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CHILIAS stands for: children's library - information - animation - skills. CHILIAS explores new Internet/WWW based children's and school library services for children aged 9-12 years.
"On crossroads of information and culture" is the theme of the IFLA conference. The main challenge of the changing information and media society is not access to information, but the processing of information into useful knowledge and inspiring wisdom. Libraries have a responsibility to enable their users to find their way through the complexity of the new information world and support new ways of learning based on new technology. There are many ways for libraries to meet the challenges of the future and to serve the changing needs of their users.
The project CHILIAS has addressed the needs and requirements of children aged 9-12 years using interactive multimedia and networked information and communication systems.
Children grow up in the changing media world. They are used to computers and multimedia technology. They enjoy the technology as a kind of new tool for playing. But they need support in developing their information skills and new ways of learning. The Internet and multimedia give them new means for acquiring information and learning. These demand a corresponding range of new information-seeking and information-handling skills. Children's libraries and school libraries have traditionally provided a stimulating environment for learning. The traditional library model must be adapted to the networked multimedia environment bridging traditional media and library access and new technology in a creative way. The European project CHILIAS has explored a new role of children's libraries and school libraries providing a new Internet based service to enhance children's computer literacy and the creative use of new technology.
CHILIAS has developed four complementary and integrated applications in a WWW environment:
The Infoplanet invites children to browse through a collection of Web pages with creative and playful information. To symbolise the idea of a virtual library (information - knowledge - wisdom) several symbols could have been used. The CHILIAS project has started with a User Needs Analysis and children were asked to draw their ideas of a virtual place. Very often they used images from nature and space. So the CHILIAS consortium decided to use the space metaphor as a symbol for the virtual library. Beside the attraction of space, planets and stars for children, space symbolises the infinite human first for knowledge, might be the limits of knowledge and wisdom as well. Planets and stars can be an appropriate symbol for information. And they stand for exploration and adventure. This is the idea of the virtual library: to explore it. Children can browse through the cyberspace metaphor and click here and there. Or they can directly click to the topics provided in the main frame: the library, the author gallery, animals, music, sports, our town.
The Infoplanet has been created in six language versions. Although the idea and the general framework is common in all Infoplanets, content and materials are local because of the cultural diversity. All Infoplanets are linked together by flag symbols and a European map, so that children can easily browse through all language versions.
II.1.2 The topics
The Infoplanets provide common topics based on the results of the User Needs Analyses done at the beginning of the project. All sites have chosen local topics as well according to the needs of their users, e.g. environment in the Portuguese version. All topics are presented with graphics, images, sound and text. They provide relevant information in a playful and stimulating way as a kind of appetiser raising children's curiosity to browse through the virtual library and then come to the real library and enjoy real books and media.
All Infoplanets provide information about the participating libraries, opening hours, library use, library events. In some Infoplanets, e.g. the English version, children can write emails to the library or participate in a homework service. Partly local OPACS are linked to the service.
II.1.2.2 Our Town
The Infoplanet provides information about the participating towns, Barcelona and Stuttgart, Athens and Lisboa, Gateshead and Vantaa. Children all over Europe can find children adequate information about the project sites, partly created by children themselves.
II.1.2.3 Music, Animals and Sports
The Infoplanets provide information about topics like music, animals and sports, topics children are most interested in as the User Needs Analysis has shown. The information are different in all versions. New books or CDs are presented or detailed pages about music instruments in the Finnish version or about animals in the Portuguese version.
All Infoplanets provide selected Internet links to other Web sites like homepages of Pop-Groups or Sportsclubs or pages about animals. So the Infoplanet is not only a collection of new Web pages for children, but a guide to children adequate Internet sites as well.
II.1.2.4 The Author Gallery
The core of the Infoplanet is the Author Gallery. All sites provide information about children's book authors, about their life, their books and where to find the books in the library.
Within the term of the project the Author Gallery has been representative in scale, but it will grow beyond the lifetime of the project, as all sites plan to maintain the service.
The Author Gallery has been created in close collaboration with the authors themselves. They have provided lots of materials and information, written new stories or songs for the Infoplanet. The new collaboration between authors and the libraries has been one of the most exciting experiences in the project.
Children enjoy the Author Gallery, they like to explore the pages and sometimes they go to the library shelves to get one of the real books. This bridge between the virtual world and the real library is one of the CHILIAS objectives.
As the first tests with children user groups have shown that children are not used to Internet browsers and easily get lost, Infoplanet includes a help function explaining basic navigation skills on the Internet. But CHILIAS validation has proved that children are not very eager to use help functions. They prefer to explore the use of multimedia applications by just clicking and testing what happens. So the application itself has to be self-explaining, otherwise children loose their patience. The Infoplanet contains a search function for Infoplanet content. But again validation has shown that children prefer exploring the Infoplanet and do not often use it for detailed search. The search function can support adults like parents or teachers who are interested in a specific information.
"The dark, dark contest" is a beginning of a story written by a Greek author for CHILIAS. Children all over Europe can finish the story. The story is written in English. The objective of this part of the storybuilder is to explore the potentiality of common activities between European children in spite of the language difficulties.
The project explores the use of the Guestbook for European communication as well. Although the language skills of the target age group set limits to European communication, there are many children in all sites with a multicultural background. So the Guestbook can contribute to multicultural European communication.
Infoplanet has enhanced the attractiveness of the real library. Testing the Infoplanet in real library use the CHILIAS consortium has observed that many children come to the library because of the Infoplanet. And they normally leave the library with some books. So Infoplanet can support the bridge between traditional and new media.
But the learning impact of CHILIAS is more than using the application. CHILIAS has been a user-oriented project involving the end-user group children in the project development from the first steps. Children have participated in designing the virtual library and in generating content for the virtual library. Lots of the Infoplanet Web pages have been written by children. The children's library in Stuttgart has created the „Internet-Reporter", library workshops for children to create Web pages. Guided by the librarians, children have designed their own Web-pages on selected topics. And by doing this they have learned how the Internet works and enhanced their computer literacy and their information-handling skills.
In all sites school classes have been involved in the designing process. Teachers and students have been motivated by the libraries to contribute to the Infoplanet.
Stories have been written by children. Children have contributed drawings to the topics, they have created new presentation of books for the Infoplanet, they have presented their town or their country with photos they have taken and information they have written.
And it has been the library providing the facility for digitising the materials and teaching children how to do it. This process of involving children in developing Web pages for the Infoplanet is a crucial impact on a new role of children's libraries and school libraries and on creating the library as a new learning environment.
CHILIAS can encourage children's libraries and school libraries to integrate the Internet in their service and to create their own ideas for Internet based work with children.
There might be libraries in Europe which are interested in creating their own virtual library.
So the CHILIAS consortium is developing a commercial exploitation strategy enabling those libraries to use parts of the CHILIAS developments on the base of licensing. This can be the shell, the graphics, the software tools for storybuilder, guestbook and Infoton. The license will include the right of translation for libraries in countries which have not been involved in the project. Offline versions of storybuilder and guestbook are in consideration.
CHILIAS can contribute to exchange of ideas across European boundaries and to European understanding. With its six language versions it can support children's language skills and address the challenges of the multicultural society as children in all countries can easily access information about other countries.
Chilias has enhanced the availability and accessibility of children's library services in the participating European libraries. The project has supported children of the target age group to learn about new technology. CHILIAS is only one path on the road to the future role of children's libraries and school libraries in the information society. CHILIAS can encourage libraries to create new multimedia based services and to cope with the challenges of the future.
CHILIAS has established new collaborations across Europe. Teachers and schools have perceived the libraries as relevant partners in the new multimedia area.
CHILIAS has developed new relations to authors and publishers providing them a platform on the Internet. In all sites lots of institutions have been involved in the developing process, library colleges and sports clubs, youth associations and media experts.
CHILIAS has significantly raised the profile of the participating libraries and increased their value and attractiveness in their local communities and in the public.
And again this expertise can encourage children's libraries and school libraries in Europe to prove their position as "signpost on the new cross-roads of information and culture".
And last not least the collaboration between the CHILIAS consortium has been a contribution to European understanding.
CHILIAS will be followed by a new European project, VERITY - Virtual and Electronic Resources for Information skills Training for Young people. Under coordination of University of Sunderland, Great Britain, VERITY has started in April 1998. VERITY will develop a new electronic library service aiming at the needs of young people between 13 and 19 years with a Virtual Librarian, a Referral Service and an information skills package for the target age group.