 27 branches, says CPL’s chief technology officer (CTO) Rod Houpe. “It’s the whole gamification idea,” says Houpe. “The children can embrace that.” Public libraries are increasingly looking for ways—like through gamification—to support early learners from preschool age children to those in third grade. Through offering reading clubs and other  educational programming, libraries can support student learning outside of school, and the CPL is just one library system, out of many, actively looking to increase its partnerships with local schools. “We have been trying to strengthen our relationship with Cleveland Public Schools,” says Cindy Lombardo, CPL’s deputy director. According to a March 10 article on, the Cleveland school district confirmed that "it considers 1,000 students—about 40 percent of the third grade—unlikely to meet standards [to move onto fourth grade] without help and is planning to send them to summer reading school to catch up." “There is a huge concern [for] what will happen to these kids and the ones coming up behind them,” says Lombardo. The Early Literacy Stations are one part of the CPL’s push in closing the education gap. The touch screen computers come preloaded with games that span multiple curriculum areas—from reading to graphic arts to STEM subjects to music. Although Isabel prefers games with Dora the Explorer, students can choose from 60 other gaming options. CPLEarlyLitStationFeature

Early Literacy Stations entice young learners through gamification and other means.

Houpe says the interface is very simple to understand, so librarians aren’t handed the burden of walking students though the how-to process. Having the literacy consoles preloaded with age-appropriate content also saves the library from having to create its own material, or vet each program. Instead, the programs are created by the educational content company AWE, which began designing software for early learners originally when one of its clients, the Free Library of Philadelphia, expressed its frustration with "managing its education software for its youngest clients," according to AWE’s web site. Getting feedback from how students perform on literacy programs is essential with documenting any improvement—or lack of. That’s one reason why CPL invested more than $137,000 in the stations; they now have the ability to record and report data on each user. While that feature is currently turned off, CPL says they hope that this data will be available to both CPL—and schools—by this fall. To Isabel’s father, spending time on the stations is a way to help his daughter get an early start using digital tools, a skill he believes will be core to her success as she grows. “Everything is about computers,” he says. “In the future, everyone will have a tablet instead of writing out their homework.” Houpe sees this technology as one way to close the achievement gap. “The technology is not going to be the end all,” says Houpe. “But, if we can start building metrics, we can start to see an outcome and extend the students’ educational day without their thinking they’re extending their day.”    
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Abby Brown

We rolled out a 103 AWE Early Literacy Stations two years ago in the Indianapolis Public Library system as part of our Ready to Read early literacy initiative. All 23 of our locations now have them and they are EXTREMELY popular!! In addition to the data that we are able to pull from the computers, we also did some front end evaluation when we installed the systems in 2012. We did more than 150 observations throughout our system to see who was using the computers and how they were using the computers. We had concerns going into the project that the preschoolers would be pushed out by older children or that the younger children would not know how to appropriately engage with the computers. However, during observations we found that the computers were predominantly being used by our target preschool audience and usually in a collaborative way with their caregiver or other children. We regularly observed shared learning experiences occurring at the stations. While generally the titles are pretty developmentally appropriate, some take a little trial and error to get the hang of and we observed many preschool children testing games until they got a result that they wanted. The touch screen allows the experience to be child driven even if that child is not confident in manipulating a mouse. We worried a lot about broken equipment too. Last year our AWE ELSs saw more than 4 million minutes of use and I think with the exception 2-3 keyboards, all equipment problems were from overuse and when that happened AWE was quick to send a replacement. The computers have definitely increased traffic to our children’s sections too. IndyPL has really enjoyed our ELS computers and I hope that Cleveland has the same positive experience!

Posted : Mar 20, 2014 07:09

Barker Davis

Thanks for your comment, Betty. One of AWE’s many strengths is the depth and breadth of our content; nobody comes close to matching the diversity or cross-curriculum richness of AWE’s solutions. We offer children the best content irrespective of its age. As long as children still love it and it remains educationally effective and relevant, why would we scrap classics like Reader Rabbit Toddler or the JumpStart series? Quality is quality. Sesame Street, Mozart, Shakespeare... these are all educational sources that people use to this day. Why should educational software be any different? One of our greatest strengths is we offer children an amazing pool of educational software from the best content developers of today and yesterday. The day we stop doing that is the day we stop giving children the range of choices they need and deserve. Version 11 of the Early Literacy Station will feature 72 applications, many of which are recent creations. Plus, we are seeing more great titles now being updated to run on new platforms that support touch technology (5 Wanderful versions of the uber-popular Living Books Series, for example.) - Barker Davis

Posted : Mar 18, 2014 12:41

Doug Sell

Betty is right that AWE does not create the content pieces. We license the content and make all of the content run seamlessly on an single plug-and-play platform using our proprietary integration technology design. Our content is an eclectic mix. The Early Literacy Station features a lot of recently developed gems including Speakaboos e-books, Math Doodles, Kid Pix 3D, Know Your World, Volcanic Panic, Getting Ready for Kindergarten, Britannica Learning Suite, SpongeBob SquarePants Typing, and Science Express. We are constantly working to enhance the content offerings with every version. Please let us know if we can answer any questions for you!

Posted : Mar 17, 2014 07:21

Betty Dingus

"Instead, the programs are created by the educational content company AWE" is not quite correct. Most of the programs are from the old Edutainment boom: Kid Pix, Reader Rabbit, Jumpstart, Thinkin' Things, etc. AWE puts them on a machine that will still run such (old) titles and then charges $2500 (?) for them.

Posted : Mar 12, 2014 09:58

Betty Dingus

(I wrote this because I could not find my original comment)

Posted : Mar 12, 2014 10:01

Betty Dingus

"Instead, the programs are created by the educational content company AWE" - actually, it looks like they gathered together a bunch of really old Edutainment titles (Jumpstart, Reader Rabbit, Broderbund) that my library had back in the early Nineties. And yet 33% of library systems buy these Literacy Stations? And they're $2,500 each? Has there really been no good software produced since the Edutainment bust, besides character-branded titles like Dora, and World of Goo?

Posted : Mar 11, 2014 07:51



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