International research

Project summary

We believe that the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) needs to be shaped by our understanding of children as technology users, book readers, and library visitors. Because our digital library is one which offers an international collection, we have also become interested in understanding how children perceive other cultures outside of their own. In addition, because children from around the world can access the ICDL, we have come to understand the importance of working with children, not just in the U.S. where we work, but with children from diverse parts of the world.

Therefore, with grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Microsoft Corporation, and NSF we began in Spring 2003 to work with 12 children, their parents, teachers, librarians, and principals in four countries: New Zealand, Honduras, Germany, and the U.S. By conducting interviews once a year for three years, as well as collecting drawings and ICDL book reviews from children, this case study describes the role of books, libraries, technology and culture in these children's lives.

Research questions

With this research we seek to answer the following research questions:

  • How do children's attitudes differ or agree from country to country concerning books, libraries, technology and culture?
  • How do children want to change books, libraries, and technology in the future?
  • How can this information from and about children support us in developing library programs and collections in the future?

Research methods

As Bogdan & Bilken (1998) suggest, "a qualitative researcher does not put together a puzzle whose picture she already knows; rather she is constructing a picture that takes shape as she collects and examines pieces of data" (p. 47). This has been our research path in this study. We have chosen to use qualitative methods that follow the case study tradition.

Over a three-year period, we are working with children in multiple ways. The children have been asked to read four books from the ICDL each month. They may read different books each month or the same book multiple times. Each month, the children will summarize, rate (one to five stars), and categorize feelings (Does the book make the child feel happy, sad, puzzled, etc?) about one book. In addition, each child have been asked to suggest one book that should be added to the ICDL collection.

The study began by asking the children to draw their answers to the following four questions:

  • What do you do for fun?
  • What kinds of things do you do in your school library / your public library?
  • If you could make a computer of the future, what would it be?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Subsequently, four times a year, each child will answer just one of the above questions by taking pictures with a digital camera and placing the pictures with text on a web page. These same four questions will be asked each year to understand how the children may change.

Finally, each year all 12 children, their parents, teachers, librarians, and principalswill be interviewed with a similar set of questions concerning the children's use of books, libraries, technology, and their perceptions of culture. The interviews are video and/or audiotaped and notes are taken by the researchers.

The data collected from the first year is now currently being analyzed to identify similarities and differences among the children from the different parts of the world. During the second and third years, analyses will be done to understand changes the children's changes over time.


This research began in Spring 2003 at four locations: Wellington, New Zealand, La Ceiba, Honduras, Munich, Germany, and Chicago, IL, USA. We began our site selection process by identifying the children we were interested in understanding (e.g., ethnically and economically diverse, attending schools with a range of pedagogy, at an age where they were transitioning from picture books to chapter books, and where we could follow their progress in subsequent studies). We also examined our own digital library collection to identify what were the most common languages of our books so we could best serve the children we would eventually work with. And we looked to find sites that were distributed throughout the world. Based on these selection criteria, and the interest of the local populations, we selected four sites for our research:

  • Wellington, New Zealand
    In the capital of New Zealand, a public school in an urban diverse community was identified. The school addresses learning experiences from Kindergarten (age 5) to grade 8 (age 14). Its school population is approximately 250 students. The children who attend this school represent 22 cultures and three children were selected for the study, each from very different backgrounds: Maori (the indigenous tribal culture), Indian/British, and continental New Zealander. The school curriculum reinforces support for diversity and is child-centered, with constructivist pedagogy and a great deal of parental involvement. The library has approx. 6,000 books with a part-time school librarian.
  • La Ceiba, Honduras
    Located in the 3rd largest city in Honduras, a private school, underwritten by an international produce corporation was identified. The school addresses learning experiences from first grade (age 6) to 12th grade (age 17). Its school population is approximately 300 children. The children are bilingual, but Spanish is the first language of all three children. The school follows an American curriculum and all instruction is in English except for two classes: Spanish and Honduran Social Studies. The school's pedagogy is teacher-centered. The library's collection has approx. 10,000 books with a full-time school librarian and a full-time assistant.
  • Munich, Germany
    In suburban Munich, a private international school was identified. The school addresses learning experiences from Kindergarten (age 5) to 12th grade (age 17). Its school population is approximately 600 students. Sixty-five nationalities are represented in the school population and one-third of the children have German backgrounds. All of the children speak English, however the children selected for the study are diverse: one is German, one is German/British, and one is British. All instruction is in English except for German class and the curriculum follows the International Baccalaureate Program. The facilities are technology-rich and there are two well-supported libraries with approximately 10,000 books in each collection. There is a full-time library media specialist and a full-time assistant.
  • Chicago, IL, US
    In urban Chicago, IL, a public school was identified which is also a "Professional Development School" for local area Universities to train teachers. The school addresses learning experiences from infant care (6 months) to grade 8 (age 14). Its school population is approximately 800 students. The school's population of students comes from the local neighborhood. The school's pedagogy is teacher-centered with a strong focus on discipline. The facilities are quite new having just opened in Fall 2002, and the school is rich with technology. The library has 7,000 books in its collection and a full-time library media specialist.