New Service Launches to Support Summer Reading Programs

The International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) will unveil a new, basic version of its interface software at University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab twentieth annual open house today.

The ICDL is a joint effort by the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab, a leader in children's interface design, and The Internet Archive, the Internet's largest library, to create an extensive library of international children's literature and make it available worldwide.

The new HTML-based interface software substantially increases the accessibility of the ICDL's collection, and complements the enhanced, Java-based version of the web site. With this basic version of the ICDL's software, users on dialup connections, slow international links, or older PCs can easily access the collection.

"We can push the outer limits of interface design on the enhanced, high bandwidth version of the site while at the same time serving a much broader audience with this new basic service," said Dr. Allison Druin, project leader of the ICDL at the University of Maryland.

The ICDL's technology is being developed with a team of interdisciplinary and intergenerational researchers, and children ages 7-11 years old are a critical part of the design process as the ICDL is being created.

"The ICDL's collection provides access to the best children's books worldwide, but a primary benefit of the project will be in discovering how children can best interact with digital books," said the ICDL's Director, Jane White. "This advancement in our ability to provide access will also support our collection development by making it easier for new partners serve their constituents."

Since its launch in November, 2002, the ICDL has served up 200,000 digital books from 21 countries. More than 60 percent of the patrons are female, and about half of the children visiting the site are accompanied by an adult.

"Two of the most important goals of this project are the development of new user interface technology for children, and providing broad access to books," said Dr. Ben Bederson, Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland. "This new basic version of site is all about broad access."

Access to books in multiple languages is particularly important for school and public libraries, but most libraries in the United States have few materials for children in languages other than English. "The ICDL may make it possible for children whose primary language is not English to fully participate in summer reading programs for the first time," said Dr. Ann Carlson Weeks, Professor of the Practice in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. "The budgets of most libraries would not allow them to purchase children's books in Tongan or Shona even if they could locate them!"

Sally Levin, librarian at the Von Humboldt School, a K-8 elementary school in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, has been working with both the enhanced and basic versions of the ICDL's software. "Many teachers have a hard time getting to the library, but now they can access not just a card catalog, but actual books from their homes and classrooms. That opens huge possibilities for integrating really good literature into the general curriculum," she explains. "I can't wait to show it to more teachers, and say 'oh you're doing a unit on Japan, let's look and see if there are children's games or poetry from Asia. Perhaps we can even find some books written in the Japanese language for the children to see.'"

Levin adds that having the books in digital form allows many students to share and discuss the same stories, which is difficult when only one or two copies of a book are available, and that reading the books onscreen works for many of her patrons. "They really like the variety of ways of finding books," she says. "And they love the high quality illustrations. We have kids who read several books at one sitting."

Supported by National Science Foundation (NSF), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Kahle/Austin Foundation, the ICDL is a five-year, $4.4 million research project that will ultimately provide access to 10,000 children's books, drawn from 100 different languages, as well as new technology to support children's access to digital materials.

For further information, see the ICDL's web site at http://www.childrenslibrary.org/, or contact:

  • Leon Tune, University of Maryland, ltune@accmail.umd.edu, 301/405-4679
  • Sharmon Kollet, University of Maryland, sharmon@cs.umd.edu, 301/405-2769
  • Jeff Ubois, the International Children's Digital Library / The Internet Archive, jeff@archive.org, 510/527-2707
  • Eileen Maxwell, Institute of Museum and Library Services, emaxwell@imls.gov, 202/606-8339