Friday, August 21, 2009

My dream library project: Putting tools into as many hands as possible.

A public library, a good one, is always more than a mere collection of books. Libraries are a hub of the communities that have them. They act as founts of knowledge, crucibles of human thought, and the foundries of creativity. In a library, one seeking the tools to engage the world will find them.

With that principle in mind, picture, in the lobby of your local library, a box. It's open, with the top torn off like a supermarket candy display. A hastily-scribbled note taped to the box simply says: "FREE! TAKE ONE!" You reach into the box and, instead of candy, you pull out a flash drive. A cheap one, say, no more than 4 gigs in size. The kind they hand out as promotional items at trade shows.

You take it home, plug it into a USB port on your computer, and (perhaps against your better judgment) turn on the machine.

It boots up to a desktop that you've never seen before, but this is no hijack. You're clearly still in control of what's on the screen.

A quick exploration of the menus reveals what you suddenly have at your fingertips.

A full office suite. Powerful Photoshop-level graphics programs. 3-D applications, both simple and complex.

Game engines of all sorts.

And that's not all. There are audio and video editors.

And so much more, that it seems like, with time and application, one might be able to create almost anything.

A box full of these little drives, there for the taking on a library table, all free and legally available. All unasked for, but discovered by people who had never thought to seek these tools out.

Putting aside, for the moment, matters of funding such a project, or its feasibility. What wonders would grow from such a scattering of seeds?