Sunday, December 25, 2005

Casting the Net wider... harvesting eGranary ideas

Cliff Missen <> wrote from Tunis, during the recent WSIS, asking queried whether I was there. I wasn't. But he took time off to share with me some interesting information via email, about the eGranary.

What's that?

As Cliff explains: "An eGranary Digital Library at each could save millions in Internet connectivity costs, giving patrons the capacity to determine how they spend their communication funds (accessing local documents for free and then deciding which resources they are willing to spend Internet connectivity to retrieve.)"

He also wrote: "There's a lot of ways to spread eGranaries, but my personal favorite involves us training technicians who will train technicians who will build eGranaries and train librarians and students all over."

Other options can be found at:

He says he "understands" that there are some efforts underway to build information centers around India.

Cliff Missen is Director of the The WiderNet Project at the University of Iowa. Phone 319-335-2200 or

He says their eGranary Digital Library is now installed in "over 60 institutions in the developing world". He's keen to connect with those interested in using this technology "to deliver a wealth of information to scholars with little or no Internet connectivity".

For some background: The eGranary Digital Library provides over 2.5 million digital resources to institutions lacking adequate Internet access. Through a process of copying Web sites and delivering them to intranet Web servers inside partner institutions in 'developing' countries, this digital library delivers educational materials for instant access over local area networks.

Says the project proponents: "For schools that are spending enormous amounts of money for their slow and unreliable internet connections, the eGranary Digital Library slips seamlessly into the network and delivers its Web pages up to 5,000 times faster. At the same time, such schools can save tens of thousands of dollars in bandwidth costs every year. For those schools, clinics, and libraries WITHOUT an Internet connection, the eGranary Digital Library is a phenomenon!"

It is working in more than 60 institutions in Africa, Bangladesh and Haiti, and the eGranary Digital Library says it provides lightning fast access to a wide variety of educational materials including video, audio, books, journals, and Web sites, even where no Internet access exists.

Incidentally, this library represents the collective contributions of hundreds of authors, publishers, programmers, librarians, instructors and students around the globe. Some of the many authors and publishers who have granted permission to distribute their works via the eGranary Digital Library include: U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Columbia University, Cornell University, MIT's OpenCourseware, UNESCO, Wikipedia, the Virtual Hospital, World Bank and WHO.

It was founded in 2001. And the eGranary Digital Library was created by the WiderNet Project, a non-profit organization based at the University of Iowa. This project is now looking for more authors and publishers to help grow its collection to 10 million documents, volunteers to help collect and categorize new materials, and librarians and teachers to help get the library installed in thousands of schools, hospital and universities.

In brief, websites with rich educational content are identified, the author's or publishers' permission is obtained by email. Between 50-90% agree, depending on their content area. Permitted material are copied to a hard-drive. Sometimes, an entire website is copied. Copies are distributed using large hard disks. WiderNet Project has also worked on ways to deliver incremental updates using other transport mechanisms (IP, satellite digital radio, CD-Rom, etc).