Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
25 December 2003

Here’s an uplifting idea for Christmas – Humanitarian Information for All. Some are intent on putting the world’s literature online (copyright permitting) – “Project Gutenberg”:http://promo.net/pg/ and the “million book project”:http://www.archive.org/texts/texts.php for example. Others like the “International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications”:http://www.inasp.org.uk/, “BioMedCentral”:http://www.biomedcentral.com/ and the “Public Library of Science”:http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org/ are attempting in various ways to make the latest in scientific (and particularly medical) research widely available.

The Humanitarian Information for All project has a simpler and more focused goal – ‘to provide all persons involved in development, well-being and basic needs, access to a complete library containing most solutions, know-how and ideas they need to tackle poverty and increase the human potential.’ At the moment because of the cost of Internet access to developing countries they are doing this by producing CD-ROMs. The total budget for the last four years has been around $200,000 – I hope that given the apparent usefulness of the project they get enough funding to complete it.
Thanks to Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka for the link


  1. Hi, I read this blog quite often.

    I’m blind, I can access computers via electronic speech/braille, and I’m a web producer for a big media corporation. I can read all sorts on my PC: internet sites (so I can now read a daily newspaper hurrah), research documents, personal mail, etc – but books are still in ink and paper format and hence inaccessible!

    Until proper commercial and accessible eBooks come along, recent works of fiction and academia are completely off my landscape. I can’t read them. Popular belief says that all books are turned into braille or put onto tape or somesuch … but no, less than 1% of books are made accessible in any one year. I can’t read the latest talked-about books, trashy bestsellers or academic texts to help me in my studies.

    When I was a student in the early 1990s, I was effectively my own publisher too. I had to pay people to read books onto cassette. If you ever see a blind student, remember they have to work 20 times harder than other students to get their grades largely because books are still only accessible in the dreaded ink and print format.

    Yes, you can scan books using text recognition software, but even the best scanning software out there mistakes 5 for S, 1 for I, n for ri, et. This is a big problem when being read back by a speech synth that says the word ‘resign’ as ‘re51ri’ … imagine that being said loud? (my speech synth pronounced it as “ree fifty one rye”) Also, it takes approx one working day to scan a book and clean up the text before you can even read it. It’s technically illegal to get someone else to scan it for you and then pass it on. Fundamentally we’re stuffed … and if you want to read 10 books just to create one essay then … well imagine the extra time and hassle before you even set pen to paper (or fingers to qwerty).

    Anyway, that’s by the by … what I wanted to do is to alert you to the fact that as a result of being very much part of the print underclass, blind people are now scanning and sharing books around the net … in a huge huge way. There are underground communities and websites with protected passwords etc that have huge stores of scanned texts … so that you can share books that others have painstakingly scanned. Why scan something for yourself if someone has already spent those 8 hours scanning it and all you need to do is download a book, launch Word and sit back and listen to your speech synth?

    This clearly has huge copyright implications.

    For blind people, however, it’s fear and copyright that are keeping us from reading books that everyone else can read on the tube on the way home after a quick browse round the shelves and a purchase in Waterstones. Oh to be able to do that!

    I’d willingly pay, of course, I’m not asking for a charitable act from publishers … just books in accessible forms. eBooks should have been created with blind people in mind at the very beginning, the fact that they are largely inaccessible is bloody criminal because it need not have been that way. Instead, the big publishing companies are having their books scanned and share with no money changing hands whatsoever … and believe me this is a huge underground ‘scene’ and must be spreading beyond blind people.

    I’d argue this is a human rights issue as it’s entirely possible for all books now to be accessible using some kind of digital text format … as no doubt, every book exists somewhere in some form on someone’s hard disk drive … the publishers for starters 😉

    That’s all … I just hope that 2004 brings access to books. I intend to scan more books than ever before this year and share them on the Net with no shame or care until blind people’s access needs are addressed, which they could be VERY easily.

    Thanks for yer blog … it nicely filters that big wide open internet sea for me.

    Comment by Damon — 30 December 2003 @ 2:21 pm

  2. Free Books For Basic Human Needs

    Good resources for those of us that are literary minded – or not. 🙂 I need more time for reading. Blog.org: Positive uses of technology Archives I also need more time for writing….

    Trackback by KnowProSE — 25 December 2003 @ 1:35 pm

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