The Digital Landscape for Children
Today children expect to find computers in libraries as much as they expect to find books (Douglas, 2002; Meyers, 1999; McIntyre, 2002; Hughes-Hassell & Miller, 2003). Young people assume it is normal to have access in their homes and schools to digital materials from such places as the U.S. Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and their local public libraries. For school projects, home entertainment, and social experiences, children access and use digital tools and information as a critical part of their lives. Various studies show that young people (ages three to thirteen) have an extremely positive view of new technologies and believe that these digital tools can help them in defining their personal and cultural identities (Media Awareness Network 2000; Howe & Strauss, 2000; Manuel, 2002; Soloway, 1991; Walter, 2001). Children can better understand who they are in their increasingly complex multicultural world through the use of Internet resources (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Raseroka, 2003). Children can also be alerted to potential safety hazards (for example, violent crimes, environmental health hazards, Internet porn) through the use of technology (Walter, 2001, 2003). In addition, new digital information resources can foster learning that can challenge traditional educational structures and processes for children (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999; Neuman, 2003; Walter, 2001).
Today's digital landscape can also be problematic for young people. Children see the world differently than adults; they have very different needs for technology and are quite diverse in their abilities, even in the age span of a few short years (Bilal 2002; Cooper, 2002; Moore & St. George, 1991; Siegler, 1998). Unfortunately, it is common that many new technologies do not take children's specialized needs into consideration, and therefore the access and use of digital materials can be challenging for [End Page 173] children (Druin, 2002). While there is an emerging and growing area of research that addresses these information science and technology issues for children, this work is still relatively new.
In 1997 a seminal issue of Library Trends was published that focused on "Children and the Digital Library" (Jacobson, 1997). At that time the Web was only four years old. A majority of public libraries and schools did not have access to the Internet, and the notion that children can contribute to the development of digital services was far from being discussed. Today things have changed. Online access for children has become commonplace, and researchers in various disciplines are interested in how children can contribute to designing future new technologies and new forms of libraries (Bilal, 2002; Large, Beheshti, & Rahman, 2002; Druin, 2002).
In This Issue
Based upon today's digital landscape, four questions are examined throughout the articles in this issue:
• How do new digital tools and materials impact children as information seekers, learners, and creators of their own digital experiences?
• How are the environments of children (for example, in homes, public spaces, school and public libraries) impacted by digital resources now available?
• How are children involved in changing new technologies, and what can be learned from these experiences?
• What new technologies are being developed, and how can these be used as building-blocks for future research?
In this issue some articles address many of the questions stated above, while other articles focus on one specific question more deeply. The articles' authors are many of the leading researchers in this growing yet still small field concerning children. Their work falls into two broad areas: issues concerning children's information access, and children's use of digital materials. All too often researchers consider just one aspect, yet children themselves are most interested in access issues when information use is possible (Druin et al., 2001). Therefore, this issue reflects the interests of children and offers both perspectives.
The first four articles focus on children's access to digital resources through information seeking in general or virtual reference experiences in particular. Eliza Dresang from Florida State University begins this issue by giving an overview of "The Information-Seeking Behavior of Youth in the Digital Environment." She uses the theory of "Radical Change" to discuss the challenges young people have in information seeking along with issues concerned with gender and the use of...