April 20, 2024

LibraryBox 2.0 Project Moves Forward with Kickstarter | ALA 2013


[UPDATE: July 9, 2:00pm Matthias Strubel, lead developer for the PirateBox project, has agreed to be the developer for LibraryBox 2.0, Jason Griffey posted today on the CODE4LIB listserv. Appended below is a Q&A in which Griffey talks with Jonathan Rochkind, Digital Services Software Engineer for the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins, about how the project’s goals are evolving, thanks to the success of his Kickstarter campaign. Griffey also clarifies how the project differs from PirateBox. The Q&A has been reprinted in full with permission from Griffey and Rochkind].

Jason Griffey, head of library IT for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund expansions and upgrades for his open-source LibraryBox project. LibraryBoxen are self-contained, battery-powered, pocket-sized routers that enable wireless distribution of ebooks, images, and other digital content without an Internet connection.

Making a LibraryBox is a relatively simple do-it-yourself project that can cost less than $50 using an inexpensive portable router, a USB flash drive, a USB charger, and free, open-source code. Griffey’s website includes step-by-step instructions for people interested in creating their own. However, doing so requires procedures that many users may not be comfortable with, such as replacing a wireless router’s firmware with Open-WRT, using telnet, and working from a command line prompt to edit the router’s network configuration and then install software.

Two of Griffey’s primary goals for the 2.0 version of the project are simplifying the install process as much as possible, and exploring how LibraryBoxen might work with new hardware, such as solar panels for semi-permanent outdoor installations. Funding raised by Kickstarter pledges will be used for test hardware and hiring a developer to simplify the install process and enhance the interface, making it easier for users to navigate, and easier for owners to make minor customizations.

As LJ described in a July, 2012 profile of the project, libraries are already using these portable devices to distribute out-of-copyright and Creative Commons licensed ebooks at local coffee shops and farmers markets. Likewise, one teacher in China told Griffey that s/he had made a LibraryBox to simplify the distribution of classroom materials in an area where Internet traffic is heavily monitored and censored.

He added that he has gotten “an enormous number of requests” for a design that incorporates solar power and a waterproof container. “Especially from little free libraries. A lot of those have been interested,” Griffey said. “I need to see what I can recommend that actually works.”

As for simplifying the installation, Griffey said that he gets lots of feedback from people who followed his instructions and created their own LibraryBox without encountering any serious problems. A community of users has also coalesced around the project, offering online help to anyone who gets stuck. But, as he points out, “I would love to have some statistics about how many people visited the [LibraryBox] page, got excited about the project, looked at the instructions and said ‘nope!’”

With the current LibraryBox 1.5, Griffey said he tried to make the instructions “absolutely as recipe-like as I could possibly make them, and yet there are still ways that they could be better. One of the goals for the 2.0 is to remove as much of that complexity as humanly possible…. In my ideal setup, it would be something like, you download the software, you put it on the USB stick, you log into the box, press a button and magic happens.”

This is not as easy as it sounds, and further complicating the issue, Griffey does not want version 2.0 to be tied to a specific piece of hardware. Currently, he recommends TP Link’s MR3020 for it’s portability and low price, and a single type of hardware is both easier to write code for and support. But theoretically, the code can run on any Open-WRT compatible router, and as Griffey points out, there’s no guarantee that the MR3020 will be manufactured in perpetuity.

“I live in constant fear that TP Link is going to discontinue that router. Tying the project—which is much bigger than any single piece of hardware—to a piece of hardware, is short sighted and not something that I want to do.”

The LibraryBox Kickstarter campaign almost immediately exceeded its modest fundraising goal of $3,000 after launch on Friday, but Griffey has several “stretch goals” that he plans to work on if the project raises more.

For example, if the campaign raises $4,000, the extra $1,000 will be spent hiring a developer to figure out a way for a LibraryBox to track download statistics without logging any user information.

“One of the biggest requests has been for [usage] statistics,” he said. “It’s important for the project that there not be logs of access. It’s anonymous and off the grid. Doing statistics without logging in some way is going to be tricky…. That’s something I really want done, but don’t have the capacity to do myself…. If it raises $5,000, $6,000, $8,000, other new goals will be added.”


Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.