Bookmobile: Books everywhere

December 30, 2006


One of the subjects touched on in the fascinating talk by Brewster Kahle which I linked to yesterday was the Bookmobile, an on-demand books service in the back of a van connected to the Internet Archive’s hundreds of thousands of free, digitised texts.

The set-up, which cost around $15,000 including the car (breakdown below, no pun intended), consists of a mobile satellite connection, a couple of laptops, a laser printer, a guillotine and a book binding machine. It can produce books anywhere in the world that can see a satellite, in minutes, for a cost price of $1 a book.

The Bookmobile has been touring US schools and shows for a few years now, but in 2003 IA spin-off Anywhere Books (site unresponsive; cached here) took a Bookmobile to Uganda, where they demonstrated the technology to ministers and took it to outlying areas where books are extremely scarce:

Each class – dressed in pink, blue, or yellow school uniforms, many in bare feet – took turns watching and helping Carol make books. Watching these scenes, trying to put myself in the kids’ heads. Did they see this as simply a wonderful and fun day? Or was this like a Bookmobile from Mars? It didn’t really matter: clearly, the kids were thrilled to take part in their own educations, their own futures, in a culture where passing annual exams is far more important than the joy of reading. [Link]

As more books become digitised, come out of copyright, or are released without copyright, so more become available to those whose lives will be radrically changed for the better by them. Kahle speaks of a project in India, which has also experimented with Bookmobiles, to create an “open source” textbook for schoolchildren, available everywhere, for free. We often think of projects such as the Internet Archive and Wikipedia as centralised deposits of information, but they also serve as distribution points, spreading knowledge to places where it did not exist before.


Brewster Kahle’s very rough breakdown of the cost of the Bookmobile was as follows:

  • Satellite connection: $5,000
  • Car (Secondhand Ford Aerostar): $3,000
  • Printer: $2,500
  • Binder: $1,500
  • Laptops: $2,000
  • Networking: $1,000

The IA’s own Bookmobile site seems quiescent for the moment, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this. And if anyone wants to finance one of these for me to drive round the world giving books to the needy, get in touch.


Photos by Michael Ward of Hidden Knowledge (via First Monday) and Richard Koman.

Comments are closed. Feel free to email if you have something to say, or leave a trackback from your own site.