Sunday, February 11, 2007

Library of Alexandria 2.0

The Microlibraries Project at the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning is off to a great start. They are figuring out how to format, print, cut and bind Gutenberg books in an attractive and cost-effective way. It's kind of like Brewster's Bookmobile -- except without the minivan. It turns out that for less than $2500 you can buy everything you need to print and bind paperback books. This has implications beyond the current goal of giving away 5000 books to elementary school students in rural northern Utah schools. But that's not a bad place to begin.

The trick is learning to share. Brewster Kahle points out in this excellent podcast that at it's peak, the Library of Alexandria in Egypt was able to collect and store most of the books of the world. An amazing achievement, but not very useful to folks who couldn't go there. So how do we share all these books and all this knowledge with more people? Many people think that the answer involves putting books online. I'm all for that, and it's an exciting to see it starting to happen.

But what then? Do you really want to read those books on your laptop? Me neither. There is something about printed books. So while thousands of people work on digitizing books all over the world, some of us should think about sensible ways to get books back into their original format. If this is all about making knowledge more accessible to people everywhere, then let's not limit it to folks with a computer and an Internet connection. Let's share books.

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