case study education inspiration publishing on demand sharing

Report from the field: eBooks in Sudan

A report by Julie Anderson, British Museum
In January, I returned from Sudan where my co-author Salah Mohamed and I distributed the eBook we produced last autumn. Frederik Lesage has previously written about the development of our eBook, which deals with the archaeological excavations conducted in Dangeil, Sudan, as a case study for eBook usage, in this blog.

students on their way to school

Salah and I have been excavating in Dangeil for more than 10 years. Over this period, we have lived in the community and have come to know our neighbours well. Every year many work with us in the excavations. The archaeological site is situated in the centre of the village and an increasing number of tourists, both Sudanese and foreigners, are visiting the ruins. There is also a large primary school situated along the northern edge of the site. Students cross the site daily on their way to and from classes. As a means of engaging further with the local community, school children and site visitors, we decided to create a resource which would help them to better understand the excavations, the ancient temple and its importance, and to place Dangeil in its historical context. We were also driven by a need to explain what we were doing and why, in an accessible fashion. The key was communication and the end result was the eBook.

So, what sort of reaction did the eBook receive? Simply put, its reception, both in Khartoum and in the rural farming village of Dangeil, exceeded expectations. We produced 500 English copies and 500 in Arabic, the local language. We ran out of the latter. In retrospect, we should have produced a greater number of copies in Arabic. Copies were given to the local school and arrangements were made so that every household in the village received a copy.

Unloading eBooks and textbooks at the school

Following the distribution of the eBook, teenagers began coming to our door in the village to ask questions about the site / archaeology / their own Sudanese history. In the past, usually they had wanted to have photographs taken, but now instead were connecting with their history as made possible through the booklet. It was astonishing. More surprising was the reaction people had upon receiving a copy. In virtually every single case, they engaged with the eBook immediately and began to read it or look through it. This occurred regardless of location or other business being conducted. Many of our workmen looked for images of things they themselves had helped to excavate and of people they knew, though the latter was true for almost everyone seeing the eBook.

Although our eBook takes the form of a more traditional and perhaps somewhat static publication, its impact cannot be underestimated. The Dangeil villagers, and indeed university students and antiquities staff in Khartoum, viewed the publication as written for them, about them, and in their own language. The eBook has served not only as an educational tool, but has empowered the local community and created a sense of pride and proprietary ownership of the ruins and their history.

Julie Anderson
Assistant Keeper
Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

inspiration making

Shared making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Yesterday I wrote about Storybird and how it enables a form of shared making through an online interface using email to notify authors when it is their turn. This reminded me of a very definitely non-technological example of the shared making of books..

Making the Oxford English Dictionary

From when the gargantuan project of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 it would take 71 years until the first edition was published. The third editor, James Murray, worked on the project for 36 years but died before he saw it completed. As part of his tasks Murray oversaw hundreds of volunteer readers and contributors who would painstakingly search out early examples of the use of words and send them to Murray by post. As a result of this mail-enabled shared making method, the first Oxford English Dictionary contained 414,825 words, and 1,827,306 illustrative quotations.

Contributors were not all academics and linguists. J.R.R. Tolkein was a volunteer while one of the most notorious, and prolific, contributors was Dr W. C. Minor, a murderer and certified inmate of Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon Murray’s call for ‘men of letters’ to become Oxford English Dictionary volunteers in the early 1880s and began scouring his collection for the first or best uses of words.

If the project took place today it would almost certainly be termed a ‘crowd-sourcing’ project and would be built as a wiki (see What does this non-digital shared making project suggest? That times change, technologies move on but ideas remain the same, or perhaps that we shouldn’t let technology get in the way of carrying out a good idea..?


Carnet du Bibliexplorateur

We received an email yesterday from a user based in Epinay sur Seine, France describing how he’s used bookleteer with his students:

My name is J.-Thomas Maillioux, and I’ve been working as the librarian for the collège Evariste Galois middle school since 2005. I’ve recently started to use the bookleteers to create “adventure books” for our first-year pupils’ library orientation program in a format both convenient and original. The flexibility of the Bookleteer publishing platform has also allowed me to quickly and easily implement the modifications suggested by my own observations, or advice from the students and teachers involved in the orientation program.

Download A4US Letter PDF 486Kb

I’ve also been able to sit down with small group of students to discuss what they would do with the Bookleteers : they suggested uses both for school (custom booklets for note taking on school trips, tutorials or HOWTOs for specific activities in sciences and technology classes, reminders while giving presentations in front of a class) and home (grocery shopping, tasks listing, books and stories writing or games) that make me think that, with the correct amount of support from their teachers in acquiring and supporting the necessary skills, they should be able to make the Bookleteers and the publishing platform their own relatively quickly : a good way to reconcile them not only with the printed word, but also with their printed word – that what they write, too, can be and deserves being made into a book with very little hassle.

We’d love to hear more testimonials of how bookleteer, the eBooks and StoryCubes are being used – please send your feedback to us at bookleteer at

publishing on demand

International languages & bookleteer

One of the most important decisions we took with planning bookleteer was to integrate support for languages other than English from the very start – not just ones which use the European Latin character set (ABC etc), but languages that use non-Latin characters and those which read from Right-to-Left. We’ve done initial tests with languages such as Chinese (traditional & simplified), Japanese, Korean, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Vietnamese and Arabic; we’ve also tested it with major Latin alphabet languages such as French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, where the use of diacritics is important.

Support for these languages is via a specialised Unicode font set – Code2000 – which enables titles, author names and the colophon to be written in any language supported by the fontset (full list of supported scripts here). As yet this doesn’t extend to the HTML content input (though we will enable this for the beta version) so the best way to create eBooks in different languages is to create content in offline applications, export as PDF (with the font used embedded in the file) and upload to bookleteer.

Last week we published Niharika Hariharan‘s Hindi/English eBooks for the Articulating Futures project on Diffusion – they are a great example of what can be done to make the uses of eBooks we’ve made in education and public engagement projects relevant to communities outside the English-speaking world – we’d like to see many more examples of this kind of creative use of bookleteer and the Diffusion formats that can benefit people all over the world.

We’d love to hear from others who’d like to use bookleteer to create eBooks & StoryCubes in different languages – please contact us (bookleteer at for a test account or (if you are in London) come along to one of our Pitch Up & Publish events.