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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: The Catch 22 of the International Children’s Digital Library

Op-Ed: The Catch 22 of the International Children’s Digital Library

Chances are, you have never heard of the International Children’s Digital Library.

The ICDL is an online repository of books for children ages 3-13, written in over 50 languages. The library has over 4000 books.

Books are digitized in multiple languages from all over the world. Some are old and out of copyright, but many are brand new, award winners, still under copyright.

A child can click on a title and the book will appear online ready to be read. No trip to the store, no trip to the library, no need to order from Amazon.

The unique online library, free to anyone, is a project of the University of Maryland and the Internet Archive. The mission of the library is to provide children, especially those that migrate to new lands no matter the reason, access to their cultures that they might have left behind.

“As families move from Kenya to Finland or Brazil to Mexico or Viet Nam to California, books published in their native country or in their first language often must be left behind.  In their new homelands, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find children’s books from their cultures and in their mother tongue.  Parents have little access to the books and stories from their youth to pass on to the next generation. Many children must grow up without knowledge of their family’s heritage and first language.  A fundamental principle of the Foundation is that children and their families deserve to have access to the books of their culture, as well as the majority culture, regardless of where they live. According to a paper published in 2005 by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in preparation for the second meeting on the World Summit on the Information Society, “Denial to access to information in one’s mother tongue is equivalent to a denial of a human right.” The report also concludes, “In terms of pedagogy, how do children learn best?  In their mother tongue.” 

Teachers of course, can access the site and assign specific books for children to read, or kids and parents can explore on their own. (One of the neatest lessons that teachers can do, and I suppose parents as well, is to find a picture book in a language that no one knows, and have kids either explain what is going on, or write their own stories to match the pictures.)

Parents can pick a book to read to their children, or have their children read to them. It is a win-win.

Great resource for anyone, in multiple languages. Anyone with an internet connection that is. While the ICDL has a smartphone app () users still have to have internet access. And that is the Catch-22 of ICDL and any other service like it: Great idea, but if you do not have internet access, then you are dead in the water.

Many families, especially in cities like El Paso, do not have ready access to the internet. A trip to the local library, or some select fast food places is required to get online. And while they COULD be reading titles like the award winning book “The Boy without a Name” in both English or Spanish or both, they can’t because they don’t have access to the internet.

Parents are constantly told to read to their kids. So, people without means can get free books at places like ICDL and IF they had access they could, they would. But until they get access, they can’t get the free stuff to share with their kids that you can get right this second.

I postulated long ago that access to the Internet would become a civil rights issue in the 21st century. Those without access are at a distinct disadvantage, both culturally and economically.

There are programs out there that try to level the playing field. Like the 1 Million Project (1MP), designed to put 1 million wifi hotspots in qualifying high school students hands. Those devices can be used by entire families to get access. And while the 1MP is certainly a worthy effort, and one deserving of emulation by all telecom providers, the long term issue of economically disadvantaged students and families not being able to access the internet for even the most basic of services remains.

The ICDL is just one example of the hidden treasures that exist on the internet that are waiting to be discovered by those with access. If you are reading this, you have access. Certainly something to be thankful for in this holiday season. Maybe you could throw some change in the direction of the ICDL this holiday season.

What are you doing to help those without access the same the same access you have?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

About Tim Holt

Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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12 comments

  1. Why leave the parents out? The Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg provide resources for everyone!
    https://archive.org/

    http://www.gutenberg.org/

    • Hi Charles,
      Thanks for reading my column. I don’t think that parents are left out, as I stated:

      “Many families, especially in cities like El Paso, do not have ready access to the internet. A trip to the local library, or some select fast food places is required to get online. And while they COULD be reading titles like the award winning book “The Boy without a Name” in both English or Spanish or both, they can’t because they don’t have access to the internet.

      Parents are constantly told to read to their kids. So, people without means can get free books at places like ICDL and IF they had access they could, they would. But until they get access, they can’t get the free stuff to share with their kids that you can get right this second.”

      The issue is access to the tools. Project Gutenberg is great, IF you can get online. If you cannot. or you cannot afford a device, then these excellent tools are left only for those that can access them.

      Tim

  2. This is a great resource! I looked at it last night. Thank you for sharing. Will use with my students.

  3. Tim, as always, your articles are very interesting, thought provoking and above all, informative. Through your articles, one learns new things and finds great, new resources to use. I will definitely be telling librarians about this.

    • Tim, I am an educator and currently an aspiring librarian. My school district offers many online resources for struggling readers,but over and over again the lack of internet access prevents parents from using these resources. I will use the ICDL with my students and promote it to parents in our dual language program. Thank you for sharing this resource!

  4. Tim, I believe that people always start out at a snail’s pace when jumping through new hoops in technology until it becomes the norm. We saw this when we went from VHS cassettes to compact disc and analog TV’s to Digital flat screens.

    At my school, we have many low income students who cannot afford video game consoles or Cable TV. Despite this, students find a way and access the internet through their parent’s cell phone to play games, do homework and watch Netflix. Children spread things like the flu and I believe that they will spread the ICDL’s once they see the value in it and it becomes the norm. The key is for educators to repeatedly introduce these ICDL’s to students and parents as part of the curriculum.

    • Albert,

      I saw online that the library offers an online app that can be used on the phone. I also agree that children find a way to use technology even when they are not able to afford it. This resource is so valuable, I can’t wait to share it with my community members and staff.

  5. Tim, I believe that people always start out at a snail’s pace when jumping through new hoops in technology until it becomes the norm. We saw this when we went from VHS cassettes to compact disc and analog TV’s to Digital flat screens. At my school, we have many low income students who cannot afford video game consoles or Cable TV. Despite this, students find a way and access the internet through their parent’s cell phone to play games, do homework and watch Netflix. Children spread things like the flu and I believe that they will spread the ICDL’s once they see the value in it and it becomes the norm. The key is for educators to repeatedly introduce these ICDL’s to students and parents as part of the curriculum.

    • I agree with Albert; the key is for educators to repeatedly introduce these ICDL’s to students and parents as part of the curriculum. Regardless if we are teachers, librarians, administrators, etc. we all can promote this kind of media among the students at our campuses. This new internet era makes learning more accessible for kids, and even adults. There is no excuse not to succeed in this life with so much information online.

  6. Hi Tim,

    I am an aspiring librarian and found out about your informative article through my professor, Armando Loera, who true to his word, shared it with all of his students. What a valuable resource to have. I will be sure to share it with my administration, school librarian, students and their parents. I look forward to teaching my students how to access the ICDL the next time we go to computer lab.

  7. Tim,
    After reading your article, I am eager to get back to my campus and share with my administrators, librarian, colleagues, students, and their parents. I will be sure to teach my students how to access the ICDL, the next time we visit the computer lab.

  8. Tim, Thank you for sharing such valuable information with us. I personally had never heard of the ICDL before, but I definitely think it’s a great resource especially for our LEP students. I think eventually schools will find methods and resources to provide students with access to the internet. I believe this because we as educators serve as advocates for many students, and as librarians, it should be one of our priorities to make sure that students have the availability to access digital online resources even if that means opening our doors before, during, and after school. It should be one of our responsibilities to help close those gaps for disadvantage students. On the other hand, I don’t think you can replace the feeling of holding a book in your hand and reading it. Something else to think about as well is, even if students do have access to the internet, what do you do when the ICDL site is having technical difficulties. This just happened to happen to me while I was trying to browse the site. I kept getting a message that read that the site was temporarily out of service.

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