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D-Lib Magazine
February 2004

Volume 10 Number 2

ISSN 1082-9873

Innovations in Book Production

On my drive to the office on January 12, I was listening to NPR's show "Morning Edition", and my attention was captured by an interview1 with Powis Parker (Powis Parker, Inc.2), developer of a book-binding machine that makes it possible to create printed professional-quality books in a matter of minutes. The interview mentioned combining this new book-binding technology with digitized books, high-speed printers and satellite Internet connections and transporting them in bookmobiles to provide books at low cost to students in developing countries. This reminded me of a discussion that took place within the context of a European Conference on Digital Libraries 2002 workshop3 in which one of the attendees speculated on using e-books to bridge the educational divide between first and third world countries. His concern was that although the cost of e-books might be much less than the cost of obtaining and distributing printed books, using e-books still required access to e-book readers or computers, machines not readily available to individuals in economically disadvantaged countries

A subsequent search on the topic of NPR interview led me to the website for Anywhere Books4, a non-profit organization that formed in early 2003 to pursue international development opportunities for a "digital" bookmobile concept developed in 2002 by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive5. With funding from the World Bank, Anywhere Books is engaged in a joint project with the National Library of Uganda, with the aim of using a bookmobile outfitted with a PC, laser printer, paper cutter and the Parker hot-melt glue binding machine to put thousands of books into schools, homes and libraries in Uganda. The "digital" bookmobile concept is also being taken up by Egypt and India.

An interesting aspect about the combination of specific technologies used by Anywhere Books in Uganda is that those same technologies offer potential for for-profit ventures. For example, a bookstore could use the Parker binding machine to create—on demand—one printed and bound copy of a digitized rare book that is out of print but in the public domain, and sell it profitably. It is profitable to do this because such books can be produced at low cost—perhaps, as mentioned in the interview, for as little as $1.00 each. The business opportunities would seem to be limited only by what can be imagined as marketable, and the potential for providing high quality books to schools in developing countries is limited only by the availability of funding needed to support such projects as the one in progress at Anywhere Books.

Frequently, there seems to be a tension between how a new technology affects the stakeholders from various communities—in this case, first world and third world communities. It is refreshing when a technological breakthrough can be seen as positive thing for all.

Bonita Wilson

[1] "Book-Binding Technique Could Revive Rare Texts . An interview with Powis Parker," National Public Radio, "Morning Edition" January 12, 2004. Audio available at <>.

[2] Powis Parker, Inc. home page, <>.

[3] "E-books + E-Readers +E-journals = Education Workshop," European Conference on Digital Libraries 2002, Rome, Italy, <>.

[4] Anywhere Books, home page, <>.

[5] Internet Archive Bookmobile, <>.

Copyright© 2004 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/february2004-editorial