Julie Smit: Digital Libraries and Books


Digital Libraries and the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL)

Children's Library

Digital Libraries

A digital book is basically a print book that is scanned and stored in a digital database. A digital library is a managed collection of digital texts that can be accessed over a network. The advantages of digital texts are that they are accessible anywhere in the world, at any time in many different formats. Students can have access to a variety of literature at the click of a mouse. However, there are issues of copyright as more people will be able to pirate copies of books which will affect the book publishing business. The transition of our literature to a digital format may affect how libraries operate in the future. What would happen to the library if everyone accessed books from home (Roush, 2005)? The use of digital books and other electronic materials is significant because it is affecting how literacy is practiced today and in the future.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Libraries


  • Ease of access: digital libraries can be accessed anywhere in the world wherever there is a computer and Internet access. Users can access digital libraries 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
  • Access to information: It is much easier to access books online using a search feature than searching through dusty bookshelves or antique bookstores. Users can have access to books that are out of print and are hard to find anywhere else. Users can generally access books for free or at a minimal cost.
  • Low cost: After the initial cost of scanning the book, maintenance of the library is less expensive than conventional libraries (costs of building, professional staff and utilities).


  • Copyright infringement: Libraries need to ensure that they have permission to copy, replicate, and distribute digital information that is the intellectual property of someone else.
  • Technical issues: Hardware and software have to be updated periodically. This can be expensive and difficult to do.
  • Use of libraries: Digitizing books into an electronic format may also affect the way people use libraries. If people can access books through a library website at home who will go to the library anymore? What will happen to physical books?

Google’s Print Library Project

In December of 2004 Google announced partnerships with high profile universities and libraries such as Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and the New York Public Library to convert library books into an electronic format (Wikipedia-Google Book Search). For two years Google had been involved in litigation disputes which claimed that they did not respect copyright laws and failed to properly compensate authors and publishers. The settlement reached paved the way for both sides to make profits off of digitalized books: “Revenue will be generated through advertising sales on pages where previews of scanned books appear, through subscriptions by libraries and others to a database of all the scanned books in Google’s collection, and through sales to consumers of digital access to copyrighted books. Google will take 37 percent of this revenue, leaving 63 percent for publishers and authors” (Motoko, 2009). In November 2008 Google and its publishing partners have converted 7 million texts; 5 million of those are books that are out of print. There are non-copyrighted books or books made before 1923 (in the U.S.) that can be downloaded for free and copyrighted texts that are in preview mode - snippets of the books will be available along with advertisements on where to buy them (Wikipedia – Google Book Search). Librarians are happy with the move because it opens up a vast wealth of knowledge to a wide audience. However, other people believe that this move goes against the idea of free and open access to information for everyone. They are worried that this will be the first step toward the privatization of the world's literary heritage (Roush, 2005). In October of 2008 the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) signed an agreement with Google to share its collection with that of Google’s public domain titles making them available through ICDL’s search feature and Google Book Share. This will add thousands of books to the ICDL’s collection and will allow ICDL to use Google’s scanning technology to convert children’s books into electronic format.

The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library

The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) is a five year project funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create a digital library of international children's books. This five-year research project, created in collaboration with the Internet Archive and conducted by the University of Maryland is the world’s largest collection of children’s literature available freely on the Internet. ICDL offers free access to books from over 42 countries and 11 languages. The materials in the collection are geared towards children ages 3-13 and reflect cultural similarities and differences in interests and lifestyles of people around the world. Materials are chosen that help children to understand the world around them and the global society in which they live. ICDL has opened their first branch library in rural Mongolia in order to encourage children, in a culture that does not encourage reading for pleasure, to read for enjoyment. ICDL has hundreds of volunteers who identify books for collection, secure copyrights, and package the books digitally or physically to the library to be put up on the website. The digital books included in the collection are: freely available in the public domain, currently available in print but have secured copyright and books that are out of print but have had their copyright secured. These copyrights do not entail downloading, printing or further distribution from the users of the website.

Goals of the International Children’s Digital Library

  • To create a collection of over 10,000 books in at least 100 languages that is free to children, parents and librarians.
  • To collaborate with children in creating computer interface technologies that support children in searching, browsing, reading, and sharing books in electronic form.
  • To better understand the concepts of rights management and "fair use" in a digital age.
  • To evaluate the impact that access to digital materials may have on collection development and programming practices in school and public libraries.
  • To hope that through a greater understanding of one another’s culture that peace and tolerance can be achieved (childrenslibrary.org).

The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation is to excite and inspire the world's children to become members of the global community – children who understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas -- by making the best in children's literature available online.

Research Using the International Children’s Library

Research articles can be seen at Research Articles
Technical articles investigate the readability of the digital books produced (the size of the font versus the size of the picture – (Quinn, Hu, Arisaka, Rose & Bederson, 2008)), design rationale and difficulties of the search feature (Hutchinson, Bederson &Druin, 2007; 2005) and how children played a role in the design of the International Children’s Library (Druin, 2005; 2002). Research investigating the effects of the digital library is qualitative studies that explore the interests of children in technology, libraries and what books they read. In one study children still preferred physical books and libraries but showed an increase in technological competence and confidence, motivation, and interest in studying other cultures (Druin, Weeks, Massey & Bederson 2007). There are many studies on the use of digital texts to improve early literacy. The advantages of digital texts are that they increase motivation and ensure success for struggling readers by providing scaffolding through audio narratives, vocabulary definitions and animations (Oakley & Jay, 2008) (Littleton, Wood, & Chera, 2006) (Wood & Chera, 2003).

How can digital books be incorporated into learning environments?

  • Read Alouds: If a computer is attached to a projector the story could be read to the children just like a regular storybook. The advantage of this setting is that all the children will be able to see the words and pictures clearly. In order to monitor comprehension of the story allow the children to participate in the read aloud by: discussing the author and the illustrator, having the children predict what is going to happen in the story, talking about illustrations, asking questions to the children and having them ask questions back, and talking about how this text compares with stories that have been previously read. More information on read alouds and comprehension strategies can be found in (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000) (McKeown & Beck, 2006).
  • ICDL digital books are perfect for a lesson plan unit on folklore or on a particular country. Through these studies students can develop an appreciation for other cultures and different ways of life. Students can start a KWL (what I know, what I want to know and what I learned) chart at the beginning of the unit and then complete it at the end of the unit.
  • Scavenger Hunt: In order to expose students to ICDL teachers can give students tidbits of books and ask them to find the digital books on the website. As part of a unit on a country or continent students may be asked to find how many books there are from Africa or Europe.
  • Writing Activity - Book Translation: Students can look at a picture book that they do not understand and write a story to go along with the pictures.
  • Foreign Language Learning: Most of the books are translated in more than one language. Students can practice their foreign language skills by reading one of these books and checking for understanding in their native language. Students can also translate a book that is not in their native language. ICDL is willing to publish translations of books that they do not already have.


Google Book Search. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2009, from Wikipedia: Google Book Search

Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2000). Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Littleton, K., Wood, C., & Chera, P. (2006). Interactions with talking books: phonological awareness affects boys’ use of talking books. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22, 382–390.

McKeown, M., & Beck, I. (2006). Encouraging young children's language interactions with stories. In D. Dickenson, & S. Neuman, Handbook of Early Literacy Research (Vol. 2, pp. 281-294). New York: The Guilford Press.

Module 5: Using the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) to support teaching and learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2009, from International Children's Digital Library: Children's Library

Motoko, R. (2009, January 4). Google Hopes to Open a Trove of Little-Seen Books . Retrieved February 21, 2009, from New York Times: New York Times Article

Oakley, G., & Jay, J. (2008). "Making time" for reading: Factors that influence the success of multimedia reading at home. The Reading Teacher, 62 (3), 246-255.

Roush, W. (2005, May). The infinite library: Does Google's plan to digitize millions of print books spell the death of libraries; or their rebirth? Retrieved November 2, 2008, from Technology Review: Technology Review

Wood, C., & Chera, P. (2003, February). Animated Mulitmedia 'talking books' Can Promote Phonological Awareness in Children Beginning to Read. Learning & Instruction, pp. 33-53.

New Mexico State University, an affiliate of the library held a webinar (seminar over the web using adobe presentation software ) introducing the ICDL as part of their “eLearning with Emerging Technologies” seminar series. Larry Jeffryes a science teacher of over 35 years and an advocate of publishing student work on the Internet, setting up blogs for students, and using WebQuests and other technology applications to enhance learning presented the webinar. The link can be seen on: Webinar