TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
 Advocating Well-Stocked National Digital Libraries in the United States and Elsewhere

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TeleRead calls for well-stocked national digital libraries in the United States and elsewhere. TeleRead's moderator is David Rothman ( For occasional highlights from this blog, join the TeleRead Mailing List.

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TeleRead, dating back to the early 1990s, is an evolving proposal. Click here for the basics.

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Saturday, September 20, 2003:
Canada miserly toward school libraries--despite proof they boost reading scores

Living in the States, I love to beat up on our indigenous pols for miserliness toward libraries despite my own feelings about library palaces, but it isn't as if we're the only ones with problems. Check out Decline in school libraries is worrisome, an old but still relevant news item on Canada's underfunded school libraries. Needless to say, a TeleRead approach could increase the number of books available--and leave more money for the hiring of school librarians. Here's an interesting excerpt from the Toronto Star article from July 6:

Dr. Ken Haycock of the University of British Columbia points out that only 10 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time teacher librarian compared with 42 per cent 25 years ago. And in British Columbia, budgets for buying books vary wildly from 80 cents to $35 per student per year, depending on the school board.

In his report, "The Crisis in Canada's School Libraries," Haycock cites research in the United States that shows a direct connection between larger collections of materials for students and higher achievement levels, higher spending on books and other materials and increased reading scores, and higher student achievement in schools where teacher-librarians use the local library.

"Increased student visits to the library correlates with higher test scores," he wrote. "Student achievement is higher in schools where the library is open all day and the teacher-librarian is on duty full-time."

He found that the relationship between the library resources and higher student achievement could not be explained away by other factors, such as teacher-student ratios, or the relative wealth of the school neighbourhoods.
TeleRead wouldn't do away with school librarians, who could still serve as guides and mentors. But it would let kids explore fresh books--new to them!--whenever they wanted, at school or elsewhere. Bring the e-books home!

Update, 12:10 p.m.: Interesting note just received from Gary Lawrence Murphy, writing with a Canadian address.
If the school boards would stop pouring millions of dollars into needless annual Microsoft software licenses, do you think maybe they'd have a few extra dollars to buy some books? I'd love to see that stat: A comparison of the library expenditures per child vs the expenditure on proprietary software licenses per child.  If Munich can dump the cement-boots of Microsoft, I'm sure a few school boards could manage the switch.
Do any educators in Canada, the States or elsewhere have relevant stats? Write me. Of course, money to hire more school librarians would help, too, not just more for books!

As for local libraries--the general public-library type rather than the school variety--they certainly ought to be used to the max with schoolchildren in a way that eliminates unnecessary duplication. And logically, Gary Murphy's same question would arise. How much money per library user goes or will go for Microsoft software licenses over the years? Surely not all Billy-blessed software in all U.S. libraries is Microsoft-donated. How much could Linux save over the long run? Yes, transition costs would add up despite clones like Open Office, but mightn't the change be better in the long run, especially if Microsoft uses more format-related maneuvers and other techniques to lock consumers into its products, depriving them of choices, in ways that keep prices higher?

One more thought: As the Toronto article shows, Canada is like the States and has major discrepancies in library-related spending. Perhaps there, policymakers would be more open to the possibility of a well-stocked national digital library system to help overcome these variations. Last I knew, the collection in Canada's existing national digital library was pretty pathetic, but I may not be up to date. Anyone care to update me?

Friday, September 19, 2003:
Village Voice: Dean's ducking DMCA queries

Ouch. Would that the TeleBlog had J.D. Lasica, author of one of my favorite journalism blogs, as a copy editor. I meant Howard Dean, not John. Slip of the fingers, sorry, gang.

I just wish I'd been wrong about something else. J.D. e-mailed me: "I'm not sure what John Dean's position is, but I'm pretty sure Howard Dean has said on Larry Lessig's blog that he's sensitive to the digital rights community" on issues such as the DMCA. My reaction? Dean's given us nothing more than the usual mush.

Oh, sure, he is against "special interests" in the copyright wars, but so what? After all these months, Dean is still wimping out. Here's part of Wired to Wired: Dean Finds That Courting Blogocrats Means Answering Tough Questions, Anya Kamenetz's piece in the Sept. 17-23 issue of the Village Voice:

...Most appealing is the opportunity for young, wired citizens familiar with Web journals to give online feedback and thereby get excited about democracy. Lessig has referred to the Dean campaign's strategy as "open-source," a term describing free and collaboratively created software, like the original Linux.

But how committed is Dean to the principles behind the open-source idea? When the unofficial, but large, Dean Nation blog submitted a list of readers' 10 most popular questions to the Dean campaign in April, the DMCA made it, along with "9-11 Investigation" and "Cutting Gov't Spending." Yet in the five short entries that Dean posted on Lessig's blog, he managed to avoid the DMCA and the Sonny Bono Act, though hundreds of posters both during the week and later mentioned the issue or asked him to state a position.

"What is your position on the threat to the public domain? And what policies do you intend to support to address that threat?" asked Dean Nation blogger Aziz H. Poonawalla. A poster to Lessig's blog named J.B. Nicholson-Owens complained on July 21, "Dean had the opportunity to research something related to copyright issues before coming here. I see little (if any) evidence he did that. To me this comes off as profoundly disrespectful of the audience. During the (mostly one-way) discussion, he had time to compose a response that would give us some inkling of what he was thinking on any copyright-related issue (which is the main topic on this blog)."

Reached by the Voice, Dorie Clark, Dean's New Hampshire communications director, said, "Governor Dean recognizes the importance of these issues and his policy team is looking into them, but we haven't reached a policy yet."

Lessig himself seems disinclined to press Dean on the matter. "I invited Dean in particular," Lessig posted after Dean's visit, "because so much of the success of his campaign has come from those who spend time on the Internet, and I suggested that the mix who spent time at my blog had a valuable set of insights that might be useful to understanding the issues that rage on these pages. But as I've said before, these issues are not the central issues of a presidential campaign (yet, anyway). And necessarily, any attention a presidential campaign gives to these issues will be for the purpose of learning. No one launches a campaign for President in 2004 with the aim to 'free culture' or limit the excesses of creative regulation."

Though Stanford induced Lessig to move his site to a personal server after the Dean postings because of Federal Election Commission regulations aimed at keeping school resources out of political campaigns, the guest spot does not necessarily imply an endorsement. In fact, Lessig has personally contributed only to the Edwards campaign.

Many bloggers who do support Dean believe they understand why it may be in his interest not to come out just now in favor of copyright reform, as candidate Dennis Kucinich, for example, has (also guesting on Lessig's blog). "I was encouraged by Dean's appearance on Lessig's blog, and his stated desire to learn about IP [intellectual property] issues and make an informed decision," Brian Flemming, editor of the political and culture blog, told the Voice. "I'd love it if he took a stand against the DMCA, the Sonny Bono Act, etc., but I do understand that would be throwing caution to the wind politically, given the power of the media companies. Al Gore had the media against him, and he nearly lost. I'm not anticipating a radical stand from a candidate already pegged as unelectable by some."

The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America were both major supporters of the DMCA. Dean's list of individual contributors, on the other hand, already includes dozens of Hollywood names, including Warner Bros. president and COO Alan Horn, Disney producer Jeffrey Abrams, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, and executives at Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox, HBO, and Showtime. If Dean shapes his messages to please big media, that could be a big blow to the creative commons.
OK, J.D., care to join me in asking Dean to show some guts? I'm a lifelong Dem and like much of Dean message; but, regardless of my personal political sympathies, I'm not going to let this man exploit the Net vote and then confirm people's so-oft justified skepticism toward politicians--through inaction or even a pro-Hollywood stance.

Thursday, September 18, 2003:
Age-related Net study: The e-book and library angles

More tax money should go to Net-based libraries and neighborhood libraries--and a smaller percentage of library budgets should be lavished on downtown library palaces. The latest evidence? Check out a Reuters item on a U.K. study showing that the Net is becoming the new TV for kids of all economic groups in wealthy nations like Great Britain. Same idea undoubtedly applies to the U.S.

It's time to bring books to kids on their own terms, via e-book-optimized computers and well-stocked national digital library systems in the States and elsewhere. Audio books could play a role--great for young joggers. At any rate Jenny Levine, who, like me, has long argued that libraries should adjust to the needs of the NetGens, ought to like the results of the study.

Mind you, the study doesn't mean that a wealth-related divide has vanished. The poor in most cases aren't going to be the first ones with the spiffy high-res tablet computers. Not to mention the cost of the content! But what if p-textbook budgets could instead go toward e-texts and appropriate hardware for children of all classes? And what if kids could freely swap around the classics and other intelligent library books without thuggish lawyers sending threats to housing projects? In other words, let's use the kids' enthusiasm for technology to elevate, not dumb down, academic standards among children of all income levels. Neighborhood libraries could join schools in spreading the technology around and providing in-person guides for the kids, and parents, so they weren't left alone in the virtual stacks or other regions of cyberspace.

Ideally publishers, not just children's advocates and educators, will consider the above. Do McGraw-Hill and Prentice Hall want scare tax money going for marble, steel and brick--or for the output of their writers, artists and editors?

What would Billy Pilgrim have thought of DRM?

Vonnegut alert: Slaughterhouse Five is now available as a free selection in Microsoft's DRM bribe campaign. Quick, before it vanishes tomorrow! The wise will know where to go for crackware to allow them to make backups or read Vonnegut in formats other the Billy-blessed variety.

Free Indian e-book library launched

"President Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam has launched the portal of Digital Library of India. The portal will have about 27,000 books in a digitized form. Speaking on the occasion, the President called upon the people to bridge digital divide. Lauding the project, Dr. Kalam said that efforts should be made to digitize our traditional knowledge. Stressing the need to take knowledge bank to every nook and corner of the country, the President said that one lakh books’ digital library should be available in every college of the country. Highlighting the positive aspects of a digital library, Dr. Kalam said it would be useful to everybody irrespective of economic and social status. They can be in touch with the research in various fields." - Cyber News Service.

The TeleRead take: Like the Chinese, the Indians just may understand the potential of e-books better than at least certain U.S. policymakers do. It'll be interesting to see what India does not just with digital libraries but also with the encouragement of (1) appropriate net connections and (2) TeleReader-style devices for reading the books. Will Simputers become common eventually? Meanwhile here are more details from insiders, along with Digital Library: Free, anytime access for all from The Hindu and A Million Books for Free, an earlier story.

On the whole, I like the philosophy as laid out in The Hindu:

Dr Raj Reddy, University Professor of Computer Science and Robotics, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University [CM is part of the project], told newspersons here on Thursday that about 20,000 books had been digitised in the last six months. The whole project was likely to be completed by 2006, he added.

The $30-million project is mainly funded by the US Government, and supported by the Governments of India and China (in China too a similar project is going on).

In India, the digitising of books has been going on in libraries across Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and at the Allahabad University. The States' contribution was mainly by way of providing manpower, he said.

According to Dr Reddy, the Million Book project, which is likely to be named as Digital Library of India, was part of a universal digital library started by CMU a decade ago.

Globally, there are about 10 million unique book and document editions before 1900, and about 100 million since the beginning of recorded history. Preserving such a volume would be possible only with digital technology. The task was within the reach of a single concerted effort for the public good, and this effort could be distributed to libraries, museums, and other groups in all countries, he added.

According to Dr Reddy, existing archives of paper have many shortcomings. Many other works still in existence today are rare, and only accessible to a small population including scholars and collectors at specific geographic locations. Digital technology can make the works accessible to the billions of people all over the world. Any book can be downloaded free of cost, he added.

On the issue of copyright, Dr Reddy, who is Founder and Director of the Universal Digital Library (UDL), said that the online version of the books was available for free, while a fee would be collected for printer versions.

Dr Reddy said that currently in India about 40 scanning stations are scanning books at the rate of 10,000 pages per day. "Our goal is to have about 100 stations in 10 cities to scan about a million pages every day," he said. Recently, a full load of books in a container arrived from the US for scanning, he added.
Would that the U.S. help many other developing countries start their own digital libraries in a systematic way. Too often we're the bad guys--more interested in making the world safe for the U.S. recording and movie interests than in improving education and living standards in developing countries, or even strengthening our national security, which is not helped when we try to impose Draconian copyright laws on third-world hackers.

But back to the Indian library. I'd hope that the charge for printed books would be low and the money not viewed as a source of profit. Sooner or later, as e-book technology improves and is more affordable, most readers will want just the electronic versions of the material. It'll be interesting to see how the Indian project and similar ones deal in the end with copyrighted books. TeleRead, anyone?

Needless to say, let's hope the Indian project successfully reaches small villages in time, not just universities in the cities.

Detail: Sorry: I don't have the URL of the Indian project, or at at least haven't noticed it in the linked material. Washington, DC, is about to become monsoon territory in its own way, and, before it's too late, I'm off to the local filling station for some gasoline and new windshield wipers.