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bYtES For aLL: September 2000


September 15, 2000: This message was distributed by Papyrus News, a free e-mail distribution list on the global impact of information technology on language, literacy, and education. Feel free to forward this message to others, preferably with this introduction. For information on Papyrus News, including how to (un)subscribe or access archives, see <>.


_/ B y t e s F o r A l l ---
_/ Making Computing Relevant to the People of South Asia
_/ _/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/
* Development library on every PC
* Digitising development information
* Reaching out to 50 m key individuals
* A workable plan
* Replicating of CD-Roms
* Content can be cloned
* Battling the high costs of telecentres
* Just $2 per doctor!
* In local languages too
From: Dr Michel Loots <>

According to the UNDP website, an hour Internet in Chad costs an average of 10 US$. Recently, high-level UN experts on information technology pointed to the fact that only a fraction of eligible high-school students in developing countries can attend University.

To tackle these two problems, we believe that every PC in the developing world should get a complete development library on CD-ROM with 1000 or more publications (of which part could be delivered in their local language - see further). The exposure of tens of millions of people to such better practice information and knowledge would create unprecedented participatory effects.

1) Our best practice project Humanity Libraries Project demonstrates by extrapolation that it would be possible to digitise most of this essential development information of the world and to provide this information to 50 million key individuals. We achieved 0.1% of that with no real funding. We invite others to join and copy us to fill the 99% remaining needs.

The idea is to give to each PC in developing countries, this means about 50 million PC's, a set of a few adapted CD-ROM libraries containing 1000 to 2000 of a selection of the most useful UN and NGO publications pertaining to poverty or education solutions for that particular situation/ target group. It is possible to do this probably at a cost of 2 to 4 US$ per PC.

2) The present costs of replication and distribution of our humanitarian Humanity Libraries CD-ROM collections is in the order of 3 to 6 US$ per CD-ROM (irrespective if 200 or 1200 full-text publications are included per CD-ROM - see online versions at

This is the cost at our actual distribution level of 50.000 CD-ROM libraries per year to the South (of which about 60% are already distributed free of cost). This is not entirely self-sustainable, but the alternative is to raise prices and then the distribution would fall well under 5000 copies per year.

The cost of replicating CD-ROMs in bigger quantities is only about 1 to 2 US$ per CD-ROM. So if scanning and editing costs can be sponsored and wide distribution guaranteed (for example a CD with every PC shipped or used etc..), every PC in developing countries could get one or more adapted digital libraries of 1200 publications at only 1 to 2 US$ per CD-ROM.

3) We have recent successful experiences with local replication of CD-ROMS in Columbia (saving 60% of transport and customs costs on 2000 cd-roms distributed locally) and Pakistan (where SNDP people could burn hundreds of copies via CD-Writer)

Local reproduction of CD-ROMS offers the advantage of technology transfer and the creation of modular CD-ROM collections by combining local information with international information modules (for example all international and local AIDS related info, International publications about Agriculture combined with local agricultural publications etc..). The modular concept brings down editorial costs, needed software expertise and collection building time with 80%.

4) With the advanced Greenstone software developed with our NZDL partner (, every Humanity Libraries CD-ROM can become an Internet server ( or can be copied on hard- disks locally without further permission.

Thus, depending on the economics of hard-disk space in the near future; content of one of such CD-ROM of 1-2 US$ could be cloned on any number of hard-disks, hand-held devices, local networks or servers, satellite broadcasting and other low cost information carriers, bringing distribution costs per collection further down the 1 US$.

More-over we are striving to bring the Greenstone software into public domain, so that every university or government department can create their own collections.

5) Empowering 200.000 African PC's to become local info centers at the cost of 2 Telecenters

Even if Telecenters prove very useful, it has also been noted the unit cost is very high, in the order of 200.000 US$. Therefore we would like to promote a complementary participatory approach that takes care of empowering and trusting millions of social and economic entrepreneurs in the developing world.

For the cost equivalent of only a few Telecenters, it would be possible to provide to almost EVERY PC in AFRICA the equivalent of 2000 books and other information to help promote local economy, health, education and technology transfer. Even if only 5% of these PC's would become effective informal local or familial infonodes, this would mean that more than 10.000 small informal infocenters would emerge out of this action, or a 2.000 fold increase in number of info-nodes.

6) For the cost equivalent of 2 US$ per doctor, every of the about 5 million medical doctors / health centers in developing countries could get access to a health library of the 2000 most essential books and training modules on health. This is a concrete project that we as a small NGO already have implemented partially for 2000 doctors with a library of 300 books ( - Medical and Health Library). I pointed to the needs of bringing all Health related publications of international organisations in public domain 2 years ago on this GKD list.

7) Local Languages: A Global Translation Project by University Students

The United Nations agencies; NGO and universities have probably 30.000 to 50.000 publications covering information in essential needs. These are mostly available in English (70%) or French and Spanish.

The idea is to set up a global humanitarian translation project for and with the United Nations and through national ministries of Education. Graduating University students in each country get assignment to translate those books in local languages, so that digital libraries can be created in local languages. These would not be official translations but working translations, checked by professors.

As we have access to 2000 prefect electronic files, we already pre-investigated this concept and think this could be an avenue with potential of solving the local language problem.

8) Collaboration with UN agencies and information sharing : Positive Notes

It is essential that all agencies, governments, NGO and individual authors continue to digitize their material in standard formats (of which FAO WAICENT RTF/WORD and HTML formats are the best, from indexed collection point of view PDF must be avoided), And also to agree that their information can be shared for free or low-cost redistribution in an humanitarian network setting without central copyright clearances.

It must be pointed that many UN agencies and departments are digitising their material and are making this available through Internet. Other efforts are made to bring information to developing countries. We would also point to the very good collaboration the Humanity Libraries Project has with many United Nations agencies and UN departments.

However: most of the time people in developing countries have no access to these Internet sites. Thus there is a real need of development and governmental agencies world over helping to create a low-cost library of their most essential publications and pool them in open humanitarian shareware settings. Copyright-free.


-- We are now a separate NGO unit: Humanity Libraries Project, with our (soon multilingual ) website named . Collections are free online at

-- Our project is an example of replicable and low cost information dissemination best practice

-- Our goal is to help meet the needs of millions of people to access good information. Of course we cannot do this ourselves for the whole world. That is why we invite UN agencies, governments and NGO to copy us freely and build on our experience and software

-- Thus we are willing to share our low-cost production capacity, software, resources and experiences, and are open to create collections for UN and Aid agencies, which we could then share in a network setting with developing countries.


-- Every UN and governmental ODA department should start identifying the hundreds of valuable publications which could be distributed digitally to developing countries

-- All agencies, governments, NGO and individual authors should then start to digitize this material in standard formats (of which RTF or HTML as most important). We can help with this at low cost, please contact us.

-- Copyrights should be cleared. This is a necessary condition for the free or low-cost global redistribution and translation.

-- Decentralised collection building. Every UN agency or department should then create own collections in collaboration with a few selected partners, make sure quality is optimal through peer review, and try to saturate their user base at once. Usually, this would mean creating a first CD-ROM with about 200 publications (10.000 to 20.000 pages) and distributing this to 10.000 to 20.000 recipients and multipliers. Mostly this can be done at very low budget ( 4US$ or less per CD).

-- Merging with other collections. When the different collections are built, have been validated by experts and users, it is possible to combine different collections into one bigger CD-ROM library.

-- Once these bigger collections are built, saturation of continents at once becomes possible. For example saturating every PC in Africa with a library of 2000 publications covering AIDS prevention, water, small enterprise, education; health etc/

-- Again, our concept can be copied and we are open to help create collections for UN and Aid agencies,

Dr Michel Loots, MD
Humanity Libraries Project Director

e-mail for additional info :
and website :
Collections are free online at

bYtES For aLL is a voluntary, unfunded venture that, for the purpose of spreading its ideals, seeks the involvement and support of all who agree with its goals. Contact us at * Compiled in public interest * CopyLeft bYtES For aLL ezine volunteers team includes: Frederick in Goa, Partha in Dhaka, Zubair in Islamabad, Archana in Goa, Arun-Kumar in Dortmund, Zunaira in Karachi, Shivkumar in Mumbai, Rajib in Kathmandu, Daryl in Chicago and Sangeeta in Kathmandu. Partha Sarkar is webmaster of This ezine may be freely circulated provided entire message is left intact. If you wish to reproduce in part, please write to us for permission; we have never refused to date. TO UN / SUBSCRIBE simply send a message to with UNSUBSCRIBE B4A or SUBSCRIBE B4A as the subject line.

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Last updated: September 15, 2000 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0