Gutenberg logoThis ought to make TeleBlog regular Jon Noring‘s day as a public domain advocate. Right there in Utah, his own state, fifth-grade kids are enjoying free Project Gutenberg classics via print-on-demand technology. Needless to say, Gutenberg founder Michael Hart and his sidekick, Greg Newby, should be even more pleased.

At a time when public domain boosters are debating issues such as formats and origins of texts, it’s great to see yet another reminder of the value of Gutenberg books—despite the unavoidable hassles that arise due to honest differences of opinion.

The POD lowdown out of Logan

Here’s the lowdown out of Logan, Utahvia the Salt Lake City Tribune:

Educator Anitra Jensen lost control of her classroom earlier this month – and she didn’t mind a bit.

This seasoned educator watched her fifth-grade students at Edith Bowen Elementary School [link added] shift their attention from her and to the words on the pages of their “own” new books.

Freshly printed and bound, their titles of choice were a gift from Utah State University’s Center for Open and Sustainable Learning Microlibrary.

Project Director David Wiley Sr. manages more than 20,000 holdings – enough books to stretch the length of several football fields. Yet his “library” weighs fewer than 100 pounds and easily fits on a rolling cart or in the trunk of his car.

A laptop, printer, paper cutter, heat-binding tool and a DVD loaded with best-loved books – available to the public free through Project Gutenberg—combine to make the traditional Bookmobile look like a lumbering giant.

Wiley said the center’s yet-unfunded goal—to distribute more than 5,000 printed-on-the-spot books to elementary and home school students this coming year—is only the beginning.

“You can take that disc into a retirement home, a correctional facility, a home for youth having problems, a Third World country—and you’ve immediately got a library there,” he said, adding that 37 languages are available in regular or large print.

“I guess in a perfect world, all information that’s relevant would be available to everyone so that we could all make informed decisions.”

Wiley’s son, David Wiley Jr., a professor in USU’s College of Education and Human Services and director of the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning, said the fledgling center’s mission is to share educational opportunities with people who can’t get it any other way.

Junior pulled senior out of retirement to nurture the Microlibrary, which was born in October.

Gutenberg offerings—books with expired copyright—are converted into a format that can be printed and bound inside of 10 minutes, Wiley Jr. said.

There’s no need for a warehouse to store inventory and no cost to ship books, because the Microlibrary prints requests only—for pennies on the dollar.

“The whole administrative cost of cataloging a book, checking it out, getting it returned and back on the shelf is more than the cost of printing the book and giving it to somebody,” Wiley Jr. said. “So putting something like this in a rural library would be super cost effective”…

The e-book angle: Why not a mix of POD tech and e-books? E-book tech would be one way for the kids to get to know a book before ordering it. Sooner or later, moreover, with POD tech, there’ll be limits. I suspect we’re talking more than pennies when all costs are added up. Whatever the case, the Utah experiment is laudable, and I’m rooting for it to get funded.


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