Online Library Will Open New Worlds for Children Everywhere

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Led by the University of Maryland and the Internet Archive, a partnership of government, non-profit, industry and academic organizations will launch the world's largest international digital library for children on Wednesday, Nov. 20 during a ceremony at the United States Library of Congress.

The International Children's Digital Library is designed to provide children ages 3 to 13 with an unparalleled opportunity to experience different cultures through literature and an unequaled ease in accessing online books. The new digital library will begin with 200 books in 15 languages representing 27 cultures, with a five-year plan to grow to 10,000 books representing 100 cultures. Access to the library initially will require a direct Internet connection, such as a cable modem or DSL line. Access for those who connect to the Internet via phone modems will come online next summer (2003).

"We believe that the International Children's Digital Library can provide an important new digital avenue and exciting new software tools through which children can experience new books and explore other cultures, while having a great deal of fun," said Allison Druin, leader of Maryland's design team and an assistant professor in Maryland's College of Information Studies and its Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

Children As Equal Design Partners

Druin and her unique technology design team at the University of Maryland created the graphic search interface tools and innovative book readers that the new digital library's young visitors will use. Since 1998, this team has included children as equal technology design partners with faculty and student researchers in the university's Human-Computer Interaction Lab. This intergenerational, interdisciplinary team has academic researchers from computer science, library science, psychology, education and other fields.

"Children should construct their own paths to knowledge, and computer tools should support, and be a product of, children's work as builders, designers and researchers," Druin said. "Through the creation of the International Children's Digital Library, we want to expand access to world literature, while also pushing development of better software for children's digital libraries and helping to change the paradigm of how software for children is developed."

Working Together to Build a Children's Digital Library

The International Children's Digital Library is being built principally by the University of Maryland and by the Internet Archive, the largest library of the Internet. The Library of Congress and the American Library Association are also participants. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides primary funding, with added support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kahle/Austin Foundation, Adobe Systems Inc. and the Markle Foundation. Principal investigator Druin is joined on the project by University of Maryland co-principal investigators Ann Carlson Weeks, professor of practice in the College of Information Studies, and Benjamin Bederson, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

"This is the beginning of a long-term project to provide children around the world with access to literature from different cultures in a way that is intuitive and accessible," said Jane White, director of the new library. "This collaborative effort by government, commercial, academic and non-profit organizations will change the way children learn about other cultures and strengthen libraries worldwide."

Digital Library's Foundation Is Based on Maryland Research

Maryland's work on the new International Children's Digital Library is an outgrowth of earlier NSF-supported research by Druin and her team into the unique needs of children in digital library environments. For that precursor project, the Maryland team worked with elementary school teachers and children aged 5-10 from Yorktown Elementary School in Bowie, Maryland. Together, they considered the unique ways that children access, explore and organize digital learning materials. One of the results of their work that has been applied to design of the International Children's Digital Library is the finding that children under the age of 9 do much better with a visually-based computer interface than with one that relies on text.

Other products produced by Druin's Intergenerational Design Team include storytelling robots, collaborative zooming software for authoring stories and kits for designing room-size storytelling environments. One of the team's other current projects is Classroom of the Future, a five-year NSF-funded project to foster innovation in the development and use of new educational technologies. Druin and other members of her design team, including its 11 children ages 7 to 11, will demonstrate the interface they designed for the new International Children's Digital Library during the kick-off in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress's Thomas Jefferson Building.

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