Public Libraries Corner: Stories from the Web
Background to the Project
Children's libraries have always had a crucial role in the educational development of children. However, they are now potentially in danger of appearing outmoded and potentially irrelevant to their readers. Leisure and some home-environments are becoming technology-rich: libraries may appear 'dull' in comparison. Increasingly children's libraries are going to be dealing with readers who will be familiar with and could want to use networked computers. Children's libraries need to begin to explore how they can integrate this technology into their traditional literature and literacy services if they are to remain current.
In issue six of Ariadne  I described the Treasure Island Web site  which UKOLN had developed. This site was an experiment by UKOLN to explore, on a very small scale, one possible way in which libraries could manage this integration. As an experiment it was very successful with the site being heavily used and winning a number of 'site of the week' awards from prestigious educational Web sites around the world. Its success encouraged UKOLN to begin to develop a full-scale project which would evolve a transferable service model for the integration of the Internet into children's library services.
In early 1996 UKOLN became partners with the library services of Birmingham , Bristol and Leeds  in developing such a children's project. Over the course of the rest of the year the project partners developed a detailed proposal for a project called 'Stories From the Web'. This proposal was submitted to the British Library Research and Innovation Centre (BLRIC)  in January 1997 as part of the centre's Digital Library Research Programme call . The proposal was accepted by BLRIC and the project is due to begin in autumn 1997. It will run for two years and will be managed on a daily basis by a specially recruited project officer. The project is being headed by Birmingham City Libraries and the project officer will be based at the Centre for the Child in Birmingham.
What is Stories from the Web?
Stories from the Web aims to explore how children's libraries can stimulate the imagination of children and encourage them to explore, read and enjoy stories in a geographically distributed, collaborative network environment. This will be achieved through the development of a service model and technical framework for the use of the Internet in children's libraries. The project will use networking technology such as the WWW, E-mail and real-time communication tools to allow children in the three partner libraries to explore stories, communicate and work with each other and interact with both authors and publishers. It is aimed at children between the ages of 8-11. The three main components of the project will be
- the Web site
- computer clubs
- interactive events
The Web site
The Web site will be at the heart of the project and will be initially hosted on the UKOLN server. It will consist of pages which will allow children to explore literature in an Internet environment. Firstly, there will be a set of pages based around an existing piece of children's literature. Secondly, there will be a set of pages based around a short story which has been written specifically for the project. This, hopefully, will be written by a well-known children's author. Finally, there will be an interactive story which will either be written as the project proceeds through a process of feedback from the children to the author and publisher or a version of the same story will be written by children in parallel to the author's.
In order to allow the children to interact with these Web pages and encourage them to explore the stories more fully they will have the opportunity to comment on the stories. Children will be encouraged to e-mail comments and reviews by a bulletin board on all the stories and also respond to other children's comments. They would be given the opportunity to write their own Web pages and consequently mount their own reviews, opinions and home pages on the Web. In this way they both explore the literature and also develop electronic literacy skills such as using e-mail and writing WWW pages.
Children will also be encouraged to e-mail their comments and reviews to publishers allowing an unique opportunity for direct contact between publisher and reader. Publishers would also be encouraged to provide links to their own Web pages from the project's Web site. The project will monitor this relationship and explore the feasibility of the library acting as a mediator/connection point in such a way.
The Computer Clubs
Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds will run their own computer club. Through these clubs children will be guided through the project and access will be managed. Statistics will be kept about their success and attendance as the programme of work develops. The children will be encouraged to enter comments into a logbook at the end of each club session detailing what they have learnt or achieved each week. At the end of the project these logs will provide a unique record of the development of the project through the eyes of those who have taken part in it. These clubs will meet once a week for approximately two hours. Each library will have up to three of these clubs in place meeting on different days of the week. These clubs will be managed and organised by staff and special sessional workers at each library.
By developing a programme of interactive author events the children and the library will be able to explore the manner in which networking technology makes not only resources but also people more accessible. These events will typically consists of a question and answer session taking place over the Internet in real time through the means of facilities such as Internet Relay Chat or a MOO. (These are both Internet facilities which allow communication to take place in real time involving a large number of people). Events of this kind will only take place with children involved in the computer clubs so that they can be more easily organised and managed.
The impact of the project on the children involved, their parents and the libraries involved (e.g. on their staff's skills, morale and the way in which the library is perceived by its users, local media and funding council) will also be recorded. This will done through the use of focus group interviews at the beginning, middle and end of the project. Particular attention will be paid to female staff and their reception and use of the Information Technology. (Mentions of the project in the local and national media and in council meetings will also be recorded). The number of books each child involved in the computer clubs borrows will be monitored in order to assess how the project has impacted on their reading habits.
The project will provide an extensive body of information on how children's libraries can make use of networked computers in their services. The main two deliverables will be a working service model including a technical framework and a British Library research report detailing the findings of the project.
Another major deliverable of the project will be the project's Web site. This will be openly available to anyone and other libraries will be able to make use of its resources. The only online resources that are likely to be restricted to use by the project partners only will be the online interactive sessions with authors and publishers.
Through out the lifetime of the project articles and papers will be produced by the project officer and will be made available through professional literature and events. This material will also be made available on the project's Web site.
Stories from the Web is an exciting and potentially high profile project which will help develop children's library services of the future. It will be an excellent example of geographically dispersed public librarians co-operating together. Already it has generated a lot of interest in the public library sector and this is indicative of both the imaginative nature of the project and its potential importance for future library services.
 British Library Digital Library Research Programme,
Public Libraries Officer,