When Children Need Books: Part 3

SIL LEAD is dedicated to helping communities use their languages to improve their quality of life. One way that we do that is by helping children learn to read in those languages. We are not the only ones engaged in this work, and this post, the last of three, will compare the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) and the African Storybook Project (ASP).

Comparison

To fully understand the uses of the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) and the African Storybook Project (ASP), it helps to compare them. Their biggest difference lies in their goals. ICDL focuses on providing quality multicultural children’s literature. ASP focuses more on quantity, making a larger volume of literature available in under-resourced languages.

Search options in International Children's Digital Library. 

Search options in International Children's Digital Library. 

Another large difference is in the user interfaces. ICDL contains multiple ways to read, allows users to layer searches, and offers its interface in six different languages. The interface for the ASP is functional but still under construction. Users can search for books by language, type of story, and text level.

Currently, there are about 4,619 books in the ICDL, and about 2,412 in the ASP. While numbers are impressive for online collections, they are only a fraction of the 12,000 books available in a typical American school library. However, ASP’s collection is growing rapidly, with the number of texts increasing by about 70% in as little as four months. Because of the emphasis on quality, ICDL’s collection is growing more slowly, and activity on the site dropped precipitously after 2011. Still, both collections provide reading material for students that might otherwise have trouble getting reading material. Such students include Lumasaaba-speaking children in Uganda, who can now access 69 books on the ASP website. It also includes American students who speak Farsi with their parents, and who can now access 476 books on the ICDL website.

An example of the reading view on African Storybook Project.

An example of the reading view on African Storybook Project.

Getting books into the hands of children who need them most is still a challenge. Many children who need reading material the most have the least access to computers. ICDL contains copyrighted material, so nothing on the site may be printed or distributed. It is encouraging that ASP allows all of its materials to be downloaded for printing and other forms of distribution, but it is still a concern that books are only formatted for digital reading. In order to print and bind books well, users must reformat the pictures and text themselves to fit into the layout that they want. ASP is also using memory cards to distribute materials for reading on cell phones, which are popular in Africa. The project also suggests that the books be displayed using projectors in school classrooms, which may be more affordable than printing books for classroom use.

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You can read more detailed descriptions of the two projects in the first and second parts of Children Need Books series.

Thank you to our contributing author Megan Sutton Mercado.

When Children Need Books: Part 1

SIL LEAD is dedicated to helping communities use their languages to improve their quality of life. One way that we do that is by helping children learn to read in those languages. The creation of Bloom by our partner SIL International has made it dramatically easier to create the books people need to practice reading. Bloom has received a great deal of attention for winning the All Children Reading contest this year, and we look forward to seeing how it will empower local authors. 

However, we are not the only organization that is working on creative solutions to get children reading in a variety of languages. Below in this first post, you can read about the International Digital Children’s Library. Next week we will talk about the African Storybook Project, and the third part of this series will compare these two projects—their content and interfaces. We hope that these descriptions will help you get a better idea of the solutions that already exist, and the work that remains to get all children reading well.

The homepage and a sample storybook page from africanstorybook.org. We will look at this project in the next blog post. 

The homepage and a sample storybook page from africanstorybook.org. We will look at this project in the next blog post. 


The International Children’s Digital Library

Displaying two pages of a bilingual storybook on childrenslibrary.or. The story is written in Tagalog on the left and English on the right. 

Displaying two pages of a bilingual storybook on childrenslibrary.or. The story is written in Tagalog on the left and English on the right. 

This first project is the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), which was created by an interdisciplinary team at the University of Maryland composed of computer scientists, librarians, teachers, and graphic designers. Their mission “is to support the world's children in becoming effective members of the global —who exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas—by making the best in children's literature available online free of charge.”

The project only accepts physically published books, some of which are under copyright. Books are chosen by educators, children, authors, and publishers, then scanned and added to the database. Website visitors can view digital copies of these books on the website, using a highly developed reading interface. The project does not support downloading, copying, or printing any of the materials in the collection. The site launched in 2002 and has had more than three million unique visitors since then. The collection contains 4,619 books in 59 languages, with users from 228 countries.

Reading a book in Gujarati using ICDL’s online interface

Reading a book in Gujarati using ICDL’s online interface

Although the project succeeds at providing digital images of the content of books for free, more books are available in languages and regions where they are less needed. Stated another way, the site provides more advantages to children who are already in more advantaged situations. The presence of effective publishing industries or non-profit sectors making high-quality books in North America, Europe, and selected Asian countries leads to a higher proportion of materials coming from these regions. The site hosts 975 books from Asia, 469 from North America, and 405 from Europe but only 103 from South America, 60 from Africa, and 53 from Australia/Oceania. Additionally, ICDL’s original goal was to provide 10,000 free books in 1000 languages. They achieved almost 50% of their goal for the number of titles, but just over 5% of their goal for the number of languages before the project’s activity declined. “Current news” postings on the website are abundant from 2002 to 2010, then drop off sharply, with the last one occurring in 2013, likely indicating that funding and interest have slowed in the last few years. The site is a useful tool as it is, but no longer seems to be growing.

Come back soon for the next post in our When Children Need Books series, which will address the African Storybook Project.

Thank you to our contributing author Megan Sutton Mercado.

 

 

Competing for Books

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

It is hard to imagine, from an American experience, schools or communities without books and libraries for children. But it is a reality for many language communities and schools in other parts of the world, including the schools involved in USAID/Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP) project in Uganda.

Photo:  Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

In March the project held a Reading Competition in the Gumba district. Twenty-seven schools came together to celebrate reading in the local language and to engage the community in encouraging students’ reading. This event was organized to boost interest among children and parents in education and mother tongue literacy.

The participants each received a stack of exercise books and pack of pencils for their classrooms. But as a volunteer Kerry observed, “We had spare A4 photocopies of the paragraph that children read and there was a bit of a scramble to get these to take home—such is the lack of any books or reading material in most children's homes.”

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Books, when readily available, can easily be taken for granted. But they are a powerful tool for building imagination and self-esteem. As Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO has said, “Literacy is the door to knowledge, essential to individual self-esteem and empowerment. Books, in all forms, play an essential role…”

This reading competition not only brought a community together to celebrate reading and provide books, but it was appreciated by the District Education Officers who are now encouraging schools to organize more of these, in classes, to build confidence among learners and provide creative outlets for them to practice their reading skills. The event is also helpful for the teachers to evaluate their students. Charity Baguma, the event organizer, reported that the event “communicated that some children still had fear of talking in front of the groups, others couldn't read a word; while other schools were putting books to excellent use, and this was evident in the reading skills of their learners.

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

Photo: Kerry Bradshaw, VSO volunteer, Uganda 

On this occasion of World Book and Copyright Day, an annual event organized by UNESCO, take time to appreciate the many different worlds, experiences and people that are available through words crafted to fuel imaginations and impart knowledge. Encourage your children to read and appreciate books in a new way because it is a privilege. Our goal is to help more language communities to have this same access to books through the support of projects like SHRP.