Even in 2007, there is not universal access to the internet in many parts of the world. For the past seven years, the University of Iowa has been working to change that, and bring some of the benefits of the Internet those places in the world where internet access is minimal or expensive. If there is no internet, it is relatively easy to support a server.
The University of Iowa’s WiderNet Project manages the eGranary Digital Library. This project adds Web resources to university campus servers in developing countries that have little or no Internet connectivity. Based at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the eGranary Digital Library manually updates its library at least twice each year on campus intranets in Africa, India, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan and Haiti.
Cliff Missen, a Fulbright scholar, was based in Nigeria in 1999. While there, he saw how difficult it was for librarians to get good, fresh information for people who needed it. Missen brought compact discs containing useful information to the Nigerian university where he was teaching. This idea led to the concept of the eGranary.
Surprisingly, Missen says that even in 2007, “Seven out of eight people in the world don’t have access to the Internet, and the few people in the developing world who do, spend an extraordinary amount of money to do so. With the eGranary they can have access overnight to 10 million documents without having to have any bandwidth.”
The Need For Information
The developing world does have some basic Internet connections, which work for e-mail and other small-packet, low-bandwidth uses. As the number of people sharing a connection increases, response times slow markedly. Missen said. “You can’t do things like download software, watch videos and listen to music. Those kinds of documents are too large for a tiny connection.”
The eGranary can have wireless connections, and anyone can access the data on the server. Even though it isn’t accessing the internet in real time, any data on the server can be accessed very quickly. Missen says books can be downloaded “in a blink,” and a 200 megabyte video file can be opened “in five seconds.”
Access to eGranary for a single user costs $750, while a server capable of meeting the needs of thousands costs $2,800. Annual updates cost an additional $200, but Missen said many librarians are finding that the information provided has a long enough shelf life that annual updates are not essential.
“Internet In A Box”
The eGranary Digital Library is often called “The Internet in a Box” because it offers offline approximately 10 million educational resources from more than 1,000 Web sites, including OpenCourseWare from course offerings by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Project Gutenberg’s complete collection of classic literature and the entire Wikipedia Web site. The eGranary’s interfaces are streamlined for easy navigation and offer a comprehensive search engine. All materials – including 40,000 books in their entirety and 150 to 200 full text journals with their archives – are included with the author or publisher’s permission. Many would be prohibitively expensive for a library in the developing world to own.
The eGranary’s 750 gigabytes of storage space hold the largest collection of informational materials available on a server that can be accessed without an Internet connection.
MIT’s open courseware offers anyone in the world free and open access to the educational materials from all 1,800 MIT courses and a growing number from other universities. Open Courseware materials include course syllabi, reading lists, PowerPoint presentations, problem sets and solutions, lecture notes, exams and, in some cases, videotaped lectures.
Founded in 1971, Project Gutenberg provides free downloads of 2 million books a month to people in more than 100 countries to spur literacy. For the most part, books available are those whose copyright in the United States has expired.
More information on the eGranary Digital Library is available on the widernet website.C
Additional information about the Fulbright program is available on the State Department Web site.