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WiderNet Reaches 1,000, Expands to New Phase

With the "Internet in a Box" At 1,000 Sites Worldwide,

WiderNet Launches a New Phase

to Provide a Customized "Pocket Library" To Millions More People

 

For Release: Immediate

Information: Richard Chady 919-200-3585 rchady@widernet.org

 

CHAPEL HILL, NC --March 14, 2015 -- Although there are more donkeys than vehicles on Lamu Island, and no Internet, the ancient Swahili settlement off the coast of Kenya has fast access to Wikipedia and millions of other documents, thanks to a pioneering worldwide project directed from Chapel Hill, NC.

Library Prof. Cliff Missen carried the book-sized "Internet in a Box" by car, plane and wooden boat to Lamu, provided training in an old stone fort and installed it at the American Corner Library. “The community is very lucky for these resources,” the library manager said.

Missen's nonprofit WiderNet campaign will soon celebrate the 1,000th placement of the powerful offline learning system in schools, colleges and agencies around the globe.

Moving to an ambitious next phase, he has created the "Pocket Library" on a fingernail-sized chip to bring customized information systems to potentially millions of students, teachers, officials and others in developing nations.

"We will make it easier for librarians, educators, and volunteers around the world to organize information into small portable chip-size collections that can be simply copied to someone's flash memory or internal drive in a laptop, tablet, or smart phone," said Missen, the founder, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science.

Because five billion people lack adequate Internet access, Missen is “building a bridge across the digital divide” in order to attack information poverty and encourage education, research and collaboration.

“We could possibly see whole societies revolutionized by communication technologies that will transform their information and power structures seemingly overnight,” he says.

One delighted user, Carolyn Carter, United Methodist Church of Nigeria, said, "This made the teachers at our school realize how much information is out there and how it can be used to expose students to a whole new world of information."

Project History and Growth

Missen began the ambitious project in 2001 after experiencing firsthand the Internet deficiencies in Africa as a Fulbright scholar studying at the University of Jos in Nigeria. When he returned to the University of Iowa, he burned the first collection of documents onto a CD. He moved to Chapel Hill in 2012.

The eGranary Digital Library now is designed and developed by WiderNet@UNC, a service project of the UNC School of Information and Library Science.  It is distributed by the sister organization, WiderNet, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation formed that focuses on field implementations and training.

eGranary is installed in more than 1,000 schools, clinics, and universities in 48 nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, as well as in 10 US prisons and jails.

Some 32 million resources are contained in four terabyte, portable hard disks with a USB connection or in specially designed and built computer towers. More than 1,600 authors and publishers have granted permission to distribute their work via the eGranary, including: Wikipedia, the Gutenberg Project, the Khan Academy, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Columbia University, Cornell University, and MIT’s OpenCourseware.

New Phase With Chips

Over the next three years, experts will design specialized collections to fit on thumbnail-sized chips ranging from eight to 64 gigabytes. A recent special project to put Ebola information onto chips for use in east Africa provided "proof of concept" that the idea works.

Students and volunteers at WiderNet@UNC will work with colleagues from around the world to develop dozens of chip-sized collections that focus on topics like language and literacy, life skills, vocational education, IT skills, health sciences, math, science, and more. Panels of content assessors and designers will be recruited for each collection, along with volunteers and representatives of the target populations.

The project will explore different ways to engage with patrons, evaluate their use and identify ways to secure an income stream and sustain the project long-term.

The device is more than just an e-book reader. Using an optimized version of the eGranary software suite, it will host dynamic Web sites, e-books, and interactive applications like self-paced learning and quizzing tools. Each collection will include its own catalogue and search engine and will appear to the patron as if they were operating on the Internet. With the interface a standard Web browser, users can explore video, audio, animations, PDF documents, etc.

Each collection will also include tools to create personal Web pages and learn essential IT literacy skills. The project has developed Web interfaces so that many stakeholders from around the world can be involved in the production of the collection.

To increase the scale and speed, the project will launch a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo on Thursday, March 19.

Tech Specs for First Phase

eGranary Digital Library, is a plug-and-play server that provides instant access to 32 million documents including video, audio, books, journals, and Web sites. A single eGranary, connected to a wired or wireless local area network (LAN), can serve thousands of patrons.

It comes in several forms and basic prices:

·         $1,800 for an external USB hard drive eGranary Digital Library

·         $3,600 for a 12-volt eGranary plug-and-play server that may be powered by a battery.

·         $3,500 for a full-sized rugged eGranary plug-and-play server that can be shared by thousands of local users.

·         $6,000 for a computer lab that includes a 12-volt eGranary Digital Library, low-power wireless networking equipment, and six battery-powered netbook computers.

The library has a built-in proxy and search engine that emulates the Internet experience. It has a catalog with over 50,000 professionally organized items. As well, it hosts a bevy of services, like Moodle (course management software), WordPress, PHP, and MySQL. It also includes tools allowing subscribers to upload local materials as well as create and edit Web sites.

Testimonials

To a librarian in Nigeria, the project is “great bridge in the digital divide for us.” Another Nigerian says “There is hardly a better project for making electronic resources cheaply available to poor, cash-strapped universities…” In Bangladesh, a social entrepreneur says, “The idea is simply GREAT!”

"We're able to provide computer skill training to hundreds of children in poverty without spending nearly as much on monthly Internet service." -- Joseph Burdick, Restoration Gateway, Uganda.

"The eGranary has come as one of the best solutions to address most of the challenges related to connection speed and the high costs associated to it." --Teklemichael Tefera, director of the Information Resource Center at the US Embassy in Ethiopia.

"We can now access core clinical data quickly and efficiently. The eGranary is superb for this."  -- Dr. Andrew Pearson, Resource Centre

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The WiderNet Project is a non-profit organization affiliated with the School of Information and Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill. The WiderNet Project works to deliver educational resources to underprivileged individuals and communities worldwide and improve their digital communication.