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.


The GDL launch on April 26 2018

The GDL platform was launched on April 26 2018, with an initial total of 900 resources in 15 languages, including Kiswahili (Kenyan), Bangla, Hausa and 7 Ethiopian languages. The launch itself was a success, with various stakeholders showing great excitement around all the opportunities the GDL can represent in Ethiopia and elsewhere. The launch was planned and executed with the help from USAID Ethiopia and UNESCO-IICBA.

The GDL team is currently planning user testing in Kenya and Bangladesh in July and workshops in Cambodia in September 2018, in conjunction with/or leading up to World Literacy Day on September 8. 

The design of the GDL has been based on a “mobile first” principle. At the time of the launch, the GDL platform included a website and a native app for Android, providing users with the option of:

  • Reading the titles on their mobile, tablet or computer
  • Downloading for print
  • Downloading the mobile app, providing the user with extended offline capabilities   
  • Translating titles into more than 300 languages

Quality assurance (QA) standards

The GDL team has developed quality assurance (QA) standards for different content categories, in close cooperation with reading experts from USAID, GPE and URC. The standards have been approved by the GBA Steering Committee. These QA standards serve as minimum criteria for the acceptance or rejection of various types of reading books submitted for upload to the GDL. In terms of responsibility for verifying that content quality is in accordance with these standards, URC has the lead on this for Classroom resources, whereas the GDL-team organizes this for Library resources.

Pictures from the Launch in Addis Ababa

Accessibility at the core of the GDL platform

The GDL project will follow the principles of universal design and accessibility and will have a strong focus on making all content generally accessible, including for those with print disabilities, i.e. blindness or low vision, severe dyslexia, or mobility impairment.

Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. GDL will follow these guidelines to secure that the content is accessible for all users. By following these guidelines one will also often make the web content more usable in general.

The GDL platform is compliant to all WCAG 2.0 AA requirements and more than 15 of the AAA requirements.

Some of the titles that are part of the initial launch will not be WCAG 2.0 AA compliant, mostly because they lack alt-text for the pictures and illustrations.

User testing for accessibility

Successful digital initiatives are rooted in an understanding of user characteristics, needs, and challenges. User-centered design — also referred to as design thinking or human-centered design — starts with getting to know the people you are designing for through conversation, observation, and co-creation. Ensuring that our services are accessible for all has been an important part of the GDL project and we have engaged with users that have vision impairment.

Accessibility guidelines

All digital content shall conform to common accessibility guidelines (e.g. EPUB Accessibility 1.0EPUB 3 Accessibility Guidelines, and Top Tips for Creating Accessible EPUB3 Files)


GDL event at UNESCO Mobile Learning Week in Paris on March 27th

The workshop is co-organized by The Norwegian Agency and for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Global Book Alliance on March 27th, 2018 from 14:00-15:30 pm in Room 9 and will take place during the Mobile Learning Week (MLW) at UNESCO, Paris, France.

The GDL is now in its final stage of development and user testing before it will be launched in late April. At the time of launch, the Library will hold reading resources in approximately 10 languages, whereas by the end of 2020 this will have been expanded to more than 100 languages. The GDL will also facilitate translation and localization of these resources to more than 300 languages. All resources available on the GDL will have been quality assured in accordance with quality standards set by the Global Book Alliance.


In this workshop, we will give an introduction to the project, a live demo of the platform, and we will go through GDL content categories and quality assurance standards. 


Agenda for the workshop: 

  • Introduction to the Global Book Alliance, Brooke Estes 
  • Introduction to the Global Digital Library, Liv Marte Nordhaug 
  • Demo of GDL web and native app, Christer Gundersen 
  • Demo of translation and localization features, Christer Gundersen 
  • Panel discussion with collaborating partners:
    • Asia Foundation, Kyle Barker 
    • Learning Equality 

If you are attending the conference, we are looking forward to seeing you at our workshop. Please confirm your participation by 17th March 2018, by filling out the registration form