Q&A: Susan Hildreth

Susan Hildreth is the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. She was appointed to the position by President Obama, and has previously served as the city librarian in Seattle, California’s state librarian, deputy director and city librarian of San Francisco Public Library, as well as on staff at Sacramento Public Library, the Placer County Library, the Benicia Public Library and the Yolo County Library. She has also served as president of both the Public Library Association and the California Library Association. Ms. Hildreth provides a unique perspective on children’s literacy in the digital age, drawing from her distinguished 30+ year career as a leader in public libraries.

Cooney Center: What concerns you most about the impact that digital media are having on children’s healthy growth, learning, and development? What excites you about the new potential of technologies to support learning?

I am concerned that digital media can be mind-numbing so that the creativity of children is really hampered. I think the excitement is found in the potential engagement of a well-designed, interactive learning experience that can bring together many different formats and information streams.

Is there a better way to optimize the time and effort that kids are spending with entertainment media?

If we can provide engaging and knowledge-based content within the framework of entertainment media, I think we can turn the kids’ interest into a valuable investment of their time and energy.

Are there new values, skills or perspectives which media can promote to help children prepare for work and play in a global world?

This is an interesting question. I think our children are not, for the most part, receiving the analytical training to be able to parse or evaluate the massive flow of information which they will have to deal with in their lives. I think media could help develop these skills but I don’t have the answer as to how to make it happen.

Are the “fields” of entertainment or creative media at “cross-purposes” with education? What are important synergies or connection points to probe? Are there key responsibilities for digital media producers and educators in our new age?

Creative media could be in synergy with learning. I think we have to determine the best method to engage students in whatever we teach them, and other that is represented by linking the lesson to something that the student is familiar with in his own life. Because students are accustomed to a variety of media formats, the message may be better received in a media format than in a traditional print or lecture format.

If you had a $10 billion budget to spend to promote the learning of children under the age of 10, what would be your highest priorities? What role would digital media and technologies play in advancing these priorities?

My highest priority would be getting children ready to read before they enter kindergarten. The early primary grades are important, but if ready readiness does not start prior to entrance into formal education, the battle may already be lost. Although early learning is often as simple as one-on-one personal reading, I am sure there are technologies that could engage both care-giver and child that would help both have a successful learning experience.

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