eGranary Digital Library

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The eGranary Digital Library is a mission of the WiderNet Project, a non-profit aimed at providing internet and library services to developing nations.



WiderNet was founded in 2000 by Cliff Missen and Dr. Michael McNulty to "provide training and research in low-cost, high impact uses of information technologies in developing countries".[1] Cliff Missen developed the idea after studying at the University of Jos Nigeria the year before as a Fulbright Scholar. While studying and teaching in Nigeria through the program, Missen experienced first-hand frustrations caused by the lack of Internet access. This frustration led to his vision of the WiderNet project with the objective of providing training and research in low-cost, high impact uses of information technologies in developing countries.

The WiderNet Project has shipped over 1,600 computers, 50,000 books, and more than 1,600 eGranary Digital Libraries to schools, clinics, and universities in Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Papua New Guinea since 2000. They have also trained almost 5,000 people on topics including policy planning, enterprise management, technician training, and classroom technology.

The eGranary Digital Library was invented in 2001 by Cliff Missen. There are now eGranary installations in more than 1,600 schools, clinics, and universities in Africa, India, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, and Haiti.


An eGranary Digital Library caches educational resources via a local area network in order to reduce connectivity costs in Internet-scarce areas. Most eGranary subscribers do not have an Internet connection, but those who do can open resources up to 5,000 times faster from the eGranary Digital Library.

The eGranary Digital Library contains an off-line collection of approximately 32 million educational resources from more than 2,500 Web sites and hundreds of CD-ROMs and fits on a 6TB hard drive.[2] The collection includes more than 60,000 books in their entirety, hundreds of full-text journals, and dozens of software applications.

Some of the documents in the eGranary Digital Library are in the public domain, some carry a copyleft license, but most of them have been freely provided by their authors and publishers as a contribution to global education. About 6% of the content in the eGranary Digital Library is not available on the public Internet; much of it typically requires a subscription or payment, but authors and publishers have agreed to provide it for free to people in low-bandwidth situations.

Any subscriber can include their own digital content in the eGranary Digital Library, making it a publishing platform for communication and collaboration.

Included Software[edit]

The eGranary Digital Library contains a built-in proxy server and search engine similar to the Internet, at a speed that is otherwise not usually available to them. The proxy server allows users' Web requests to "play-through" to the Internet if a connection is available.

Since many patrons of the eGranary Digital Library are unfamiliar with using the Internet, WiderNet Project hires librarians worldwide to assist partners in locating specific resources. The eGranary's interface includes a word search powered by Lucene and Solr, an online public access catalog powered by VuFind which contains over 60,000 records, and dozens of portals cooperatively developed with experts from around the world.

Since 2010, the eGranary Digital Library includes interactive Web 2.0 features in its Community Information Platform. Thanks to a generous grant from the Intel Corporation in 2010, the Community Information Platform was developed to allow users to create and share their own content through technologies like built-in Web editors, LDAP security, Moodle, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, Drupal, and others. Subscribers can set up unlimited Web sites on their server and use free, built-in software to make Web pages, upload files and share local information with each other.

Social Contract[edit]

One of the guiding principles of the eGranary Digital Library is that the content must not be sold for profit. The WiderNet Project pledges this to authors and publishers when seeking their permission and each subscriber institution signs a license agreement stating that they will make the content freely available to their patrons via their local area networks.

To build a reliable, self-sustaining service, the WiderNet Project has developed a business model that aims to cover ongoing program and development costs through grants, donations, sponsored training programs, and volunteers. So far the organization has raised and spent over $1,200,000 in 15 years to develop, field test and promote the concept. Volunteers from around the world have put in more than 30,000 hours to assist with computer programming, collecting and organizing new resources, creating portals and curriculum, and building and distributing new libraries.

While the development of new features is funded by grants and gifts, eGranary drives are sold at a highly subsidized rate to subscribers, just enough to recover production costs without making a profit. Subscribers cover the costs of basic librarianship, the purchase, testing, and preparation of the equipment, the transaction costs (like marketing, licensing, and accounting), and providing on-going technical support and software updates.

Several value-added resellers integrate the eGranary Digital Library into their offerings. Additionally, young entrepreneurs in developing countries have joined the WiderNet Project's Field Associate program, offering on-site installation and training in their countries.

Since they incur no bandwidth costs, some subscribers share their eGranary via wireless networks to create free wireless public libraries, or knowledgespheres, in their communities. This concept is illustrated in the following video:


The eGranary Digital Library represents the collective efforts of thousands of authors, publishers, programmers, librarians, instructors and students around the globe. Some of the many authors and publishers who have granted permission to distribute their works via the eGranary Digital Library include: Wikipedia, the Khan Academy, TED_(conference), the Centers for Disease Control, Columbia University, Cornell University, MIT OpenCourseWare, UNESCO, the World Bank, the Hesperian Foundation, and the World Health Organization.


There are several research publications on the eGranary, mainly by two scholars (and their colleagues), each representing different research foci. Cliff Missen (and colleagues) has written several articles focussing on the contribution of the eGranary to low-bandwidth settings, notably Africa. Their research includes an overview of how the eGranary can provide web pages and multimedia files to under-resourced areas, counter the challenges of low bandwidth, as well as an experiment to create metadata through crowd cataloging.[3][4][5]

Another area of scholarly work on the eGranary is carried out by Bonny Norton and colleagues in the context of a rural community library in Uganda. This research discusses student and teacher library users’ identities in light of their use of the eGranary, which had been donated to the library. The eGranary gave the student users a new range of identities to choose from, and the identities of the students in charge of the eGranary evolved as they went from newcomers to expert users. The eGranary also opened up for future imagined identities, such as related to working with technology. Teachers were positive and developed their technological skills, but also recognized some challenges.[6][7][8]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

Sources and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "WiderNet: Our History". 
  2. ^ newsblaze article Africa, India, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Haiti get eGranary Digital Library published 2007
  3. ^ Missen, Cliff (2005). "Internet in a box: The eGranary digital library serves scholars lacking Internet bandwidth". New Review of Information Networking. 11 (2): 193–199. doi:10.1080/13614570600573367. 
  4. ^ Miner, Edward A.; Missen, Cliff (2005). ""Internet in a Box": Augmenting Bandwidth with the eGranary Digital Library". Africa Today. 2 (52): 21–37. doi:10.1353/at.2006.0012. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  5. ^ Maron, Deborah; Missen, Cliff; Greenberg, Jane (2014). ""Lo-Fi to Hi-Fi": A New Metadata Approach in the Third World with the eGranary Digital Library". DCMI International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications: 37–42. 
  6. ^ Norton, Bonny (2014). "8". In Sanford, Kathy; Rogers, Theresa; Kendrick, Maureen. eGranary and digital identities of Ugandan Youth. Springer. pp. 111–127. ISBN 978-981-4451-02-4. 
  7. ^ Norton, Bonny; Williams, Carrie-Jane (2012). "Digital identities, student investments and eGranary as a placed resource". Language and Education. 26 (4): 315–329. 
  8. ^ Norton, Bonny; Early, Margaret; Tembe, Juliet (2010). "eGranary as a digital resource in Uganda: Preliminary findings" (PDF). Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Cultural Attitudes Towards Technology and Communication: 35–41.