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Old 10-29-2010, 07:56 PM   #1
Elfwreck
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High-school ebook library

My daughter's high school has no library. (Insert appropriate noises of horror.) It's a tiny charter school in the middle of Oakland; even if it had funds for a library (it doesn't) or could get donations, it doesn't have space for one. It does, however, have a resource center & computers for the kids to use, and most of the kids have computers at home.

I want to make it a library of ebooks. (Legal, legit ebooks; no shady stuff.) I want something other than "here is the entire collection of English-language books from Gutenberg," because the kids aren't going to use that any more from a disc than they do now, which is to say, not at all.

I'm looking for suggestions & recommendations for this. Ebooks, software (Calibre? Stanza? Firefox-and-EPUBreader, loaded portably so kids can copy-paste the whole set to take home?), other ideas.

It's an inner-city Oakland school; interest in DWEM authors is low. Willing to contact authors & publishers to seek permission for ebook use; not willing to bother with DRM... I'm limiting this to "kids can freely share, copy, distribute these ebooks to their friends & family."

While I'm willing to take suggestions for academic resources (I know there's free textbooks in various places online), I'm more interested in collecting books the kids will (or might) read on their own, or could reasonably be assigned as classroom reading. (So, not looking for titles like "Biology for 10th graders." Except maybe to point out to the school that they exist.) Especially looking for good nonfic (biography, histories, essays) 'cos I know I'll have no trouble rounding up swarms of fiction; I just have to pare that down to stuff that's teen-appropriate.
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Old 10-29-2010, 08:31 PM   #2
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If the kids have USB sticks, load up the portable edition of Firefox + ePubReader, and they'll be able to take their chosen e-books wherever they go, since ePR stores a copy of each ePub within the Firefox userdata folder, which automatically gets bundled into the Portable Firefox copy.

You'll need to set up some sort of central repository for them to load the books from in the first place, though. An alternative is Lucidor's Lucifox add-on, which lets you store and load the books from a selected external directory, but which is incompatible with ePubReader.

I think that most of the "modern" non-fiction you'll find free online will be likely to be computer programming stuff (or someone's conspiracy-theory screed).

That said, one that might possibly be of interest (and aimed at kids) is Jim Muller's The Great Logo Adventure, which he offers as a free PDF via the equally free MSWLogo page. I think I recall it taught basic mathematical and geometry concepts at the same time as the programming, though it may skew a bit young for a high school. See ACSLogo for a free (and very nifty) MacOS X app if you need one.

For linguistics, Mark Rosenfelder has some very nice essays up about various aspects of language comparison and usage, and maybe the kids could do projects using the Language Construction Kit, which is fairly popular among conlangers who like to make up their own.

His website is a bit irreverent though, perhaps too much so for the school authorities.

But at least the kids will be able to learn how to say in eight languages handy phrases such as "So far as I can see Heinlein is just a second-rate Ayn Rand.", "If you got flamed it's because you deserved it. ", and "Can we declare this thread officially dead?", giving them realistic practical skills which they'll be able to put to good use in many situations online.

ETA: Also, B&N's NookStudy app comes with a free download offer for 12 of their annotated B&N Classic editions and some PDF SparkCharts, which you can then load onto the school computers.

Not all of them will be to the kids' tastes, but I recall that Alice in Wonderland and Edgar Allan Poe are among them, along with the Scarlet Letter, which seems to be notorious for being assigned reading. They've got little context and influence essays which include movies and such inspired by the classic tales, and might be a more interesting read than the bare bones editions.

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Old 10-29-2010, 08:46 PM   #3
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Can't use B&N's free classics; they're DRM-infected. (And not free to distribute.) I'll stick to Gutenberg & Mobileread for public-domain stuff.

Most of the kids have USB sticks, or could otherwise burn things onto a disc. I'm debating between "everything in ePub" and "several formats."

For free ebooks online, I'll need to be able to contact the author/publisher and ask for permission to *distribute*, not just download, although I also expect to put together a list of links where the kids can download books for themselves.

I'll look at Muller's books. Thanks!

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Old 10-29-2010, 09:10 PM   #4
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Oops. Forgot about that.

Well, if you're willing to include freely-available online resources that are nonetheless still firmly controlled by the copyright-holder, the SparkNotes people do have a page where you can read in HTML format the full information from some of their selected SparkCharts, which are arranged into attractively bite-sized info-bits that the kids should have no trouble digesting.

And Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy have full versions of selected stories from their Action Philosophers and Comic Book comics, which they let you read free online or download as PDF in the hopes that you'll buy the entire collected editions (which certainly worked with me). They seem to be pretty enthusiastic about their stuff being used for educational purposes, and will probably be willing to let you pass the PDFs around if you just ask.

There's Pre-Socratic philosophers, John Stuart Mill, Rene Descartes, and Carl Jung. Informative and entertaining, and I think they'll appeal to younger readers.

Similarly, biologist Jay Hosler, who does science comics and has kids himself, has a couple of 1-page cartoons on his website which might be useful for illustrating concepts from course material. He's also got a nifty blog where mentions he science stuff as it relates to comics (Skrull shapeshifters and biological mimics, etc.) and puts up extra illustrations, such as this life-cycle of a liver fluke.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by ATDrake; 10-29-2010 at 09:17 PM. Reason: I hereby un-omit a word.
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Old 10-29-2010, 09:30 PM   #5
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This is a hard question to answer because there is a ton of available material but what you want is really a curated collection and somebody has to do the curating. I can give you some ideas for specific titles based on my own reading but that will limit you to maybe a dozen titles...

- Cory Doctorow has two YA novels available for free under a Creative Commons license. Little Brother is pretty good; haven't read the other one yet. I think he even has some teaching resources for Little Brother.

- Orwell: 1984 and Animal Farm are freely available and I remember at least one of them being on the curriculum when I was in school. 1984 would be a great one to study along with Big Brother...

- John Scalzi has a freebie here that is very good and kids would enjoy it. Fun one for a free choice read.

- You might consider teaching a parent volunteer how to do some basic HTML formatting to save Wikipedia articles as proper ebooks kids could download and read on devices...
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Old 10-29-2010, 10:03 PM   #6
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Orwell has excellent essays, available via this Canadian website which collects all his work. Unfortunately he's a Life+50 author, so you'll have to do some sorting to weed out the few that will be PD according to US rules if you want to distribute.

To make nicely-formatted PDF versions of Wikipedia entries, the PrinceXML people automatically include a stylesheet as part of their samples plus instructions on how to apply it to any entry of your choice. They are also free for non-commercial use, although they will put a small watermark on the first page of the generated file.
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Old 10-29-2010, 10:24 PM   #7
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This is a hard question to answer because there is a ton of available material but what you want is really a curated collection and somebody has to do the curating.
At the moment, that's "me and whoever else I can rope into helping." Which may mean nobody other than random advice. (In which case, the resulting collection won't be winning any awards for Best Inner-City Library. But it'll be more than they've got now, and might work to get some of the kids aware of ebooks and interested in reading for pleasure.)
Quote:
- Cory Doctorow has two YA novels available for free under a Creative Commons license. Little Brother is pretty good; haven't read the other one yet. I think he even has some teaching resources for Little Brother.
The other is "For the Win," and it's glorious; my daughter's read it & shared it with friends. Definitely both of those go in the collection; I'll need to talk to school people to sort out what else of Doctorow's might be acceptable. (My standards are skewed; I've got no idea if "Makers" is too mature for teens. Or, more accurately, too mature for parents of teens to be aware of.)
Quote:
- Orwell: 1984 and Animal Farm are freely available and I remember at least one of them being on the curriculum when I was in school. 1984 would be a great one to study along with Big Brother...
I'd love that, but it's not in PD in the US. I'm willing to contact publishers/authors' heirs to try for permission, but I don't expect that to work.

Quote:
- John Scalzi has a freebie here that is very good and kids would enjoy it. Fun one for a free choice read.
Yep, that's a fun one.

Quote:
- You might consider teaching a parent volunteer how to do some basic HTML formatting to save Wikipedia articles as proper ebooks kids could download and read on devices...
I am the parent volunteer. It's not unlikely I'm the most net-savvy parent connected to the school. (It's also very possible I'm not; it's a high-tech area.)

No ebook devices. These will be read almost exclusively on school or home computers, although I may try to include info on how to read them on phones. (I suspect that "read on phones" has limited appeal. I know how many people who *love* ebooks will deal with 3" screens, and I don't expect that percentage to be any higher among kids who don't like reading in general.)

I can do wikipedia-pages-as-PDFs, but I'd need a reason why they can't just go to Wikipedia for that info. (A collection of related pages might be useful. I'll be talking with some of the teachers about what kind of nonfic would be good.)
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Old 10-30-2010, 12:06 AM   #8
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Possibly some of the kids may belong to households where there's a computer, but no reliable internet access (probably not, though, if you're in a high-tech area). However, in that case, PDF Wiki articles might be useful for offline reading.

The Creative Commons Wiki has a listing of CC-licensed books. It's as they say, quite incomplete, but it gives you something to start with, and they've got a blog keeping up with professionally published people now releasing selected works as CC.

One of them happens to be Canadian science fiction author Peter Watts, who's just won a Hugo Award for his novella The Island, and puts practically everything of his CC-licensed up on his website. However, he tends to be fairly sharp and cynical in his writing, and thus might possibly be considered age-inappropriate for US teenagers in much the same way that the likewise CC-licensed Cooking With Booze would be.

I'd also consider taking advantage of the US' slightly weird public domain rules, and go looking on Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive for that copyright-not-renewed pre-1963 stuff and see if there's anything that looks like it might be interesting. It'll at least be a little more modern than the regular Life+70 selection.

And speaking of copyright and the public domain, there's probably no better way for the kids to learn about how various corporate interests are encroaching upon it and eroding fair use than via the CC-licensed comic book produced by Duke University's Center for the Study of the Public Domain, free to download and distribute in PDF, or remix in jpg or png to your heart's content.

You can get it in French, too, in case someone wants to use it for their language lessons.
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Old 10-30-2010, 12:23 AM   #9
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Don't forget Baen's Free Library and the The Fifth Imperium's collection of *legal* Baen CDs.
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Old 10-30-2010, 12:50 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by ATDrake View Post
Possibly some of the kids may belong to households where there's a computer, but no reliable internet access (probably not, though, if you're in a high-tech area). However, in that case, PDF Wiki articles might be useful for offline reading.
Collected articles might be useful. But the school might prefer to avoid them, because too many kids already think Wikipedia is a reliable info source, and they might want to discourage that.

Quote:
The Creative Commons Wiki has a listing of CC-licensed books. It's as they say, quite incomplete, but it gives you something to start with, and they've got a blog keeping up with professionally published people now releasing selected works as CC.
Thank you! That's *wonderful*, and exactly the kind of starting point I was looking for.

Quote:
Peter Watts ... tends to be fairly sharp and cynical in his writing, and thus might possibly be considered age-inappropriate for US teenagers in much the same way that the likewise CC-licensed Cooking With Booze would be.
I'll be contacting the school for what kinds of content guidelines/warnings they want to put into place about fiction. On the one hand, it's all freely available online. On the other, we probably can put together several hundred (couple thousand?) fiction books without triggering irate parents and without veering into bizarre censorship.

Quote:
I'd also consider taking advantage of the US' slightly weird public domain rules, and go looking on Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive for that copyright-not-renewed pre-1963 stuff and see if there's anything that looks like it might be interesting. It'll at least be a little more modern than the regular Life+70 selection.
I'll be scouring Gutenberg for texts of many types. (And we do not have weird public domain rules! It's all very sensible... anything published here before 1923 is in the public domain, and published between 1923 and 1963 is in the public domain if it wasn't renewed, and anything before 1975 without a proper copyright notice is also in the public domain unless it was registered within five years of... ahm, okay, we'll go with "weird.")

Quote:
And speaking of copyright and the public domain, there's probably no better way for the kids to learn about how various corporate interests are encroaching upon it and eroding fair use than via the CC-licensed comic book produced by Duke University's Center for the Study of the Public Domain, free to download and distribute in PDF, or remix in jpg or png to your heart's content.
I love the Duke Univ comic. And I want to watch for the OTW's Fair Use Curriculum project.

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Don't forget Baen's Free Library and the The Fifth Imperium's collection of *legal* Baen CDs.
I plan on contacting Baen, when I get a better idea of what I'm doing, to ask about more specific permissions. (No question, the science fiction section of the ebook library will be *terrific.*)
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Old 10-30-2010, 03:10 AM   #11
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Would Overdrive suit your needs? All members of the San Francisco public library can download and read books for free for 21 days at a time. They have a large collection of Young Adult titles. Books can be read on PCs or on eReader devices

I don't know if the Oakland PL has implemented access to Overdrive books, but it sounds like it might be a simple solution for you.

http://sfpl.lib.overdrive.com/
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Old 10-30-2010, 05:06 AM   #12
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Would Overdrive suit your needs?
The original poster did specifically say "no DRM".
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Old 10-30-2010, 11:12 AM   #13
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Would Overdrive suit your needs? ...
I don't know if the Oakland PL has implemented access to Overdrive books, but it sounds like it might be a simple solution for you.
http://sfpl.lib.overdrive.com/
I can put in some links to info about Overdrive books, but what I'm trying to put together is about a DVD's worth of "here is the whole library. Take it home, read what you like, share with family members--learn to enjoy books on a screen." Can't do that with Overdrive.

I'm not entirely sure kids can legally use Overdrive w/o adult supervision; a lot of software requires the ability to legally sign a contract.

But I will look into what it'd take for the school to get an Overdrive account, and be able to download those books on its computers. Oakland libraries don't have Overdrive, but SF's are open to any resident of a California. No idea if they deal with organization memberships.
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Old 10-30-2010, 11:48 AM   #14
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The original poster did specifically say "no DRM".
Yep. Also want it to be a resource for teachers, so they can say "everyone read this essay/short story from the ebook library," and they can't do that with Overdrive or books that don't work on some hardware.
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Old 10-30-2010, 05:29 PM   #15
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SFPL does give cards to children. Only those under 12 years of age need have a guardian's permission.

I wish you luck with the project. I'm not sure many publishers would agree to have books freely distributed in this manner, given recent stories like the "massive wave of e-book piracy" one.

You might look into "Educational Fair Use" copyright policies. Most universities insist that materials falling under that provision be assigned directly by a teacher, but it's still a good starting point.
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