My final project in LIS 5053: Information Users in the Knowledge Society involved the preparation of a detailed critique of the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) web site as an information resource and recommendations for improvement. By analyzing characteristics of the target audience and the web site’s application of information behavior models, cognitive and learning styles, design principles and environmental factors, I evaluated the ICDL web site’s success in meeting user needs. This blog represents a summary of my findings.
The ICDL is designed primarily for children approximately ages 3 to 13, but also serves the parents, teachers and librarians who seek to provide reading material for these children. Individuals of any age who are conducting research in the area of children’s literature or are learning a new language may also benefit from the ICDL’s multilingual resources. Launched in November 2002, this information product provides an online forum for users to browse, search, read and write reviews for children’s books. The ICDL web site provides access to 3,887 children’s books in 53 different languages (ICDL Fast Facts). Over one million unique visitors have viewed the web site since its debut, including users from 166 different countries (ICDL Fast Facts). The variety of the ICDL collection fosters appreciation for cultural diversity and development of a global perspective. The multitude of languages and cultures represented in the ICDL collection allows readers of almost any cultural or ethnic background to feel a sense of membership and of sharing a common world (Trace 2008, 1542) with other users of this resource.
Information Behavior Models:
The ICDL web site particularly appeals to users whose information behavior maps to the models described by Marcia Bates, David Ellis, Robert Taylor and Sanda Erdelez. Berrypicking; Starting, Chaining, Browsing, Differentiating, Monitoring and Extracting; Information Retrieval Filters; and Information Encountering are all evident within the ICDL design.
Learning, Thinking and Cognitive Styles Best Served:
The ICDL makes an exemplary effort of accommodating the variety of its users’ learning and cognitive styles. The concept of cognitive style refers to “a person’s typical or habitual mode of problem solving, thinking, perceiving and remembering” (Riding and Cheema 1991). The ICDL best serves visualizers, verbalizers, reflective and impulsive users, convergent and divergent thinkers, holist and serialist thinkers, analytics, abstract sequential learners, abstract random learners, concrete sequential learners, concrete random learners, field dependent and independent users, and all types of thinkers identified by Li-fang Zhang and Robert Sternberg.
The ICDL web site is a fun, vibrant information resource for children and the adults who work with them. The content, organization and design of the ICDL web site exhibit a remarkable amount of consideration for the needs of diverse users with a wide variety of cognitive and physical preferences and abilities. Nonetheless, a few improvements could significantly enhance the accessibility and utility of this resource.
1. Provide Audio Format for All Books in the ICDL Collection
Offering an audio version of each book in the ICDL collection would enhance accessibility for users with auditory perceptual modality preferences (Keefe 1987, 8 ) or with visual disabilities. An audio format for content would reinforce the experience for linguistic learners who learn best by saying, seeing and hearing words (Learning Disabilities Resource Community 2002) and verbal learners who absorb information more easily when it is presented in written and spoken format (Felder and Soloman n.d.). Users who are learning to read a given language can access information in that language by having it read to them, even when no fluent speakers of that language are physically present to assist them. An audio component would also assist users with disabilities like dyslexia and aphasia, who often have difficulty reading. Users could choose to have the book read aloud in its entirety or page by page by clicking an audio button located either on the About This Book page or on the book page-viewing screen. Including a pictorial representation of an ear or speaker on the button would express the purpose of this feature to visualizers (Riding and Cheema 1991), and listing the words “hear it” beneath would clarify the purpose for users with limited literacy skills. The ICDL currently offers audio content for only five books. This burgeoning effort is applauded and should be expanded to include the entire collection.
2. Provide Video Format for All Books in the ICDL Collection
A video component would enhance accessibility for users with visual and interpersonal preferences as well as users with both literacy and auditory limitations. Making a video recording of a child reading the selected book aloud while another child or adult interprets the words in sign language would allow deaf users with low literacy skills to enjoy the books in the ICDL collection. The visual stimulus of seeing other people engaged in reading books from the collection will also appeal to users with external or interpersonal learning styles, who are only minimally served through this resource at present. If the user clicks the video icon, a small video window would appear in the bottom corner of the screen while the remainder of the screen would display the page currently being read. Additionally, highlighting each word as it is read or signed would help children identify the sound of or sign for the word with its textual representation. Currently the web site only provides four video clips about the creation and design of the ICDL.
Of course, audio and video enhancements may be cost prohibitive. Perhaps students working towards a degree in deaf education or an interpreter’s license could be recruited for video production with the incentive of receiving credit towards their degrees. Audio and video applications should not be designed to play automatically as this would slow the time required for pages to load. Users should be able to select these features by clicking a button or opt to not use these applications. ICDL could utilize plug-ins such as RealPlayer or Windows Media Player to provide these features.
3. Provide Textual Content for All Books in More Languages
While the ICDL makes an exemplary effort to provide some information services in a wide array of languages, many books in the ICDL collection are only available in one language. The ICDL’s presence on the Internet makes it internationally accessible to users, most of which only speak one or two languages fluently. Offering all ICDL books in multiple languages would expand access to users not comfortable or fluent in a book’s original language of publication. However, translating each book would require ICDL staff to secure permission from each author and/or publisher, which may be difficult if not impossible in some instances. The ICDL currently has several books with text available in more than one language, although the majority of books are only available in one language. While current progress is commendable, efforts should be continued to provide all web site and collection content in as many languages as possible.
4. Provide Search Box in Consistent Location on All Web Site Pages
The ICDL does not provide a search box on all web site pages. The search box tool is very familiar to users with even a basic level of Internet experience. Keyword searching will appeal to verbalizers and help to orient them within an exceedingly image-rich web site. Providing access to this tool on every page within the ICDL web site will enhance site navigation and searching capabilities. The search box provides another means by which users can recover from navigational errors and allows users to locate desired content regardless of memorability issues. Placing the search box in one consistent location on each page will enhance the learnability of the web site.
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