Although the “information revolution” has had a major impact in developed countries, the impact has been only marginal for the 80% of the world’s population with no access to the Internet. Despite optimistic predictions that inexpensive, high-speed Internet services will soon be available to everyone everywhere, there is ample evidence that those populations most needing access to information are, in fact, the least likely to have it for years to come. In the meantime, cost-effective and appropriate options need to be considered.
One of several alternatives is to use an on-site (eGranary) digital library containing millions of electronic documents (including copies of hundreds of Web sites, CD-ROMs, textbooks, journals, multimedia, tutorials, and other of resource materials) on a computer hard drive that is physically installed at schools, clinics, and libraries. These libraries are instantly available twenty-four hours a day, every day, at virtually no cost to the users, and are compl etely independent of the Internet.
A second option is to use low-bandwidth web-conferencing to maximize the educational use of limited, slow, and often very costly, Internet connections where they are available in developing countries. In addition to traditional lectures and meetings with participants at multiple sites, low-bandwidth web-conferencing can support meetings and consultations and can provide information that is not available from on-site libraries.
The feasibility and value of these two technologies have been clearly demonstrated through experiences with more than 250 digital libraries (over the past 7 years) and web-conferencing connections to more than 600 Internet sites (over the past 3 years).