A Library on a Cloud: Connecting Those With No Access to Books to a World of Knowledge
By: Rachel Kohn
The online fundraising site Kickstarter got some awkward press attention back in May when actor/writer/director Zach Braff succeeded in using the site to raise $1.5 million to fund a sequel to his 2004 film “Garden State.” (To date he has received over $3 million in pledges.) The assumption was that the bulk of the site’s users, who create a page explaining the project or cause they are raising money for through a system of crowd-sourced pledges, do not have the resources and connections available to someone like Braff. There was also a sense that mainstream commercial films– as opposed to documentaries, for example– are not what Kickstarter is about.
In reality, according to the raw data updated daily on Kickstarter’s website, the largest project category on the site is “Film & Video,” and the only category that attracts a higher sum of donations is “Games,” with $125 million collected pledges versus $137 million. In addition to these creative projects, however, Kickstarter also enables innovative development programs to raise the funding they need for pilot studies that could take months or years to fund using traditional means.
Take Library for All as an example. “The vision is to build a digital library for those who have no access to physical books,” says Library for All COO Tanyella Evans in the video pitch on Kickstarter. “It’s a library in the cloud, a virtual space filled with thousands of eBooks, tiny files that can be downloaded over the Internet or mobile networks found across the developing world.” The idea behind Library for All is that knowledge should be accessible to all children, not just those with the luxury of physical books and access to quality educational institutions.
Surpassing its goal of raising $100K by July 13 to go towards a pilot program in Haiti, Library for All has attracted more than $106K and given the public a glimpse at the process of problem solving in development.
Library for All’s platform boasts three distinctive characteristics. First, it is a “device agnostic” platform, meaning its content can be accessed by any digital device. This includes cell phones, computers, and tablets. The latter two devices do not have the ubiquity of cell phones in the developing world, but development programs that specialize in providing tools for Internet access can fill that gap in the delivery of online content.
Second, it is suited for low-bandwidth Internet, a sign of the organization’s familiarity with the infrastructure the target users have at their disposal.
Finally, in addition to access to the library, the platform features open educational resources, known in the field as OER. These are the equivalent of online curriculums and coursework, so Library for All can provide directed teaching for teacher and learning for students in addition to library access.
Putting it all together, one gets a powerful image: a grand library, towering walls lined with books on all subjects, from all places. Worlds away is a single child, isolated from that library and the knowledge and inspiration it contains by structural realities as basic as where she was born and as complex as economic policy and national infrastructure. Library for All is a portal connecting not just one isolated child, but potentially millions, to a trove of information and instruction that can not only enrich their lives in the present but empower them for the future.
Now that’s a story I’d pay to see.
ABOUT THE WRITER
A native Michigander, Rachel Kohn is completing her Masters in International Media at American University. Before moving to the DC area, she ran her own small business as a public relations consultant and freelance writer in Jerusalem, Israel. She graduated from Brandeis University in 2007 with Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Environmental Studies, two of her passions. While attending a religious studies program in the West Bank town of Elkana from 2002-2003, she volunteered as a foreign correspondent for her hometown paper, reporting on the Second Intifada and life in the shadow of the U.S.-Iraq War. Rachel thinks that knowledge through contact is the key to understanding and coexistence. She also tends to dance in her chair if music is playing.
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