Introduction

The use of the internet and other digital sources has exploded in recent years, and computer technology has proliferated in both schools and libraries. Recent studies show that youth are among the biggest users of the internet, and children are often thought to be experts who have to teach their parents how this technology works (Young). However, numerous studies show that, in fact, children are not very successful when using online public access catalogues, the internet, or other digital sources to find information. In a digital environment where the sheer volume of information available can be overwhelming, information literacy skills are more important than ever. Children must be able not only to navigate various interfaces, but also to critically evaluate and organize the information they find.

This paper will discuss how digital sources and interfaces for children should be designed and how these resources should be implemented in libraries. The first section provides a brief introduction into theories of child development and the information searching process in order to establish a framework for understanding children's information needs. The second section provides a broad overview of the research surrounding children's information needs and searching abilities, highlighting specific findings. The last section examines how these finding can be incorporated into product design and discusses the role of the librarian in incorporating digital reference services in a library setting. A list of useful websites for children is included in the appendix at the end of the paper.

In the context of this paper, digital references service will be defined as reference service that is provided either via electronic means (such as chat or email reference) or using electronic resources (for example, online public access catalogues (OPACs), electronic databases, CD-ROMs, or the internet). While the term "children" is not specifically defined, the focus of this paper is on students in elementary and junior high school.