By Suzanne Singh
Over the last decade, as a non-profit publisher of children’s books in multiple Indian languages, Pratham Books had created inexpensive, but high-quality storybooks and distributed them to schools and libraries all over India. We had reached millions of children, but still had a long way to go to reach every child. A question that we often asked ourselves was, “How do we create access to joyful reading material for all the 300 million children of India, to learn and practice reading?”
The challenge was to massively scale the creation of content for a highly multi-lingual and multi-cultural country.
In 2008, we came across the Creative Commons philosophy and fell in love with this open, flexible model immediately. We saw it as an opportunity to provide universal access in a way that would serve our mission of “a book in every child’s hand.”
So we did something unusual: we released a few of our books under the Creative Commons license. We used the most permissive version of the license for all stories and illustrations, CC-BY. This license lets you distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon our work, even commercially, as long as you credit us (Pratham Books), and the original author, illustrator and translator, for the original creation.
The results were nothing short of stupendous. Our books found new life in several languages. They took on completely different forms like audio stories, Braille books, YouTube videos and digital apps. If we follow a single story released under the Creative Commons license, we would discover that it had spun off several new derivatives and multiplied its reach many times over. A group of Sanskrit enthusiasts translated and printed several of our books for use in their program to promote the learning of the language. An organization that had set up libraries in Ladakh, translated and printed a book set in the region and made it available to kids. We even spotted a few of our books (that we had made available for free) for sale as ebooks on Amazon and Nook!
Over the years, we have been able to license our content to multiple organizations and individuals, both known and unknown, with a one-time effort of releasing them under a Creative Commons license, as opposed to the traditional model that involved time-consuming negotiations and discussions with each organization or individual who wanted to use our content.
StoryWeaver is Born
This formed the seed of an idea we now know as StoryWeaver. StoryWeaver is a open-source repository of multilingual stories for children. Apart from being able to read, download and print all these stories, we have also embedded some tools for content creation to enable people to repurpose the content into more languages and versions. Users can translate a story in a language of their choice or create a story from an image bank of over 2,000 images. The goal is to bring together content users and content creators to create a participatory culture that will catalyze the creation of more content. StoryWeaver brings together publishers, educators, parents and children on the platform and allows educators to adapt the stories to make versions that are locally relevant.
Pratham Books will, of course, continue to populate the platform with new content on an ongoing basis. We hope that other publishers will also consider releasing some of their content on StoryWeaver. It will breathe life into publisher backlists and benefit millions of children around the world.
StoryWeaver can be accessed on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones, and the content is in digitally compliant formats. The text is entirely in Unicode, which can be rendered on any device without any special software and the work can be transported across devices easily. The stories are available in different resolutions and formats to optimize download and use.
The early response to StoryWeaver has been nothing short of spectacular. We launched the platform on September 8, 2015 — International Literacy Day — with 800 stories in 26 languages. In 10 weeks, the stories have been read over 80,000 times. Our lead launch story was “It’s all the Cat’s Fault” written by Anushka Ravishankar in English. To date, the story has been read 6,300 times and has been translated by the StoryWeaver community 26 times in 16 languages. This a great validation of what can be achieved when you bring together openly licensed content and a vibrant community on a common platform and work towards fulfilling a societal mission.
StoryWeaver has opened up a stream of collaborations with organizations, both in India and globally. It is providing content to platforms like African Storybook Project, Bloom Library and Worldreader. Stories from the platform are being projected on walls and accessed on tablets by teachers in schools and NGOs. Educators create flashcards from the available images, and resource teams create reading comprehension modules based on the stories. From Pearson in Tanzania to teachers in Vietnam; from a social enterprise in Mumbai creating local language apps to a non-profit organization creating audio and Braille books; from the WiderNet project that is distributing digital content to areas that lack internet access to teachers in India developing early literacy content; we are seeing a wide range of users adapt the content on StoryWeaver for their requirements.
We hope that with StoryWeaver, we have opened up a new pathway to nurture a generation of readers. We also hope that more organizations engaged in improving literacy can use our content easily and flexibly. Imagine a story written in English being translated into Bhoti, being read by children in Kashmir; imagine the same illustrations being used by a teacher in Ghana to retell the story and for a child in a village in Assam to get the book in Assamese, printed and distributed by a local non profit organization. The possibilities are endless. We believe that the joy of reading is the greatest gift of all. So we’re giving it to the children of India and the world. Not just for now, but for the future.
Suzanne Singh is the Chairperson of Pratham Books, a not-for-profit children’s book publisher based in India. Its mission is to see “a book in every child’s hand’ and democratize access to reading resources. Over the last 11 years, Pratham Books has created a new model in publishing that has made millions of books available in print and digital formats for children in 29 languages.