Making Books Available

Its all over the web now — the Inter­net Archive has opened up over 1.6 mil­lion books for the OLPC XO lap­tops and in gen­eral, any machine run­ning Sugar. Before going into any­thing else, it makes sense to pro­vide a more spe­cific mean­ing of “open­ing up” here — it involves two main objec­tives com­pleted at the Inter­net Archive end:

  • Mak­ing sure that the books are read­able in the XO, keep­ing in mind its rel­a­tive low-end hard­ware specs and disk-space limitations
  • Ensur­ing that the books are avail­able via a stan­dard­ized cat­a­log for­mat, so that one can find, browse and down­load books eas­ily using a tool more tuned for the pur­pose (think of feed-readers ver­sus blog-entries in a web-page)

Now that the books are avail­able (not just from the Inter­net Archive, but from a num­ber of other sources as well), the next step is to fig­ure out the best pos­si­ble ways to actu­ally make these books avail­able to the XO and Sugar users. The major con­strain­ing fac­tor is band­width, we do have deploy­ments with zero, or very lim­ited Inter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, and per­haps these are the deploy­ments which need access to these books the most. I spent most of this week work­ing on imple­ment­ing a fea­ture in the Get Books activ­ity which would allow books to be dis­trib­uted via what has been jok­ingly called a sneaker-net (or sandalnet/chappalnet, if you pre­fer those forms of footwear). The idea is very sim­ple — at a cen­tral­ized loca­tion with Inter­net access, choose a few thou­sand books (size of a typ­i­cal book is usu­ally a few hun­dred KB or less), put them in a USB pen-drive and add a OPDS cat­a­log to the mix. Make copies of the drive, and send them to the schools with­out con­nec­tiv­ity. The lat­est ver­sion of Get Books would rec­og­nize the drive, and let the stu­dent browse through the col­lec­tion, search for books, and add what­ever she wants to the Sugar Jour­nal. Once a book is in the Jour­nal, it can be shared among all the stu­dents using the Jour­nal object trans­fer sup­port in Sugar, or via the Read Activ­ity directly. So essen­tially, you get a Library on a Stick, with thou­sands of books, some­thing which, till now, in its phys­i­cal form, has been largely restricted to bet­ter equipped (and usu­ally richer) schools.
Of course, even larger col­lec­tions can be dis­trib­uted if a School Server (XS) is present in the mix (due to the fact that the school server can have a larger disk in it), and sup­port for this type of dis­tri­b­u­tion method involv­ing the XS would hope­fully appear within the next few releases of Get Books.