Thursday, May 20, 2004

Moving books where they need to be...

Camel Mobile Services in Kenya

Uganda Bookmobile

There was a little brownbag today around the Uganda Bookmobile. While there is only one Bookmobile in Uganda, it seems that there are many ideas for using bookmobiles not only in other places in Uganda but around the world. The main problem at the moment isn't the lack of ideas for scaling up and replicate in many different settings, but rather to find business models that would make the individual bookmobiles or networks of bookmobiles sustainable.

- What's the demand for the kinds of books that are being made available at the moment? When you're starved, you'll eat about anything but what's offered to you isn't always what you would have picked, given some choices, and it's not always what's best for you.

- Who will pay for the books? Can a ministry of education pay for a dozen bookmobiles to go around the country and print essential book collections for school libraries? Do the children (and their families) end up having to pay for the books?

- How can the price per printed page (about 1 cent) be further reduced to truly make the cost of a book affordable in rural areas of developing countries?

- How can the content available for printing be systematically collected and organized in such a way that databases of printable documents are easily searchable? Is there software available to quickly cut-and-paste a series of documents, print and bind them into a resource book?

- Can a bookmobile serve a small network of telecenters? I'm really interested in exploring this option because the bookmobile can be a very effective marketing tool for the telecenters. Also, for the cost of one bookmobile, 4-5 telecenters can have access to a bookbinding facility. There are many development-related information resources that are online but would be costly to print multiple times for users of a telecenter. If a telecenter is able to identify key resources of value to the community, the bookmobile can help print out high-quality booklets/books to fill the shelves of the telecenter's library. Sometimes libraries become telecenters and sometimes telecenters can have a couple of bookshelves and a system for lending books or allowing patrons to read books on site.

- What about CD-ROMs from the Humanity Library collection? Would it be possible for all this information to be part of the bookmobile's database? If the CDs are located in a telecenter, can a traveling bookmobile print on-demand based on what the telecenter patrons or staff have selected as essential resources.

There is certainly a great need to think about the sustainability of different bookmobile models, partnerships with content providers, strategies to get local communities to produce and publish their own local content for local distribution, partnerships with existing local organizations, including local governments, agricultural extension offices, health centers.... Good luck to the "anywherebooks" team! I suspect they will be busy for several years to come.

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