I had the opportunity to hear Cliff Missen speak this week about his work with the eGranary Digital Library.  In the developing world, Internet access can cost 100 times what it costs in the United States, and even then, the access times are usually quite slow.  eGranary addresses this problem by providing access to a vast number of educational resources cached within a local area network.  Missen refers to this as storing the “seeds of knowledge.”

For $2,000, subscribers to eGranary can purchase a 4TB hard drive that contains 30 million Internet resources, all of which can be full text searched.  About 60,000 of these resources have also been cataloged and can be searched via their metadata.  There are also dozens of portals that have been developed to harness the wealth of resources and facilitate the discovery of information.  The number one topic searched is health information.  For all documents not in the public domain, the WiderNet Project has secured appropriate copyright permissions.

The collection includes more than 60,000 books, hundreds of full-text journals, and dozens of software applications.  It includes not only text documents but also video, audio, and images.  Although the Internet resources provided cannot be updated, subscribers can upload local materials as well as create and edit unlimited Web sites within the eGranary system.  (20GB of storage is allocated for this purpose.)

To this point, eGranary has been installed in more than 700 schools, hospitals, clinics, and universities in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean along with a number of prisons within the United States.  Cliff Missen and his colleagues at the WiderNet Project deserve credit for trying to bridge the information divide between the developing and developed world.  At the end of the day, access to information is more of an economic issue than it is a technological one, and it behooves those of us with access to both wealth and information to develop sound methods of broadening accessibility.

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