The Print

Digitizing Books for Kids

Debra Angel

As a child, my days and nights were filled with stories. I was taught to read before I entered kindergarten--the overcompensation of a Filipina immigrant mother who was self-conscious about her English skills and the prejudice of an America at war, and not just any war, the Vietnam War. During that controversial war, any Asian was a likely victim of prejudice. So I read. Under the covers at night with a flashlight. On the bus. In the library. In the kitchen before dinner. On the floor of the living room with my parents. And I was read to at night by one or both parents. I was lucky. I was literate and my future was bright. I could do anything, be anything, go anywhere. I had opportunities. But my mother made sure to remind me of my cousins who didn't and wouldn't have the same opportunities because they weren't lucky enough to live in the United States. I understood that this meant I wasn't living in dire poverty and had access to the best of everything, including education.

Countless children around the world don't and won't have the opportunity to browse through a library and to marvel over the numerous books housed there. Fortunately, however, children across the globe will be able to peruse stories via the Internet free of charge. An organization is putting technology to good use by developing the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL), with the goal of creating an international digital children's library of 10,000 titles in 100 languages by 2007. This five-year research project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

According to its web site, the mission of the ICDL is "to use technology to help strengthen existing libraries worldwide by providing a large-scale digital archive of literature for children ages three to thirteen." The library's collection of materials emphasizes the similarities and differences in cultures, societies, and lifestyles of people around the world. The ICDL hopes that its collection will help children understand the world they live in, and thereby learn tolerance and acceptance.

The ICDL has created a set of criteria for the selection of materials it makes available. All materials must support the research goals of the project and must be appropriate for its two primary audiences: the first group is children ages three to thirteen, and the librarians, teachers, parents, and caregivers who work with them, and the second audience is international scholars and researchers in the field of children's literature. The list of criteria is available on the ICDL web site.

So how does the ICDL make books available to children across the globe? First, the library is free to access. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection. The ICDL digitizes each book in its entirety, from cover to cover. Books are scanned both in-house and out-of-house. All color images are scanned in color, and the scanning standards used by the ICDL follow those used by the Library of Congress. The ICDL takes special care in preserving the original state of the book and uses nondestructive scanning for all rare or classic books.

An Advisory Board of Librarians and an International Advisory Board are in place to help with the selection process of books that end up in the collection. The ICDL web site does a good job of providing information on the project, from the selection criteria to the scanning process, from information on copyright policies to instructions for how authors can donate their books to the library.

When the library first went online, it made available 200 books. That number has already increased to over 500 titles. Currently, titles are available in 17 different languages, including English, Chinese, Arabic, and Serbian, just to name a few. Another interesting fact about the International Children's Digital Library is that most of the people working on the project are kids. The library recruits children to help in all facets of the process, from selecting books to designing the software children use to read books on the ICDL web site.

"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," stated Allison Druin, in a press release on the University of Maryland web site. Druin is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies and its Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, and leads the team of researchers working on the ICDL project.

Druin isn't wrong. According to statistics on the ICDL web site, "approximately 90,000 unique users have successfully accessed and used the ICDL." Visit the library at


International Children's Digital Library,

"Online Library Opens New Worlds for Children Everywhere,"

"Online Library Brings New Worlds to Children," Outlook Online, University of Maryland, November 19, 2002,


Debra Angel

Volume 9, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, 2 January, 2005

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"Digitizing Books for Kids"
© Debra Angel, 2005.
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