International Digital Children's Library (IDCL)

Scott Lenski

Technology has changed the way that we can access and search for information. There are many features and options available that are available in digital environments, which are unique to that environment. These features have enhanced research in new ways that were not possible previous to these technologies. The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) is one example of a digital collection that incorporates some unique features. In this paper I will describe the ICDL in more detail, beginning with a brief history and overview of the ICDL. Then I will examine some unique features of the ICDL and discuss ways in which these features are providing new ways to conduct research.
A Brief History of the International Children’s Digital Library
The ICDL was created at the University of Maryland with the help of the Internet Archive and was launched in 2002 (Carlson Weeks, 2007). The initial funding of the library was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (Davey Zeece & Hayes, 2004). The ICDL has two target audiences, children (ages 3-13) and adults who work with this age group, along with international scholars who study children’s literature (Davey Zeece & Hayes, 2004). According to their website:
The mission of the International Children's Digital Library Foundation is to support the
world's children in becoming effective members of the global community - who exhibit
tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas by making the best in
children's literature available online free of charge. (Mission statement¸ n.d, para. 1)
The library is supported by the ICDL Foundation which is a non-profit organization (Mission statement, n.d.).
There are three main goals to the ICDL including: “creating a collection of ten thousand children’s books in one hundred languages”; “collaborating with children as design partners to develop new interfaces for searching, browsing, reading, and sharing books in the library”; and “evaluating the impact of access to multicultural materials on children, schools, and libraries” (Hutchinson, Rose, Bederson, Weeks, & Druin, 2005, p. 5). The ICDL currently has 4,469 books in 55 different languages (Library fast facts, n.d.). “All books are presented in their entirety and in the original language(s) in which they were published. Only books that have been published in print form are included in the collection” (Carlson Weeks, 2007, p. 28). Users have come from over 228 different countries to visit the collection, including the United States, Peru, India, Canada, United Kingdom, and Israel (Library fast facts, n.d.). The collection of the ICDL includes both materials under copyright and materials in the public domain (Policies, n.d.).
Search by Color
Digital technologies have provided a multitude of new ways to search for books. The ICDL provides many different searching features which I will further examine here. One of these features allows users to search by color of the book cover. This done by “using colorful buttons representing the most popular search categories” including a multitude of colors (Hutchinson et al., 2005, p.6).Users can choose from a list of twelve colors including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, black, pink, and rainbow. A search can also be performed using any combination of these colors. “The option to search by color is actually the result of the research team’s collaboration with children” (Carlson Weeks, 2007, p.28).
Having the ability to search by color enhances research in a couple of different ways. First, it allows researchers to find materials in new ways. “Often times, children and adults are able to remember the physical characteristics of a book (e.g., the wide yellow book), but not the specific bibliographic information” (Carlson Weeks, 2007, p. 28). If researchers can’t remember a specific title, author or keywords, but they do remember the cover art, they can perform a search using color. This also can be a benefit to researchers in that it creates new possibilities for research projects. For example, it would be interesting to examine what colors are used more or less in books of a particular language. This search feature would make it easier for a researcher interested in topics similar to this. It can also be helpful, as Carlson Weeks (2007) writes, “searching by color simplifies the process when searching for books where there is a wide variety of languages” (p. 28).
To do a search by color, users just click a color button. I performed a search using the color blue. For this search, the system retrieved 327 books. Browsing the books retrieved, the covers of these books either were entirely predominantly blue, or used blue in a prominent way. While browsing these titles, I found a book that, along with blue, also had a lot of yellow in it. I thought that I would see if I could retrieve this book using a combination of colors. So I performed a searching using blue and yellow, and the book I had selected The Big Boasting Battle was displayed on the first page of results.
Search by Shape and Length
In addition to searching by color, users and researchers have the ability to search by length or shape of book. For length, the options available are “short”, “medium” and “long” books. For shape, there are 6 options available, including “rectangle”, “square”, “wide”, “narrow”, “irregular”, and “tiny”. For researchers, these access points could provide this information in a very convenient manner. For example, let’s say a researcher was interested in examining materials on a certain topic, but wanted only books of a certain length. This search feature would allow researchers to quickly narrow down the field of titles to specific titles that would be appropriate for a particular project.

Search by Feeling
Another feature that provides a unique access point to this collection is to search by feeling. “The ICDL include(s) how a book makes a child feel (e.g., happy or sad) (Carlson Weeks, 2007, p. 28). Again, this creates a unique opportunity for researchers to search for materials in different ways, as well as create new research projects. For example, if readers limit by feelings, in the English language there are 43 “happy” books, 19 “sad” books, 4 “scared” books, 28 “funny” books. Like searching by color, this search feature was created as a result of the collaboration between children and the research team (Carlson Weeks, 2007). Children have the ability to reviews books found on this site, and one of the questions is: “How does this book make you feel?” I examined a few of the titles from the different feelings categories, and all of these books had been reviewed by children, and these reviews contained the matching cataloging term. So books categorized as “happy” have been marked by a child.
User Reviews
All of these search features be combined with the one another. As mentioned, children can submit reviews. This is another unique feature to this digital environment. With print resources, reviews were available but they needed to be sought out by the user. If one wanted a review of The Adventures of Ulysses (one of the books in the collection), it may have been reviewed in a number of different sources such as newspapers or trade magazines. However, reviews can be difficult to find, or nonexistent depending on the source. In this case, the reviews are available right alongside the book. And again, combining this feature with other access points give researchers a unique way to search for materials. In a search, there 23 “funny” books that have a five star rating.

Multi-Language Searching
One final feature that enhances research is the ability to search and browse in a diversity of languages. “The interface not only supports multiple languages and cultures, but it also supports them simultaneously, frequently on the same screen” (Hutchinson et al., 2005, p. 5). Users can easily change from one language to another. The main pages of the digital collection have a small tab allowing users to easily change the content into English, Spanish, Russian, or Mongolian. However users can search and interact with the interface in 16 different languages (Library fast facts, n.d.).
Supporting multiple languages in one interface facilitates research in a way that was nearly impossible before the use of this technology. Although many of the books can only be viewed in the original language, the interface does support searching in the 16 languages. So researchers can perform a keyword search and retrieve books about this topic. This could be useful for researchers who are trying to find all materials on a certain topic regardless of the language. For example, if a researcher only speaks Italian, one can still do a keyword search and pull up books about death in every language. The researcher could browse the content, and if it looked to be relevant to their project, the researcher could search out a translator.
I ran a keyword search using the term “death”. For this search term, the system retrieved total number of 20 titles. Of these 20 titles, only 2 of them are English. 16 of the titles are in Farsi, 1 is in Mongolian, and 1 is in Swahili. It would be interesting to look at particular concepts and see how often these concepts occur in particular languages. Of course, this database is not an exhaustive collection of literature, but it could still help facilitate research. I tried doing a second search, this time using the keyword “love”. For this search, the system retrieved a total of 118 titles. For this example, the titles retrieved represent a wide variety of languages including German, Croatian, Norwegian, Hebrew, and English. This is a really helpful tool for researchers interested in this topic.
Technology is changing the way research is done. With the availability of new tools, researchers have quite a few possibilities that weren’t available to them previously. The International Children’s Digital Library is a wonderful tool that provides new ways of searching for both users and researchers alike. The ability to search by color, feeling, and rating in multiple languages are just a few of the features available. The collection can also be searched by different genres and subjects. Users have the ability to combine all of these features, making this a powerful tool for those interested in studying international children’s literature.

Carlson Weeks, A. (2007). The International Children’s Digital Library: Increasing children’s access to books through technology. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 23(7), 27-30.
Davey Zeece, P. & Hayes, N. (2004). International children’s literature. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(3), 191-197.
Hutchinson, H.B., Rose, A., Bederson, B., Carlson Weeks, A., Druin, A. (2005). The International Children’s Digital Library: A case study in designing for a multilingual, multicultural, multigenerational audience. Information and Technology Libraries, 24(1), 4-12.
International Children’s Digital Library. (n.d.). Library fast facts. Retrieved from
International Children’s Digital Library. (n.d.). Mission statement. Retrieved from
International Children’s Digital Library. (n.d.). Policies. Retrieved from