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Bookmobile Day 1: Free? What does “free” mean?

James Jacobs, Sarah Washburn from Techsoup and I (Shinjoung Yeo) are currently on a tour around CA driving the Internet Archive’s bookmobile for 2 weeks and visiting 10 rural libraries in Northern California. Please stop back here or at Sarah’s blog for pictures and updates of our adventures.

Our first stop today was the Placer County Library in Auburn, CA. After having breakfast at Awful annie’s in Auburn’s old town (it’s not awful at all so you should check it out!) we drove to the library. Delightfully all the staff were excited and waiting  for us to see the  Bookmobile. Everyone was extremeley curious about the technology that we’re carrrying to download, print, bind, cut and make books (especially satellite on the top of the bookmobile which is not quite working but is well-used for a prop 🙂 ) and how we’re able to make books on a fly.

As any well-trained bookmobilista knows, the first thing you need is power, so we pulled up to the front of the library and finally found a plug by pulling our power cord through the bookdrop. You never know how book drop box can be used when the bookmobile’s in town!

Despite being a little remote from Auburn’s downtown area, the library was very lively and heavily-used by community members. As soon as we set up the table around 10am, there was a steady stream of people stopping by and asking us questions. Surprising (or *not* so surprising in living in capitialist society!) one of the most common questions that we were asked was what we were selling. We told them that we were not selling anything but promoting free public domain books which are freely available to everyone at archive.org. One person, obviously still a little confused about our intentions, asked again if we were selling machines ( referring to our heavy duty cutter, bookbinding machines we use to demonstrate how to make a book). We told the person no (kindly), but he persisted and asked if we were selling software. It was not just one person asking questions like this, but more than 50% who dropped by asked similar questions. Maybe we should have put a tip jar out; that may have alleviated their cognitive dissonence 🙂

We noticed that some people couldn’t grasp the concept of FREE. Just free with no "but" and no ginsu steak knives. It makes you wonder. I think we are all well-trained in our market-oriented society to think that there are producers and consumers and there seems to be no room for FREE between them.

While we were promoting FREE public domain books it might be our chance to educate our community about what should be "FREE" – free books, free library, free health care, free eductation, free government documents(!) ….

Here are some photos from our first day and you will see some government documents as well.

Tomorrow we will be setting up the bookmobile in the town of Quincy, California [pop.4,300, 90% White].

Please check back for progress reports and photos. We’ll be on the road until September 15, 2007. We’d love to hear your comments on our trip.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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