The eGranary Digital Library provides those who lack adequate Internet access an off-line collection of approximately 30 million educational resources from more than 2,000 Web sites and hundreds of CD-ROMs. The collection includes more than 60,000 books in their entirety, hundreds of full-text journals, and dozens of software applications.
Through a process of copying Web sites (with permission) and delivering them to partner institutions in underserved areas of the world, this digital library delivers fast access to educational materials including video, audio, books, journals, and Web sites. These materials are delivered from Web servers connected to intranet local area networks (LANs) in the subscriber institutions.
The eGranary was invented in 2001 and is developed by the Widernet Project, a service program of the University of Iowa's School of Library and Information Science. There are now eGranary installations in more than 450 schools, clinics, and universities in Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Haiti. The project aims to expand its installations to thousands of schools, hospitals and universities around the globe.
Few schools, clinics, or libraries in the developing world have adequate connections to the Internet; those connections that already exist are rather costly. By caching and serving educational resources via a local area network, the eGranary Digital Library can reduce an organization's Internet costs—potentially helping them to save tens of thousands of dollars every year. Many eGranary subscribers do not have an Internet connection, but even those who already have an Internet connection find they can open resources up to 5,000 times faster from the eGranary Digital Library.
The eGranary Digital Library contains a built-in proxy server and search engine that gives patrons the true look-and-feel of the Internet, at a speed that is otherwise not usually available to them. The proxy server allows users' Web requests to "play-through" to the Internet if a connection is available.
Since many patrons of the eGranary Digital Library are unfamiliar with using the Internet, a significant amount of librarianship—by WiderNet Project staff and volunteers worldwide—makes finding resources easier. The eGranary's interface includes a word search powered by Lucene and Solr, an online public access catalog powered by VuFind which contains over 60,000 records, and dozens of portals cooperatively developed with experts from around the world to help specific groups of users—like doctors, teachers, and researchers—find information faster.
Since 2010, the eGranary Digital Library includes interactive Web 2.0 features in its Community Information Platform. Thanks to a generous grant from the Intel Corporation, the Community Information Platform allows users to create and share their own content through technologies like built-in Web editors, LDAP security, Moodle, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, Drupal, and others. Subscribers can set up unlimited Web sites on their server and use free, built-in software to make Web pages, upload files and share local information with each other.
As of December 2011, the complete eGranary Digital Library contains over 30 million documents and fits on a 4TB hard drive. Some of the documents in the eGranary Digital Library are in the public domain, some carry a copyleft license, but most of them have been freely provided by their authors and publishers as a contribution to global education. About 6% of the content in the eGranary Digital Library is not available on the public Internet; much of it typically requires a subscription or payment, but authors and publishers have agreed to provide it for free to people in low-bandwidth situations.
One of the guiding principles of the eGranary Digital Library is that the content must not be sold for profit. The WiderNet Project pledges this to authors and publishers when seeking their permission and each subscriber institution signs a license agreement stating that they will make the content freely available to their patrons via their local area networks.
To build a reliable, self-sustaining service, the WiderNet Project has developed a business model that aims to cover ongoing program and development costs through grants, donations, sponsored training programs, and volunteers. So far the organization has raised and spent over $1,200,000 in 10 years to develop, field test, and promote the concept. Volunteers from around the world have put in more than 15,000 hours to assist with computer programming, collecting and organizing new resources, creating portals and curriculum, and building and distributing new libraries.
While the development of new features is funded by grants and gifts, eGranary drives are sold to subscribers to recover production costs without making a profit. Subscribers cover the costs of basic librarianship, the purchase, testing, and preparation of the equipment, the transaction costs (like marketing, licensing, and accounting), and providing on-going technical support and software updates. The WiderNet Project sells eGranary hard drives for $1,800. It comes in two form factors: an external USB model for use at a single computer or an internal hard drive that can be added to a subscriber's server. The WiderNet Project also offers the eGranary Digital Library in a new server for $3,500, and a complete 12-seat computer lab with server and on-site training for $26,000.
Several value-added resellers integrate the eGranary Digital Library into their offerings. As well, young entrepreneurs in developing countries have joined the WiderNet Project's Field Associate program, offering on-site installation and training in their countries.
Since they incur no bandwidth costs, some subscribers share their eGranary via wireless networks to create free wireless public libraries, or knowledgespheres, in their communities.
Read more about EGranary Digital Library: Contributors
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