New College graduate launches crowd-sourced, crowd-funded global literacy project

Michael Jones has an idea for a literacy revolution. He calls it The Anywhere Library.
Jones, a 2004 graduate of New College of Florida, was working with an educational nonprofit in Cambodia in late 2010 when he entered a library the size of small kitchen. A Cambodian language scholar, told him he was looking at what probably was the largest collection of children’s literature written in Cambodian.
“I was shocked. It was a really small library,” Jones said. “It hit home twice as hard because the organization I was working for was hoping to make some new books for it, but didn’t have the resources to hire or train Cambodian authors or illustrators.”
But what his organization and Cambodian libraries do have is the ability to print. This, he said, was the moment his idea was born.
In 2011, he started Open Equal Free, a non-profit that provides low-cost and open-sourced lesson plans, teacher guides, curriculum guides, books, classroom management tools, and teacher assessment tools to educators worldwide.
Jones received a Fulbright research fellowship in 2012 and studied educational programs in Laos. There, he saw a similar situation for Lao language books. He also learned of a more dire situation. Only a few dozen children’s books have ever been published in Hmong – too few to build strong readers, let alone foster a love of reading, he said.
The same is true of many other languages – Tibetan, Tok Pisin, Hausa, and many more, he said. That made him realize the need for native language books everywhere.
The Anywhere Library is his solution.
A team would create a set of 50 books from scratch, primarily on science topics, such as plants, animals and the environment. The books would be leveled readers, written and edited to Common Core standards, and written with translation in mind.
The books would be uploaded to an online digital library, where any bilingual speaker could download and translate the books for distribution – a sort of online lingua franca. The translated books also would be in the online library under a Creative Commons license and would always be free to distribute.
They would be formatted for production on simple printer paper. That means a school, a library or even a roving teacher with an internet connection and a printer could create a set of beginning reading texts anywhere.
“There are so many people with the heart and linguistic ability to translate and print books who are already living in these countries and can manage the logistics for pennies,” Jones said. “No one can identify populations that need books as effectively as them, and no one can get books to students as quickly and easily. This project will give them the ability to do it.”
“They’ll be able to download a document, click on the text, and translate it for printing. Creating a book will be as easy as typing an email, or donating to this project. ”
Jones has launched a crowd-funding effort on the IndieGoGo website, seeking to raise $100,000 for the project. That would pay for the educational, creative and publication expertise to create the series of 50 books, establish the online library and distribute the series to 50 Cambodian schools and libraries – 2,500 total books.
Jones already has translators lined up for Cambodian and Tibetan versions of the books. He knows there are countless more people who would join the effort.
“There are enough people in the world who, if given the resources, will do amazing things,” he said. “The Anywhere Library will give a lot more people a lot more resources. It does it globally, inexpensively, and to a very high standard of quality. It does precisely what the internet has been doing back home for years for people who need it most: It amplifies great work.”
More information about the project is available at openequalfree.org or indiegogo.com/projects/literacy-for-anywhere.

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