The Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (COSL) has organized the
Microlibraries Project, making over 20,000 Project Gutenberg books
available at minimal cost through a simple print-on-demand system. The books are stored in a compact format and converted to a print-ready format (PDF) when they are accessed. All 20,000 public domain books fit on one DVD, so an internet connection is not necessary. The Center plans to give away 5,000 books to students in rural elementary schools in the 2006-7 school year.
In rural communities where storing large collections may not be possible, a microlibrary could print books as requested. Each book takes about 15 minutes to print
and bind. The necessary equipment, including a computer, a duplex
printer, a binder, and a paper cutter, costs under $2500. Most of that cost is the binding machine, but to save money the books can be bound manually, using Gorilla glue and a couple of c-clamps. The eventual goal is to lower the cost to a dollar per book. At that point it
may become less expensive to give them away rather than check them out and track them.
The entire library can be accessed here. The software used to convert these books
is open source, and will be available soon.