Launching sign languages on the Global Digital Library

The world has made an extraordinary commitment to literacy: by 2030, all children and youth should be able to read. Books are essential tools for learning, but many millions of children around the world lack adequate access to them. Pursuing literacy without books – whether digital or print – is like trying to eradicate disease without vaccines. 

Without reading materials in a language they use and understand, children struggle to master basic literacy, setting them behind. For the millions of children and youth with disabilities, many books remain inaccessible, due to the book creation process and the lack of books in relevant formats. 

The Global Book Alliance, the world’s only partnership of donor agencies and implementing NGOs with a primary mission of closing the book gap worldwide, is collaborating with the Global Digital Library to expand the accessibility of digital and print books for all.

The GDL, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Norad, is redoubling its efforts to ensure that the open-source platform is accessible for all users. The GDL promotes the use of a “born accessible” philosophy, to encourage authors and content creators to take accessibility into account from the beginning of the book creation process. 

But, in many cases, the GDL also receives content that was not “born accessible,” and then works to adapt that content so that all learners, including those who are deaf or blind, can benefit from the library’s resources.

For deaf children developing reading skills, books supported with sign language video are an essential learning tool to bridge between language acquisition and literacy skills development.  

The GBA, the GDL, and the All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development consortium are pleased to announce two sign languages on the Global Digital Library, to support deaf students’ access to GDL resources: 

Additional sign language adaptations, as well as other accessibility options, will continue to be developed and added to the GDL. 

Only through open licensing and completely accessible book formats can we truly create a world where there are books for all. 

Learn more on the Global Digital Library.

Launching the GDL print repository

The Global Book Alliance (GBA) and the Global Digital Library (GDL) envision a future in which a robust local publishing industry supports the needs of even the most underserved children.  Books in both print and digital formats are critical to increase the supply of available and accessible readers for all children globally.  

An effective supply of books requires high-quality title development in languages and formats children can use and understand, access to those titles by printers and publishers, and a functioning supply chain to deliver books to their potential readers.

500 files in 23 Languages

The GDL print repository offers more than 500 files in 23 languages at the time of the launch in March 2020. This includes a number of languages in Africa and Asia, in addition to our bridge language, English. The titles include various contributions from  partners, including government approved books for educational use — “classroom books” — and all other books that the GDL defines as “library books”.

License and file format

All the books in the repository allow for re-use and translation, and more than 90% of the titles allow commercial re-use. The most common licences are CC-BY and CC-BY-SA, but there are also titles with CC-BY-NC-SAIt is essential to check the license on every title before reusing

The books are shared as they were delivered from our partners in either PDF or InDesign file format. In most cases, they need to be altered to fit technical requirements before printing locally but include all necessary information to print a physical version of the book, including front and back cover, illustrations, and story content

Content developers

GDL-content is currently being provided by the following initiatives and organizations; BookdashAsia Foundation’s Let’s ReadStoryweaverAfrican Storybook ProjectUSAID missions, All Children Reading: a Grand Challenge for Development, URC and the Global Reading Network.

Testing of H5P on the GDL

We are currently in the last stages of testing H5P as our tool to create mini-games and interactive content on the GDL. H5P makes it easy to create interactive content by providing a range of content types for various needs.

The GDL team is preparing to launch 5-7 H5P content types on the GDL platform in the first quarter of 2020.

You can also create interactive content by adding the H5P plugin to your WordPress, Moodle or Drupal site, or integrate it via LTI with Canvas, Brightspace, Blackboard and many other VLE’s that supports LTI integration.

For us at the Global Digital Library this is important because it will enable our users to take content from the GDL and start re-mixing on their own platforms.

The first rounds of testing were conducted in schools in Kenya and Nepal. We are currently planning the next rounds of testing in Cambodia. One of the great things with H5P is that one can test content types in different implementations without any technical programming or installation. If one content type does not work, just create a new element using a different content type.

Our most important finding from these first initial two countries is that H5P works really well to engage children that are just starting out as digital users and for children that are looking to mix reading with play and interactive content.

The focus of our testing has been:

  • to find H5P content types that could serve as interactive elements for early grade reading
  • find content types and implementations of these that work well on mobile, as well as tablets
  • work with content types that are easy to translate into new languages

In the following paragraphs, you can see examples and prototypes that we have tested, including 8 different content types.

Column and Course Presentation

The column content type allows users to add multiple-choice, fill in the blanks, texts and other types of interactions and group them in a column layout.

Column works really well on smaller screens and supports many subtypes of interactive elements within the same “user-flow”. Compared to the content type Course Presentation it presents content more responsive and device-agnostic.

The column content type we think can be central to our further work with interactive stories on the GDL while the Course presentation content type is not working well enough on smaller screens.

Examples of prototypes that we have tested:


An interactive HTML5-based flashcards content type lets you create a set of stylish and intuitive flashcards that have images paired with questions and answers.

This content type really inspires the children as an interactive element after reading a book, giving the child instant feedback on words central to the story they just read about.

Flashcards play well on smaller screens and will be used “as is” when we go live with H5P on the GDL.

Examples of prototypes that we have tested:

Memory game

The memory game content type allows authors to add their own images (and optional text) to a memory game. To play the game, users search for image pairs, which will display a specified text message once a matching pair has been found.

For smaller children that are just starting to use digital devices, this content type has been excellent as a training exercise.

Examples of prototypes that we have tested:

Branching scenario

We have experimented with this content type in user settings where the book or the story is presented as a video. The idea has been to add small quiz questions after the story to let the assess the child’s comprehension.

Branching scenario is not 100% mobile-friendly but will work on larger mobile screens.

Examples of prototypes that we have tested:

Experimentation with additional content types

We have also experimented with some additional content types that we will work more on before the next test in February 2020:

Exciting New Partnership with Google to Build Reading Skills

Literacy for all children worldwide is about to become one step closer to reality. In support of the Global Book Alliance, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Government of Norway through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), and Google are joining forces to improve child literacy by making high-quality early grade reading resources available digitally, along with targeted reading support.

The two-year partnership pairs Google’s free Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered, speech-based, offline literacy application – Bolo – with the Global Digital Library (GDL), a flagship initiative of the GBA, which offers high-quality, openly licensed materials.

Google will partner with the GBA and the GDL to increase the number of books and languages available for use within Bolo. By incorporating high-quality books from the GDL, Google will enhance these reading resources through Bolo’s AI-powered reading support. This combination of open source content from the GDL with Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech technology will provide more children with the opportunity to learn to read in a language they use and understand.

The Bolo app is a personalized tutor that encourages children to read aloud while providing positive reinforcement when a child reads correctly and support when a child does not. Bolo can even work offline and is ad-free so children can focus on reading. It helps children read on their own, choosing  from a large variety of engaging stories on the GDL, play interesting word games, and earn in-app awards, so learning to read becomes both fun and habitual. Multiple children can use the same app and track their progress separately. In time, the difficulty level of recommended stories adjusts to each child’s reading skills.

The GDL will collaborate with the Bolo app to increase access for children struggling to read by themselves. The GDL provides an open-source library for schools and school systems, donor agencies and their partners, publishers, digital distributors and content providers, parents and children, it offers access to thousands of high-quality titles which can be read online, on mobile phones, or in print. By the end of 2020, the GDL will house reading resources in over 100 languages sourced directly from a network of international education partners.

Another incredible component of the GDL is that an individual can translate an existing book into a new language in as little as an hour. Users can adapt books that are available on the library through translation and localization into one of 300 languages supported by the platform. The GDL is also working towards reaching underserved languages.

In the ultimate win-win, the partnership with Google, USAID, and Norad extends the reach of the Bolo app, the GDL, the GBA, and the potential for countless children to learn in an effective, efficient, and fun way. Because of the power of partnership, literacy for all is now one step closer.

First sneak peek of sign language support on the GDL

This is the first public demonstration of the GDL prototype, showing how sign language books and stories will be presented on the GDL platform. The tutorial shows how the original books look before we import them, and then how they’re represented on the GDL platform.

The concept is developed based on the idea that sign language stories have the exact same navigation and reading experience as any other language on the platform.

Under the video, there is a short transcript from the video.

Transcript of the video:

In this tutorial, I’m going to cover some of the new features on the GDL focused on providing sign language as an option on our platform. 

In this case, you will see sign language video as part of the book based on an original story with pictures on each page. These pictures have been replaced with sign language with the picture and the green screen in the background on each page. 

Some of the keywords on the page provides an option of clicking on them and you go onto the glossary where you can have thee word spelt and isolated. 

You can go back to the original page and I can keep reading. 

On the GDL, sign language is will appear in the menu of languages. When you choose a sign language you will have the option of different types of titles. You can click on a book and it would look much like the book page for a book on the current version of the GDL. 

This would be very similar to any other books that you can see if you can get some facts about the book and you can see us on the GDL today.  

When you click “Read” you start reading to in the same way as the original title. 

We are thinking that we want the reading experience for sign language to be more or less the same, in terms of navigation as a book with pictures, and we think that we have been able to emulate the original EPUB files. 

We are looking forward to adding sign language to the GDL platform, and we are looking for even more content with sign language.

The Global Digital Library Indigenous language campaign 2019

Indigenous languages matter for social, economic and political development, peaceful coexistence and reconciliation in our societies. Yet many of them are in danger of disappearing. The United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages in order to encourage urgent action to preserve, revitalize and promote them.

In partnership with UNESCO, the Global Digital Library supports this effort as we work to increase the availability of high-quality reading resources in indigenous languages worldwide. 

The campaign has the following main goals:

  • Support the UN efforts of the International Year of indigenous languages 2019
  • Add more indigenous languages as translation target languages on the GDL platform
  • Encourage local communities to organize translation workshops to translate books into indigenous languages

The world’s indigenous languages foster and promote unique local cultures, customs and values which have endured for thousands of years and these languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.

However, despite their value, languages, especially indigenous languages, are continuing to disappear at an alarming rate due to a variety of factors. According to the Forum on Indigenous Issues, 40 per cent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world are in danger of disappearing. The fact that most of these are indigenous languages puts the cultures and knowledge systems to which they belong at risk.

The GDL indigenous language campaign

The Global Digital Library supports underserved and indigenous languages by collecting existing high quality open educational reading resources, and making them available on web, mobile and for print. The GDL platform also supports translation into more than 300 languages, a number that is growing every month. 

We want to support even more indigenous languages. If your local language is missing from the list of translation languages on the GDL, please fill out this form with basic information, and we will work to add your language if possible. 

We also want to encourage local communities to organize their own translation workshops with the GDL platform. The translation capabilities on the GDL platform is a great opportunity for local communities to translate new books into indigenous languages.

Languages play an essential role in the daily lives of all peoples. Through languages, people not only embed their history, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression but more importantly construct their future. Languages are pivotal in the areas of peacebuilding, human rights enhancement, education, research, innovation, protection of the environment, and sustainable development. 

Who can use the Global Digital Library?

The GDL is aimed at many different types of users and the platform will be open for everyone. Intended users include ministries of education, school managers, teachers, donor agencies and their implementing partners, international and national non-governmental organizations, local publishers, digital distributors and content providers, and households in developing countries.

Testing the use of Google Assistant to access the GDL

The last few days, the GDL team has been working on designing new features for the GDL with children in schools in Kibera (Nairobi), the largest urban slum in Africa. It has been a true privilege!

The goal of this iteration of testing has been:

  • Testing new games and interactive content
  • Re-testing navigation on our web app
  • Initial testing with kids that use Google assistant to access the GDL

The most important learning this week is that even a child living in a shed, without water and electricity can be an expert on a smartphone. Praise and Faith (10 years old) in this video showed us how they are using voice to read books with Google assistant.

Ok Google, can I talk to the GDL Library?

We are excited to announce that from today, you can access the GDL Library with Google Assistant, using only your voice to interact with the GDL. This is a totally new way for our users to access our platform, giving users the option of asking the assistant to search for books and read books aloud.

How does it work?

If you open your Google Assistant on your phone and say “GDL Library” in any sentence, you will start a conversation with the GDL. For example, you can say: “Can I speak to the GDL Library?”

The assistant can help you search for books and read them for you. For example:

  • To search for a book just name the topic of the book, for example, “dog” or “list books about dogs”.
  • If you want the assistant to read for you, simply use the word “read”. For example “read a book about dogs” or “please read the book Come Back, Cat!”. The assistant will read books out loud and show the illustrations for the relevant page on your screen.
  • You can also ask the Google Assistant to list books on level 1 -4.
  • To exit the conversation, simply say “Goodbye GDL”.

This is how it would look on your screen:

Integrating the GDL with AI and cognitive services

Over the last few months, the GDL team has been experimenting with AI, or more specifically, integrating the GDL platform with different AI and cognitive services. We are not ourselves developing AI components as this is not our primary focus as a project, but we are integrating the GDL and the open educational resources in our platform with AI components that offer APIs.

We are using AI only when it helps us reach our project goals, and in this initial phase, we think AI can help us reach new users on emerging platforms and enhance the quality of content and metadata.

In our prototyping we have started exploring:

Can I speak to the GDL?

The first real output from our work will be an integration with Google Voice Assistant to facilitate a simple conversation between the end-user and the GDL platform. This will allow users to ask the Google Assistant to read books, search for books and list books from different levels, only using their voice in a “conversation” with the GDL.

The GDL app on Google Assistant will be launched with support for English in the first release later this month.

Platform agnostic and vendor independent

The Global Digital Library is focusing on developing a platform that provides access to free, high-quality, early grade reading resources in languages that children use and understand. Our technical development is focused on creating a user-friendly system that requires little or no technical skills for users to access books and games on the platform.

For us, it is crucial that the GDL is platform and device agnostic in the sense that we create a service that will be accessible for any user on most common platforms and devices like smartphones, computers, wearables or tablets. Wearables are not in any way our focus, but more an example that we must create content today that we expect will be used on devices in the future that we have not yet seen in the market. We also work to ensure that the content and core reading experience from the GDL platform is provided totally vendor independent. 

In the GDL project, we do this by:

  • Developing the core part of our platform web(HTML), and not platform-dependent apps for iOS or Android
  • All content is accessible through APIs and an OPDS feed, allowing others to develop their own services with GDL content
  • Integrate with platforms like Google Assistant and Microsoft cognitive services without being locked to these platforms.

UNESCO Mobile Learning Week 4-8 March 2019

UNESCO Mobile Learning Week will take place on March 4-8, 2019 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
The event convenes education and technology experts from around the world. Some 1000 participants have already registered for the event that provides the educational community, governments and other stakeholders a unique opportunity to discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for sustainable development.

The Global Digital Library – prototyping new reading experiences with AI

The GDL project will host a workshop and speak at the conference. We are looking forward to seeing you all there.

Time: March 6, 16.30-18.00.

Place: Room 3 at the conference venue

In this workshop the Global Digital Library team will demonstrate how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to create new reading experiences, using Google Voice Assistant to facilitate a simple conversation between the end-user and the GDL platform.

The workshop will also include a live demo of the GDL platform and its localization capabilities, and participants will get the opportunity to test the translation of books on the platform.

The workshop will be organized in collaboration with the Global Book Alliance and All Children Reading. The Global Book Alliance (GBA) was created with the aim of ensuring that all children can access the books they need to learn to read by 2030. Alliance Steering Committee members include major global education stakeholders such as UNICEF, UNESCO, USAID, DFID, Norad and the World Bank.

Leading the charge to ensure greater access to reading materials is the GBA’s flagship initiative, the Global Digital Library (GDL). The GDL collects existing high quality open educational reading resources, and makes them available on web, mobile and for print. The GDL offers resources in 23 languages, and by end 2020 the platform will offer at least 100 languages. The GDL facilitates translation and localization of GDL-resources to more than 300 languages.

Agenda for the workshop:

  • Welcome, Liv Marte Nordhaug – Norad
  • Demo of the GDL platform, Christer Gundersen – GDL
  • Demo of translation
  • Workshop participants trying out translation into their languages.