One of the things that I’ve been most often asked about the Librarybox project is “What’s it for?”. That’s an honest question, and I’ve had a host of answers: to help serve files to areas without wifi but with devices, to serve files to users in a controlled fashion that doesn’t involve wider Internet access, etc.
But an email I got just a week or so ago put everything into focus for me. Here it is, edited to protect the identity of the person writing and anonymize the location a bit.
I’m a foreigner living in [REDACTED], and volunteer twice a week to help low-income [REDACTED] learn English. English classes are obscenely expensive, so it’s becomes a means for the Haves to keep the Have-not’s out of more lucrative jobs and overseas educational opportunities. Helping really motivated people, who just can’t afford access to this sort of education is quite rewarding and enjoyable.
We get upwards of 100 people showing up in the park to practice every week, so I do quite a bit of running around. One of the issues is that because of the [INFORMATION CONTROLS], often access to very simple, innocuous study material is blocked (of course well-to-do families have VPNs so don’t have these problems). So at first I would print things out, and then when the group got too large, encourages them to bring USB drives- which was a bit time consuming, and I’m concerned might attract the wrong sort of attention. Lately I’ve been using Piratebox, because even the cheapest [REDACTED] phones have wifi. It’s better than the alternatives to date, but as you pointed out it’s not really meant for the purpose and can be quite confusing…
[HARDWARE DISCUSSION REDACTED]…I just barely managed to get Piratebox installed- I’m not very good at command line. Most of the people who would probably get the best use out of this also would have similar problems, anything that could be done to simplify the install procedure would be great. If LibraryBox could simply open to some sort of file structure- read only, with no links or chat like the PirateBox has. Then I could just load the USB drive up directly with relevant study material for them to download to their phones, and at the cost so low I’m sure that the use would become widespread.
This is something I truly believe in, and a little English can make a massive difference in the quality of life here for some. Also for a hungry mind not to have access to books… well you probably feel
about the same way about that as I do or you would not have started this fork. So if any sort of donation would help with the development costs- please let me know.
As a result of this email, I would like to publicly ask for help with the project. I think two things need to be done: the first is moving the LibraryBox fork up to the current version of Piratebox, something which I have the hardware to start testing soon. But once I grok how to make the customizations work, I think the next step in the project is a true fork…producing an IPK that is installable directly to LibraryBox, bypassing Piratebox altogether. I had been holding out against this, hoping to continue to benefit from the code being produced by the Piratebox team. Once LibraryBox starts being a separate install, it becomes more complicated to merge code. But the letter above sold me, and I am asking for help with this.
If you feel as strongly as I do about the free flow of information, the sharing of books, and the education of the disadvantaged, help me. In the next couple of weeks I hope to have the customizations done, and if you have any coding skills, or understand how to build IPK’s for install, help me make this easier for people like the author above. The idea that this project could be something that helps make lives better around the world…well, that has a way of inspiring me. I hope it inspires you to volunteer some time to help out.
If you have questions, ideas, or want to touch base to find out how you can help, use the contact form here.