Cyber Kids, a program for children and the Internet at the Canton (Mich.) Public Library, is the kind of success story that reminds us why we became librarians in the first place.
Libraries contemplating how - or whether - to offer access to the Internet for children should take notice: There are good reasons why Canton Public Library won this year's ALA Information Today Library of the Future Award (see p. 70+, this issue).
Masterminded by Youth Services Department Head Judy Teachworth with the close assistance of Library Director Jean Tabor and Youth Services Librarian Wendy Woltjer, Cyber Kids has four crucial components: an awareness and approval program, a training and registration session for children, a clear public-relations plan, and carefully constructed policies and procedures outlining what participants can and can't do.
Another ingredient contributing to the success of the program was the entire youth department's enthusiastic embrace of new technology. It all adds up to a highly interactive library service with significant buy-in from parents and children. Almost 1,000 children have become Canton Public Library "Cyber Kids" since the program was launched in June 1996.
A Cyber Kids parent told the Detroit News last year, "I would highly recommend [Cyber Kids] to any parent." Adults' high comfort level with the program is due in part to the library's awareness and approval strategy. Participation in Cyber Kids begins with a consent form that is signed by both the parent and the child and retained at the library. The form warns parents that the library "cannot act in loco parentis" and cautions that the Internet "includes graphics and some controversial materials." Children must agree to follow the policies of the Cyber Kids Room and to "treat others with respect." Once both parties sign the form, the library gives the child a Cyber Kids sticker.
Training wheels for the Internet
The next step to becoming a Cyber Kid is an orientation session - a half-hour parent-child introduction to the Internet, conducted by library staff. Not surprisingly (at least to those of us who offer Internet training to our clientele), the parents often benefit from Internet training as well; a typical comment afterwards is "Wow! I didn't know all that stuff was out there."
The training session also offers parents and children Internet safety guidelines and reinforces the "Cyber Rules" for using the Internet workstations, which include placing the Cyber Kids sticker in a pocket on the computer and always wearing headphones. The big rule, as the Cyber Kids brochure bluntly states it: "If you break your Cyber Kid agreement, you will lose your privileges. …