Distributed libraries: Book Servers and aggregation

Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive, who hosts the annual Books in Browsers conference, published a lovely reflection on the Bookserver project over at Publisher’s Weekly. He notes the ongoing debate about centralized aggregation (the global digital library model) vs. distribution of local silos of books (the traditional physical library model), noting the ways in which bookservers that support syndication and syncing have a foot in both worlds.

An excerpt:

The SheevaPlug Bookserver gets books closest to those who will use them. In areas with minimal networking, or where privacy matters, and the choice of reading materials may have immediate ramifications for liberty and survival, there are compelling reasons to get libraries down to the smallest, socially cohesive level. In many parts of the world that would be a village; in other societies, individualism makes the notion of walking around with all the books in the world in a single handheld device the ultimate distributed library.

The whole article is worth reading.

Books in Browsers @ the Internet Archive

I’m at the Open Content Alliance‘s annual meeting, this year about Books in Browsers, hosted at the Internet Archive in SF. It’s an encouraging gathering, with a lot of the technical and social implementations lining up as people give their short presentations.

I spoke yesterday about the olpc use case of rural and offline schools (you can find my slides online on the OLPC wiki), where bookreaders and the books they can find are often all that students have in the way of a regional library. Others in the audience added that there is also often no historical division between receiving stories and creating your own, or a tradition of ‘received knowledge’ that publishers have decided is worth distributing.

A few wonderful bits of news: the Internet Archive’s bookreader, which is one of the best browser-based readers around, now works with touchscreen input (NTS: get them a 1.75 model once they’re available!; some of their sliders are too small/close to the screen edges for the XO bezel). Mary Lou brought a new Pixel Qi screen with her from Taiwan (she and John will both be @ SFSU tomorrow). And a lot of people in attendance (including many people who are building the next gen of bookreader) are working on one of the core ideas of modern collaboration — that everyone is both reader and author at different times.

My favorite quote from the event so far: “Before the writer was ‘author’, before the invention of [literary] ‘genius’, artists simply transmitted culture that preexisted: spongs, dances, text, stories, poems that didn’t ‘belong’ to anyone. And their skill was the skill to transmit, not of invention, and attributable to a [muse], not to personal genius.

I hope to see some of you tonight at 5pm at the opening party for the community summit!

Making Books Transparent

Sayamindu and I have been contributing over the course of the year to a Bookserver initiative to define how digital texts are indexed, discovered, and distributed.  The Open Content Alliance organized a conference yesterday and today in San Francisco to help us move forward with Bookserver development, improve the draft specification.  It was an inspiring event, with a lot of good working code and interfaces to share with one another.  Brewster throws a mean party, and when he announced he was hosting one last night to celebrate the launch of the Bookserver project and the Archive’s move into a beautiful new space in the Presidio, some 500 people turned up.  I was pleased to run into Mary Lou, with four laptops sporting new Pixel Qi screens – low power, and yet so very hot.

I spoke about what OLPC is doing with this new specification – Sayamindu’s modified “Get Internet Archive Books” activity was the first client application to use the developing spec and beta book servers – and we spent some time brainstorming ways to improve OPDS.  It’s an open group and process – all input is welcome. Continue reading Making Books Transparent

Open Library designs an online XO bookreader

Their new Open Library OLPC bookreader is lovely, and has been tweaked to recognize the XO’s gamepad keys for navigation, and to display in both normal and rotated screen modes.  Many thanks to Anand and Aaron Swartz for making this work.  Web whiz Rebecca Malamud worked up a lovely portal for children, customized to display well on the XO, and Aaron helped make sure the first demo library bundle of OpenLibrary books is available for testing.

With this work, the 1.1 million public domain books of the Open Library are available, OCR’ed text and all, to everyone with an XO and an internet connection.  Now we are working on making them work better offline, for children whose primary connection to the Internet’s archives is through a friend with a USB key who visits from time to time.

I hope that we can come up with an awesome collection of reading lists for children, and a scripted way to turn a reading list into a bookshelf  available for reading online (via Rebecca’s portal) or offline (zipped up as an XO library bundle) for Gen XO.