TeleRead would make library books easy to spread around–while tracking accesses to pay writers and publishers fairly, via a National Digital Library Fund financed through public and private means.

Look beyond just downloading the books directly from the NDL via the Web. For example, affordable machines could be developed to let readers use radio or infrared to beam books to each other when they were face to face. Here’s to the cause of file sharing through the Internet and otherwise.

Now add a new Net-related possibility. Small wireless machines could pick up books through Wi-Fi networks in and near schools and libraries. Best nickname for system? Wi-Li, as Andy Oram suggests with the word library in mind.

I myself instantly thought of TeleRead when I first heard of Wi-Fi, but as an editor at one of the more alert tech-oriented publishers, Andy may have been ahead of me in making the connection.

But what does this mean in nuts-and-bolts terms? Andy’s Web log neatly describes Wi-Li’s practical educational benefits in a TeleRead context.

“No more waiting for a reserved book to be read by the other 25 classmates before you can get your hands on it. No more pockets of dead time where you’re waiting around with nothing useful to do. (On the other hand, I’d be reluctant to promote this wireless system if it detracted from kids’ informal face-to-face banter.) No more class projects where you have to leave the scene of hands-on work–like a garden or a lab–and return to the classroom to look up the background literature.”

Wi-Li, of course, would not be an all-purpose solution. But it is something to keep in mind for some neighborhood schools and libraries. What’s more, this would be a natural project for community networks in areas where the private sector did not come through.

Helpfully, the cost of e-book-capable machines keeps falling. And so should the prices of the Wi-Fi adapters. In five or ten years, we could well be talking about a Wi-Fi-bolstered reader selling for less than $50. The schools could literally give the devices away to children who could not afford to buy the gizmos off the shelves at Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile this is the time to for states and the feds to experiment and be ready to scale up when the technology is cheap enough. Years ago, under an NSF grant, an HP engineer and educators did tinker with wireless readers in the classroom. Why not a follow-up with e-books in mind?

Please note that one way or another wireless has future with books and vice versa. The E Ink people have even used the term radio paper.

Also, remember that the term “national digital library” is generic and certainly could apply to many countries, as could some of the other concepts.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail