Hello School Librarians ! Anyone for Raspberry Pi?

I’ve not abandoned my commitment to ICT4E in developing spaces – but I tend to operate in a parallel universe where I’m not endlessly frustrated by mind-numbing government decision-makers:-) – my recent blog-rolls will likely entertain you with the latest sch**t I’m having to deal with in Namibia (and presently also in Kenya).  

Some stuff to share with you – 

I’ve had direct experience with eGranary / Widernet and met Cliff Missen yonks ago when both the schoolnet and eGranary projects were getting support from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation for stuff we were doing with open educational resources (OERs) – both online and offline solutions.  in 2005:-).  

eGranary is an excellent, pioneering *concept*!  With skilled librarians, reliable IT support and infrastructure in, say, a university library, it makes real sense for students to have access to a huge volume of OERs. Even if the internet is broken or non-existent. With guidance. 

In practice, though, it has not always worked in *remote* primary and secondary schools since there’s an underlying *presumption* that the local school *librarian* and teachers are well-versed in *harvesting* the right OERs from the huge hard-drive/server solution on offer.  Even with a local search engine and a reasonable content index.  

In 2006, SchoolNet Namibia acquired a stable version of eGranary on an internal hard-drive, and we hacked it to work pretty much seamlessly with our flavour of Linux – Ubuntu – the original eGranary resource was M$FT-dependent and had some tricky locked-in proxy, indexing and search protocols.  I think it probably still works only with M$FT as a default.  We were lucky to have some serious geek (AJ Venter and Uwe Thiem) to help us – and in the end our OpenLab and Wikipedia Lite library resources proved to be very effective in the remote, rural primary and secondary schools where we were deploying our assistive technologies for (mostly horribly slow and unreliable) internet access. 

At this stage an external USB eGranary 4TB (!) hard drive; a portable, stand-alone version of the eGranary digital library, costs US$1,800 plus shipping, typically used in a standalone mode, accessible by the (M$FT) computer to which it is connected.  More advanced M$FT Server / LAN option costs scale exponentially (i.e., very, very costly!)

Here’s the thing that continues to be missing with all these *huge* OER deployments – a *considered* mapping of *relevant* OERs on *local* curriculum. Which needs *local* curriculum knowledge!  Ideally with a fast, digital trace, map and overlay capacity to take the essential bits of british colonial pdf-based curriculum from COL, truly cool stuff from Khan Academy (KA),  Gutenberg (with more than 42,000 free ebooks, essential reading only please!),  Wikipedia, WikiEducator, etc., on the USB drive, and filter out the rest, reducing the total *eclectic* load of 4 TB to a more practical, localised 16 GB.  

This would then also include a spectrum of thoughtfully chosen, informal, informative brain-teasers AND mother-tongue resources which eGranary does *not* have – obviously your local eGranary administrator with M$FT skills can now use the Intel 🙂 sponsored community information platform – CIP – includes Web 2.0 technologies with which 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.  

We are in the fortunate position to have access to excellent curriculum-mapped online resources for Grades 8 – 12 subjects on eCampus – a free educational portal produced by  IIT in Namibia.  

While eGranary staff can do this on your behalf (at what additional US-based costs these days?), they are generally occupied by keeping up to date with the vast, *eclectic* collection of (mostly) OERs on their 4TB hard drive.  

Frankly? There’s no need to have such vast web-resources in the difficult setting that a multitude of ICT4E developers have in remote places without electricity or internet. 

Hello Raspberry Pi! 

So here’s an alternative, user-friendly, open-source, low cost, low energy (3.5-5W), 16GB SD-based school-library solution which may tickle your fancy.  

Some local geek and I have been thrashing this out for a couple of months – and are about to launch a fundraiser to help underwrite the cost of more local curriculum mapping of the resources we’ve assembled to be useful at mostly primary, as well as secondary, school libraries in Namibia.  Especially those that lack infrastructure, electricity and internet. And with a little bit more tweaking, useful for any other former colony/state of the british empire .  

Take a look at  http://edunet-namibia.org/?p=372

for background info from our pal Gerard Jensen on an alpha-version – two months ago.  See what we’re doing with Raspberry Pi, a 16GB SSD card, and very recently, a little USB WiFI (D-Link Corp. DWA-121 802.11n Wireless N 150) Pico Adapter to work as an access point for a local WIFI hotspot – to replace a more conventional wireless router in Gerard’s blog. These are the functional bits on show –  

1. 5W/10W PV panel, solar regulator, 5V output – 2 – 4 x LED lights, 1 x USB outlet, and phone/tablet trickle-charging outlet (10W panel will be more efficient) US$ 60-80.  Scalable. 

2. Raspberry Pi (RPi) – 16GB SDcard + D-LINK wifi router USB stub + linux OS + web server + OER library (ideally platform neutral HTML 5 for optimal use on *any* mobile device), open or WAP enabled wifi hotspot. US$ 35 – 50 depending on power supply, casing, powered USB hub, cabling, etc.  Demand-driven. 

3. Your choice of (bring your own) devices (BYOD) – wifi-enabled kindle, android/apple tablet, smart phone (platform neutral) whichever has a web browser.  If you follow any of the OER/online eLearning discourse from UNESCO/OERF/COL etc., BYOD is trending!  

The RPi has HDMI, audio and video output, 2 USB ports.  I’ve also used an ultra-portable LED projector off the RPI or a tablet/iphone to project browser resources.  The Raspberry Pi can plug into a TV and a keyboard. It’s a miniature ARM-based PC which can be used for mostly any of the things that a desktop PC does, with High-Definition video output. check out


4. We’ve been playing with KA “Lite” to check Youtube-enabled resources and platform neutrality for BYODs on the SD card.  No problem so far.  We’re now testing scale, i.e., how many simultaneous wifi user read/write requests to the RPi are practical.  Will 25+ kids in the library be able to comfortably use the RPi library resources simultaneously?

5.  We plan to put it in a simple, rugged container. As few bits as possible.  We’re not too concerned about branding – nor licensing – it’s all Free/Libre and Open Source – hardware, software and content!  The only moving part is the SD card with OS and content on it – if it breaks we’ll swop it out.  If you need an update, no problem – pop in to your local education service provider or nearest (affordable!) internet service provider and get a SD card update.

I expect this project to have local corporate backing – your choice of branding on the (Pi.local) network.  Or the box – no worries.  

Price-tag?  I guess a shade less than US$ 200.  For a plug-and-play, solar-powered, stand-alone, locally-purposed, school library-in-a-box.  Supported by local distributors and retail outlets.  No need to rely on a service provider in the USA.

Are you interested ?  Let me know – and obviously any and all comments are welcome!


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Posted in #namibia, assistive technologies, EduNet Namibia, eReader, FOSS, Ict4e, library, mobile learning, programming, Raspberry Pi, schoolnet, smartphones, tablets
3 comments on “Hello School Librarians ! Anyone for Raspberry Pi?
  1. baughman says:

    I'm trying to configure my RPi to do something very similar to you with KA-Lite. Can you please post your scripts that you used to get the remote access point operational? I tried using the code here: https://github.com/learningequality/ka-lite-pi-scripts but couldn't get it to work. Thanks!!!


  2. tatejoris says:

    Hi Brian

    (And others who may read this as an additional blog comment !)

    I've been talking to ministries of education, about 'bring your own devices' or effecting the use of increasingly affordable mobile devices, for several years. I was involved in early Shuttleworth Foundation *freedom toaster* prototypes, had shipped in one of the earliest Widernet (eGranary) solutions, along with a stripped down text-only Wikipedia Lite and other OERs, operational at our community resource centre and deployed to some 500 schools, libraries and teacher resource centres by the end of 2006 …the majority of which had no internet to speak of then (and even now, mostly:-(

    *Critically* linked to realistic internet access solutions to serve these widely dispersed educational sites. I've blogged about what I think is “realistic” internet access at such sites. And because of the truly poor quality, yet absurdly expensive, bandwidth, had rationalised several store-and-forward and regional/district depot solutions to allow local folks to update their resources manually by bringing along some portable media – (still) linked to affordability – starting with CDs/DVDs in 2003/2004, then external hard drives and memory sticks, now SD cards… docking into one of many local dedicated servers.

    I must hasten to tell you that I've never really looked for educational outcomes, per se, since our efforts have been, and are, very specifically committed to *democratizing* access to *information* at educational sites by providing appropriate Free/Libre and Open Source solutions and OERs. Hence, we've always focused on empowering *library-like* resource centres, rather than classrooms with 20 computers. With enormous frustration, given the local Ministry's myopic demand for ICT *literacy*, bundled to some kind of multiple-choice certification process in English – a non-mother tongue language for the majority of Namibians. With disastrous educational outcomes.

    If you provide me with a short list of essential metrics you think would have bearing on a practicable study of educational outcomes derived from the use of RPi (or other assistive technology) library resources in disadvantaged rural schools, I'll be happy to work with data-harvesters in Namibia to makes such metrics available. It would be cool if RPi access-logs to identifiable browser-resources can be linked to school records of exam-outcomes in both humanities and science subjects…
    Madryn and I can certainly talk with Ministry educational info management system (EMIS) folks about this.

    Do I think RPi-like access points are likely game changers? Yes, I do. For increased library resource deployments – in the school, community resource centre, even the learner and teacher homes, with, or without, conventional electricity. Android tablets, and new generation smart phones will become significantly cheaper in the next 18 months. We've already got access to an Indian US$ 50 tablet, and 10W 500-700 mA solar power solutions are also in that ballpark. I do wish that PICO WIFI LED projectors would also drop in price!

    Total cost of ownership for a school library should be in the order of US$ 200 inclusive of a locally distributed service network – replacement SD cards, free internet access depots for updating information resources, and possibly some basic training on how to use a solar panel (seriously!), a web browser and what Creative Commons licensing means to prospective users of information.

    Kind regards



  3. Hi Joris and team,

    Joris I just responded to your e-mail but thought I'd chime in here as well. At World Possible we focus almost entirely on the content curation for servers and projects like yours, condensing that info into what is important and then making it searchable and deployable via USB (or Pi). A nice article about how this is done in Ghana can be found here:


    It's still early, but we've had problems with Pi, especially as it relates to SD cards failing in remote environments. Would love to connect.



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