Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

The Catch 22 of the International Children’s Digital Library

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

Author Timothy B Holt

Chances are, you have never heard of the International Children’s Digital Library. The ICDL as it is known, located at 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?

For more on Timothy's blog

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