Far from being a one-off project, Stories from the Web based at Birmingham Central Library looks set to be a model for libraries in the future. This research project, funded by the Library and Information Commission, has three key elements. There is a website, a partnership between the UK Office for Library and Information Networking and libraries in Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds and weekly Stories from the Web clubs in the three cities. The project will be researching the impact of technology on the children who use the club and on the staff who support them.
The website contains a wealth of stories, poems and interactive materials provided by publishers, authors, library staff and increasingly, by the children themselves. Children can read and write stories and poems as well as enter competitions using the website and software such as 1st Artist, I Can Write and Multimedia Textease.
John Dolan, head of the Central Library in Birmingham and project head, says: "Stories from the Web lets children explore the new technology for inspiration as well as information. They are building up the skill and excitement of talking directly with authors and publishers as well as with each other."
But what do the children think of it? When I went to the club, Kerpal from Birmingham library had read them extracts from Shoo Rayner's Ginger Ninja and they were looking at his website. The children kept returning to the games and activities on the site. They also emailed Shoo and at the end of the session several children borrowed his books.
One child goes online when she gets home to show her dad what she's done on the website. Parents have also been invited to attend a club as part of the Campaign for Learning's Family Learning Weekend and parent sessions are planned for the future.
Vivian Brown, whose son Jonathan attends the club, says: "Libraries have changed a lot. I remember the first time I went in to a library I was quite scared. The librarians kept telling us to be quiet but here the ids can move around and help themselves to books. Jonathan really enjoys it and it's amazing how much more they remember when they do things on the computer."
"Because the children often haven't used the Internet before and some of them haven't had much experience of using a keyboard or typing, the staff need good IT skills so that they can support the children in the clubs," says Lydia Matheson, the project co-ordinator. "The children particularly enjoy doing activities on the Internet such as online quizzes, creating their own stories, poems or characters, and emailing. We have to provide online and club-based activities to support the online stories and this is a new way of working for us."
Stories from the Web has discovered lots of children using the site individually from all over the world, and in September 1999 there were over 14,000 individual users in English speaking countries ranging from Tasmania to the US and Scotland. But are the lessons transferable from this project? Through the New Library Network all public libraries are expected to be linked to the Web by 2002 and this is going to raise all sorts of issues.
Mary Clark of the children's team at Bristol Central Library reports: "The staff are finding out a lot more about the Internet and our experiences are going to be logged as part of the project. I'd been on an Internet course, but it's not until you start using it as part of your daily work that you really get to grips with it."
Judith Chambers, learning support librarian in Leeds, has found the experience exciting. "Many librarians find themselves thrust into using technology without proper training and it can be daunting," she says. "Leeds does not have general online access for the general public as yet but we get lots of requests for it and if we don't do it soon we'll be left behind. This has been a steep learning curve but it's extended my knowledge and given me so much confidence."
Stories from the Webhttp:hosted.ukoln.ac.ukstories