The International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) is a bookmobile for the global age. The goal of the ICDL Foundation, housed at the University of Maryland, College Park, is to collect children's literature from as many world languages as possible and to make these available in digital form. The rationale supports the United Nations' Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concept that learning in the mother tongue is a human right. Its mission is also to support children (and with them, adults) reading for pleasure. The ICDL is a public project framed within a research project on the use and effects of literature on children as readers. The research and development team includes children who have helped form the criteria and interface of the project, and it also includes a longitudinal study of children readers from schools in New Zealand, Germany, Honduras, and the United States.
The website has a very complex home page that is surprisingly cluttered for a digital interface laboratory, but it is attractively arranged, with bright colors and an appealing logo. The homepage is designed to announce and support the site's function as the research and collection portal. Most importantly, the homepage provides at least a dozen different ways to read books. In the left-hand corner, there is a link to "Read Books." Just below that, other links include a sign-in option and various instructions for searching, reviewing, and guidelines for use. Scattered all over the home page are thumbnail images of book covers and a selection of featured books in various languages, including a portal to download iPhone apps for portable reading pleasure.
The heart of the website is the reading interface. From the icon in the upper left corner, a colorful page opens with a pane for book covers. Buttons all around it allow readers to choose by age groupings, by cover color, by length of book, by topic (animals, fantasy, fairy tales, etc), and by collection, including recently added books and exhibitions. Pushing the button brings thumbnail covers into the pane or successive panes. Finally, clicking on the cover gives the inviting message "Read this Book" in a choice of languages. The whole book then appears in miniature. Clicking on each page opens a simple reading pane with just a few arrows and a "home" icon as well as access to the search page and a sign-in option for adults and children to create bookmarks and libraries, store searches and the like. Hyperlinks at the edge of the reading pane include author information, "about this book," and other books by the same author. The reading interface is very much like reading a book, and can easily be paged backwards or forwards by clicking any page. The art of children's book illustration finds ample support in the beautifully scanned and sized reading interface. The collection currently contains 4,346 books, both in copyright and in the public domain, written in 54 languages. About 40% of the collection consists of historical books, and the rest are contemporary works.
The International Children's Digital Library is a feast for children who are bookworms. It is also a treasure trove for teachers of reading, literature, science, social studies, and world cultures or geography. Scholarly researchers will find in its global collection a wealth of material for comparison, thematic exploration, historical studies of childhood and reading, and interdisciplinary studies of all kinds. The fact that the project serves the needs of both avid readers for pleasure and researchers makes it extremely valuable as a locus for learning about reading, cultures, and the stuff of stories and images. It will create a lot of synergy for a long time to come, not only as a repository, but as an engine for generating literature and grooming new connoisseurs of literature among young and old.
While the project invites publishers, authors, and others to submit books and grant permission for scanning and publication on the site, it is not possible to download or otherwise reproduce or alter the books. Moreover, books that ultimately appear on the site are selected by the project researchers based on collection development criteria. Currently, no "born digital" books are included, but the project may eventually include motion pictures and other media. The ICDL plans to incorporate biographies of authors and illustrators, annotations, reviews by readers (including children), as well as translations of works where permitted. It may in the future also include reading activities to supplement the experience of reading, or for pedagogical use. Beyond the primary function of making literature for children accessible wherever children live, and beyond the mere fun of reading the works, the collection is also a computer science project for the purpose of improving computer interfaces for children and the use of digital materials by a wide audience of users for various purposes.