Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How could we build a digital Peoples Library?

I had been planning to write this post earlier this week after I had provided some other posts for necessary context but I got the flu.

The flu is the enemy of the perfect and ... oh  who am I kidding the flu is going to be the enemy of the good here too... but... I just want to  show this now - the day after the NYPD destroyed the People's Library of the Occupy Wall Street movement because today is the the day that they start thinking about how they want to rebuild. That is, if they can rebuild.

That being said, I want to make it clear what follows isn't advice to the folks running The People's Library. Also, my forthcoming suggestion for the People's Platform for ebooks is suggested as only an augmentation of the library and not as a substitute for the whole.

Really, I'm just using the example of the OWS Library as a thought experiment, which is:

How can people build a digital Peoples' Library?

The catalogue of the OWSLibrary is online but, of course, not the actual books themselves. That's entirely reasonable since only corporations and institutions (who generally act as weak brokers to corporations) are allowed to "share" ebooks.

But I have an idea. It would be simple to set up and maintain. It would be legal. And, if extended, it could still dependent on a particular public space.

My suggestion is to load the available EPUB versions of the books in the people's library into Calibre (and back up that laptop regularly off-site in case of violent attack).

Now, if you use ebooks and you haven't heard of Calibre, you really should read this great introduction to software from Professor Hacker. Otherwise, here's the tl;dr summary: Calibre is an open-source corporation-agnostic platform of ebooks which allows the reader to add and correct metadata, tag and organise material, and allow the reader to convert ebooks from one format to another so they can enjoy ebooks that are exclusively sold to an e-reader that they don't own.

Oh yeah, it also has it's own webserver, so it can act as a book-server that deliver texts through the web, through a network, and through email.

Let me show you how could look like.  For this thought experiment, instead of a 5,000 item library, I have used as an example of, um, , a short "Occupy" reading list of 8 books. Actually, of only two books because of the eight, only two are available as public domain EPUBs (the rest are candidates to be unglued). Regardless! I have put them into the Calibre on my laptop in a library called Occupy Time!

Now, I turn on the web server function of Calibre that now serves up ebooks in this library to all those in my wifi network.  On my mobile device (in this case, an iTouch), I am running Stanza that is able to look for available OPDS servers on my home wifi network, and using it, I can find said books from the Occupy Time library, download them into my own personal library.

The bookserver standard that makes this all possible is The Open Publishing Distribution Standard and the folks largely responsible for it are from the Internet Archive. It's one of the key components of the their ebook lending work they do with a small group of public and academic libraries through the Open Library.  There are e-readers other than Stanza that support OPDS and they include Aldiko, QuickReader, FBReader, and Ibis Reader.

Now, I was hoping to get more into this but I'm still weak and only sleep can cure me.  So let me end with this: Calibre is open source and the OPDS is an open standard. We just need to Occupy our Time so people can share a library --- that has a backup.

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