Leveraging Open Source Technology to Deliver eBooks in Rwanda

Earlier this year I was privileged to work with the ‘Library For All‘ non-profit team out of New York to deliver a secure reader application to families all across Rwanda. I have built Learning Management Systems (LMS) for institutions around the world over the course of my career, but this particular project gave me a deeper appreciation for the reach you can achieve with mobile devices. The mission was to get high quality reading material into the hands of children that would otherwise not have access to textbooks or even basic story books.
The challenge that publishers face in developing African countries is the lack of both legal and technical protection of Intellectual Property. Most publishers simply abandon third world countries since there is no viable commercial model for them.

Library For All addressed this issue by developing a secure mechanism for delivering eBooks on the Android platform where books can be encrypted at rest with secure keys owned by the copyright owners, in this case, the publishers. This model gives publishers the confidence in knowing the books can never be copied or accessed without authorization from the eReader application.

It was this secure distribution model that we took to Rwanda and, with the help of the Imbuto Foundation, launched the eReader application on the Google Play store. In addition, we negotiated a free data access model with the three major telcos in Rwanda to ensure the books are free to download anywhere in Rwanda for phone and tablet users.

The initiative was part of Rwanda’s First Lady, Her Excellency, Jeannette Kagame’s, Imbuto Foundation to support education innovation throughout Rwanda. To learn more about the foundation, click here.

The initiative delivers quality, relevant content in English and Kinyarwanda curated for a range of age groups and a variety of interests:

  • The digital library, comprised of over 500 titles approved by the Rwandan Minister of Education, aggregates content from international and local Rwandan publishers all in one place.
  • Titles, available in English or Kinyarwanda, are sorted by relevance to specific age groups, ranging from pre-primary to adult reading levels.
  • Each book is tagged by subject, with academic subjects such as history and literature, and leisure reading such as bedtime stories, adventure books, and self-development materials.

The eBook Platform

The biggest design challenge we needed to overcome was the need to secure eBooks with encryption while not having guaranteed internet access. The most widely adopted eBook licensing platform requires internet connectivity so that the eReader can ‘check-in’ with the license server periodically and validate the distribution rights.

Our solution was to implement a ‘hub’ model where eBooks are secured with private key encryption and never stored in their unpacked and readable form. When the book is closed by the reader, the memory is wiped clean of the unencrypted format.

LFA

The internet coverage issue is addressed by deploying a ‘hub’ server in the local village or school that has a copy of the encrypted books as a complete library. The eReader app used the exceptional syncing capabilities of the CouchDB system to check books in and out of the local library. The entire system operates as an independent microcosm of a digital library with connected users over a local wireless service, without the need for the broader Internet.

Next Steps

The eReader application is built with JavaScript libraries for manipulating and navigating each book. The next phase of the project is to implement a recommendation service for a personalized reading experience for all users in Rwanda.

The analytics engine will make use of the same technology behind Netflix to recommend books to children based on their reading history and profile. Additionally, the system will make use of targeted mobile advertising technology to identify reading clubs by clustering groups of users based on location.

You can read more about the launch here, or get in touch with me ssim@westmonroepartners.com.

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Email: marketing@westmonroepartners.com
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Chicago, IL 60606
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