How to keep e-books on young cellphone users’ minds—and encourage their friends to join the fun

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ugandaposterDon’t just hand out tablets and hope that low-income families and others will read e-books. Also keep library e-books on the minds of children and adults.

That’s what LibraryCity suggested in a 2011 post calling for book-related art to adorn walls in homes (and schools, too, obviously).

Well, the brains behind a clever literacy campaign in Uganda may have been thinking along similar lines. See Gary Price’s INFOdocket writeup and a YouTube video.

Significantly the “Everywhere Library” campaign didn’t just stop with the idea of running images of personal “libraries” as ads in popular newspapers—collections of spine-out book covers that Ugandans could snip out, with new sections added weekly, over four weeks.

No, the campaign even supplied cellphone codes that people could key in to retrieve actual e-books on mobile phones, even phones that weren’t “smart” models. With book-related images on walls or elsewhere, the displayed books are more likely to be social objects inspiring friends and family members to “check” them out, whether or not the original ad-snippers do.

Might this not be something for libraries, schools and others to try here in the U.S., in partnership with interested members of the media and its advertising communities? Perhaps using a variety of technologies to bridge the gap between print and the Web, not just the less sophisticated ones in Uganda?

But please, keep these efforts ongoing, beyond four weeks. And don’t repeat a huge mistake of the MTN Group in Africa and talk up e-books as a replacement for the construction and maintenance of physical libraries. That’s not all. The MTN experiment had its noble side, but it was also an image-enhancement exercise by a company with its share of negative publicity and presumably an interest in obtaining favorable treatment from rate-setters and on tax matters.

While U.S. libraries and schools would be naïve to expect corporate participation without the related goals of image-polishing and -protection, let’s hope that educational needs rather than business ones would be the real drivers.

dondraperRegardless of the greed factor, however, the “Library Everywhere” project in Uganda was Don Draper-brilliant on the whole despite the simple-minded treatment of brick-and-mortar libraries, and I hope that it will inspire well-intentioned variants here in the States. Perhaps the BiblioTech project down in the San Antonio area could experiment with such techniques in partnership with local newspapers—both their online and print editions. People could download featured e-books from library servers.

The online editions and library servers could not only offer direct links to books but also printable PDF files that showed users’ collections of least highlighted books and even featured “badges” and other ways to honor heavy readers. Kids without color printers could use library machines and come back again and again to update their wall posters. More library visits! Via QR codes on the spines of the e-books in the colorful printouts on your wall, your friends could immediately call up the books, so that, with the right smartphones and software on them, they didn’t even have to type in brief Web addresses to download (although the addresses should be there as well). KISS! The experiment if need be could begin with unencumbered books, although I’d hope that ways could be found to add copyrighted content later on if this were not easily possible at first. In effect the campaign might turn millions of young people’s bedroom walls into the equivalents of the “power walls” that some libraries use to let visitors browse collections by way of touch screens.

Ideally the U.S. newspaper industry would see opportunities here. The book-reading habit is one way to build the patience needed for serious newspaper reading, especially of longer articles. Something for the Washington Post and its new owner, Jeff Bezos, to consider? I would about to add “for Anacostia.” But then I remembered all the young people even in well-off neighborhoods in my area who shun newspapers in any format.

A “must” is to do this as a genuine literacy campaign rather than a promo in disguise for Amazon or another company, and the library books should be available from different sources, not just one corporation.

Librarians and educators, not Amazon, the Post or any other newspaper, should set the direction the campaign. But if Bezos and his employees and other corporate types can offer technology and the related expertise—not to mention the space to run the ads, for the minority of teens and poor people now reading print newspapers!—that’ll be terrific. Amazon has used scanning technology for smartphones to help customers find better prices than they could at brick-and-mortar bookstores. Now here’s a less controversial use for it.

“E-Book Walls,” anyone? That’s as logical a name as any for the printouts (and, yes, young people are welcome to drop the hyphen).

Related: How a national digital library system could help promote early childhood learning—and academic and vocational success later on; The nuts and bolts of using tablet computers, e-libraries and family literacy initiatives to encourage young children to read; and Family literacy and K-12 success: How a well-stocked public e-library system for the U.S. could help our students catch up with ‘The Smartest Kids in the World.’

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