Towards a global children’s book repository

Earlier this year I was lucky to attend a fascinating meeting in Washington DC, hosted by USAID and Worldvision (among others), to brainstorm around the idea of a global online repository for children’s reading materials. I’d been invited largely to contribute our experience building distributed print-on-demand at Paperight.

The final report from that meeting is now available – click here for the PDF. (Or visit the project’s site here.) Out of lively and long discussion, several areas of sensible consensus emerged. For me, the most important was that the world doesn’t need more repositories. Rather, we need to strengthen those that exist, and to develop standards that allow them to interact.

From the report summary:

In the first sessions, participants agreed that a) a number of digital “repositories” already exist which could be strengthened, expanded upon, and/or linked to to promote access to relevant early grade reading materials, b) a directory to consolidate access to these dispersed sources is needed to meet objectives of a repository, c) there is a need for more materials to be catalyzed, produced, identified, digitized, etc. for inclusion in any collection(s) and d) a more thorough landscape reviews of existing platforms should be taken. Both as a prerequisite for this, and as a desirable standalone initiative, a metadata standard for early grade reading materials should be developed. Beyond this, the participants emphasized the importance of developing appropriate user-interfaces, promoting good practices in developing and “storing” materials conducive for print and electronic dissemination, ensuring usability with assistive technologies, creating a repository that could host new collections of early grade reading materials (rather than simply linking to materials in existing repositories), and encouraging the translation of existing content into different languages.
The main points of divergence among participants in these early sessions focused on whether to include both commercial and freely available content (on balance – yes) and whether to screen the types of early grade reading materials made available, particularly materials which may be deemed culturally insensitive and controversial (on balance – no).

I’ve highlighted key concepts in bold there. If this is your field, take a moment to look through the report and let me know your thoughts. I’ll be sure to gather and feed them back to the team behind it. Given that this discussion may inform big funding decisions by USAID and others organisations in future, it’s important that all those working in this area put their minds to getting it right.

2 thoughts on “Towards a global children’s book repository

  1. I find it curious that you think we have enough (adequate) repositories already. Since I started my research on the African Storybook Project ( I’ve been looking for websites that provide children’s stories, and especially websites that allow user creation. I assumed this would be readily available (in English), but the few web 2.0 sites leave a lot to be desired, and I’m not overly impressed with most of the “static” repositories. They tend to centred on Western (esp. American?) culture and languages, with the odd story from the Middle or Far East. But perhaps I’m missing something. What existing repositories are you talking about?

    • Thanks for the input, Espen. We certainly need more stories, especially non-Western ones. But we don’t need more repositories: we need the existing repositories to improve and to share content freely among themselves (preferably automatically by API, based on common, open standards for sharing stories, from content in self-standing HTML and PDF to metadata in simple formats like OPDS). Right now, whenever an organisation believes existing repositories are not good enough, instead of improving existing ones, they set about creating a new one — only to discover that it’s harder than they thought. Soon enough, they too run out of growth funding and expertise, and the world is left with yet another promising, half-useful repository. The obligation is not only on those organisations to contribute to existing repositories, but on those existing repositories to enable and encourage others to contribute both stories and improvements. This requires conscious effort, and a real dedication to running a well-organised, open-source repository project. Funders, too, must be as or more willing to support efforts to improve existing repositories as they are to fund the creation of new ones.

      Incidentally, for non-Western stories, check out Pratham’s new StoryWeaver site, if you haven’t seen it already:

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