Free Reading Zones

Saving war-torn cities through education [and asking publishers and libraries to do more]

On Thursday, April 27, I spoke about Free Reading Zones in Osijek, a city in the East of Croatia that some 25 years after the (last) Balkan war, still shows visible signs of devastation and remnants of human cruelty. This “forgotten” city, as it’s often called, may still be hurting and trying to rebuild itself (I felt this on every corner and in every conversation), but it’s a city that recognizes the value of free access to knowledge. Otherwise the University of Osijek wouldn’t have invited me to speak about Croatia becoming an open virtual library.

Thursday was the first time I publicly spoke about turning Croatia into a Free Reading Zone since the pilot ended in January. And it didn’t happen in its capital (Zagreb) or its major tourist draw (Dubrovnik). Or in any other fancy coastal town on the Adriatic that reaps the benefits of its geography. It happened in the devastated and impoverished Northern city of Osijek, where bullet-ravaged buildings still populate even the main square (see picture).

It was an emotional three-day visit, my first in the fourth largest city in the country, where I spoke in an auditorium full of mostly students (some faculty) about the importance of free access to knowledge (ironically enough) outside institutions such as the University of Osijek, where the event took place. I spoke about the importance of universities and libraries raising their own awareness about the possibilities afforded to us by ebooks and econtent, which still remains largely locked away from most humanity. It took for me to leave New York to become acutely aware of that. Continue reading Saving war-torn cities through education [and asking publishers and libraries to do more]

NSR Presents: Ebooks & Tourism — A Passport to Heaven

NSR is pleased to announce that NSR’s Mirela Roncevic will be a keynote presenter at the Tourism in Southern and Eastern Europe Conference in Opatija, Istria on May 4th, 2017. The presentation, titled Ebooks & Tourism: A Passport to Heaven, is strongly aligned with the Conference’s focus on ways in which the Tourism sector can parter with creative industries through innovative ideas and projects.

Mirela’s presentation will center on her Free Reading Zones efforts, explain the benefits of a society in which open virtual libraries thrive beyond physical libraries and zero in on ways in which the Tourism industry can join forces with the Publishing and Library industries to tap into the potential of ebooks to transform the world from one where readers must go to ‘knowledge’ to the one where knowledge comes to readers.

Mirela will invite the attendees to consider turning physical spaces as small as cafes and hotels and as big as cities and countries into Free Reading Zones, where visitors, tourists, and residents can have access to free books via reading apps (supported by private and government sponsors and in cooperation with publishers and libraries).

Roncevic founded and now directs the Free Reading Zones Project, which brings developers, publishers, and sponsors together to turn public and private spaces into zones where people have free and uninterrupted access to books, so that individuals all over the world, regardless of their location, status or education background, can be empowered through knowledge. The culmination of  her FREZ efforts was the turning of the entire country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone this past December.

The presentation will be streamed live on Facebook and later archived on NSR for future viewing.

Leanpub Podcast Interview with Mirela Roncevic on Free Reading Zones and her vision of the future (for books)

A few weeks ago, NSR Director Mirela Roncevic talked with Leanpub about her Free Reading Zones efforts and explained the experience of turning an entire country into an open virtual library as a way of showing the potential of ebooks and digital content to democratize the written word, transform the publishing industry, and envision a future in which libraries serve people beyond the confines of their buildings and assigned zip codes. She has written about it in her Lessons from Croatia Reads series on NSR (the  Sponsor of the countrywide initiative in Croatia to spread free reading) and is in the midst of writing a lengthy case study/report on the project, to be published by ALA later in 2017.

This is the most revealing (audio) interview on the project thusfar, in which she sheds light on the challenges she and her team encountered and why she believes the future of reading will look radically different than it does today.

Excerpt:

Len: I was wondering if you could talk, just for a few minutes, about your current vision. I mean, of course, there will still be experiments, but what is your vision of a global open virtual library? How would it work? Would it have a sort of single, central administration or?

Mirela: I have visions of it. Somebody asked me in an interview, “What is the ultimate Free Reading Zone?”  And I answered, “Oh, the entire world is the ultimate Free Reading Zone.” Not a particular country.

But I do think that for many, many reasons, we have ways to go to get there. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. Continue reading Leanpub Podcast Interview with Mirela Roncevic on Free Reading Zones and her vision of the future (for books)

Croatia is the world’s first country to become a Free Reading Zone

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No Shelf Required is thrilled and honored to announce:

Croatia is the world’s first country to become a Free Reading Zone

No Shelf Required and Total Boox join forces in turning the country of Croatia into an open virtual library accessible via a free application—to residents and tourists alike—without a library card or an access code. The growing collection boasts 100,000 titles by top publishers in several languages.

Zagreb, Croatia — Croatia has just made history by becoming the first country in the world turned into a Free Reading Zone (FREZ), i.e., an open virtual library accessible to all people free of charge regardless of their location. This includes not only Croatian citizens but millions of tourists from around the world who visit the country each year, who may download a free reading app, called Croatia Reads. The app is powered by Total Boox, an ebook service known to publishers and librarians for its revolutionary model which makes ebooks instantly available—with no restrictions—while paying publishers for reading and affording readers a seamless and uninterrupted reading experience.

“As a web site advocating free access to books and knowledge for all people, No Shelf Required is honored to be the first sponsor of this historic project,” said Mirela Roncevic, editor of No Shelf Required and manager of the project. “NSR’s mission is to make access to books a right of every citizen, not a privilege tied to institutions and corporate interests, so it is fitting that we stand behind it. It also holds a special meaning to me personally because this remarkable story of books escaping the confines of book stores and library walls is taking place in the country of my birth.”

Readers in Free Reading Zones may browse Total Boox’ collection of 100,000 titles, which includes books in all categories of fiction and nonfiction; from popular to academic, from professional to practical. Over 250 publishers are participating, including an array of world-class brands, among them, Lonely Planet, Workman, Sourcebooks, Berlitz, Oxford University Press, F&W Media, O’Reilly, Other Press, Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, New World Library, Marshall Cavendish, Berrett-Koehler, Lerner, and many others.

The goal of the FREZ initiative is to spread reading to public and private spaces and endow them with culture. The ‘zones’ may be sponsored by private and public institutions, corporations or government entities and can be as small as single-buildings (e.g., hospitals, cafes) or as big as entire cities and countries (as in the case of Croatia).  “With all due modesty, this is really a world’s first,” said Yoav Lorch, Founder and CEO of Total Boox. “It’s a general open invitation for all people to follow their interests and curiosities, wherever they are, at no cost and with no limitations. It’s not just about saving money. It’s about making culture and knowledge prevalent, about closing the digital divide, and about allowing the people to enjoy the fruits of the digital revolution.”

“With the launch of Croatia Reads, we have created a circle in which all segments of Croatia’s society benefit: culture, education, and tourism,” added Roncevic. “We have begun the next big revolution in the story of the book—the one where the potential of the digital medium is finally used to disperse knowledge to all who want it, when they want it, and how they want it. Croatia today stands as an example of what is possible with the book in the 21st century, and what is possible looks a lot like the democratization of the written word we’ve never seen before—the kind that will finally give books in digital format the chance to show their true potential.”

See also

How a café in Europe became an open virtual library (and what it teaches us about the future of books)

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No Shelf Required announced on Thursday that Café Velvet in Zagreb, Croatia, opened its doors on September 22 with a new mission: to not only serve first-rate coffee and cake but to allow its guests to access a Virtual Library of 100,000 (and counting) titles in several languages and to read to their hearts’ desire (using an access code) without paying for any of it. In other words, Café Velvet is the world’s first Café turned into a Free Reading Zone.

How do I know it’s the first? Because I run this initiative, and this was the first time we turned a café into a Free Reading ZoneSM —the kind your local library simply wouldn’t be able to pull off without the right technology. Allow me to share the story behind how it all came together and why I think the Velvet story serves to remind us that books are asking (begging, in fact) to be read freely online, just like we enjoy all other creative mediums in digital format for free (music, articles, news stories, etc.). And that the whole world, it seems, is waiting for us—the book industry—to get our act together so that books in digital format can realize their full potential.

In the beginning

As fate would have it, I met Yoav Lorch, CEO and Founder of Total Boox, in 2013. At the time, Total Boox was a new entrant into the ebook market and a company from Israel on a mission to change the world of reading. How, I asked him. Simple, he said. “We will make all of the world’s books available for reading upfront (by asking publishers to give us their entire catalogs; no buying in advance), we will expose them for reading, and we will pay publishers for what was actually read. We will charge readers (or whoever pays for the reading) only for what was read (not downloaded).” In other words, books and knowledge will flow in all directions, and readers will be in charge of what they want to read (not publishers or libraries).

I remember our meeting like it was yesterday. We set in a café right across the street from the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and he offered me the job of helping Total Boox build a collection of titles that would be always available for reading. No restrictions. No barriers. No expirations. Little did we know then that a few years later, we’d be turning cafes around the world (like the one we were siting in that day) into Free Reading Zones and open virtual libraries using the brilliant ebook model he came up with. And little did we know that neither of us would be in New York to do it. Continue reading How a café in Europe became an open virtual library (and what it teaches us about the future of books)

Croatia is home to the First Café in the world turned into a Free Reading Zone

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No Shelf Required is pleased, honored, and thrilled to announce that Café Velvet in Zagreb (Croatia’s capital) is the first café in the world turned into a Free Reading ZoneSM. Guests of the café (located in downtown Zagreb, on the iconic Dezmanova Street) can log into a Virtual Library (via any iOS and Android smartphone and tablet) and access thousands upon thousands of books in several languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Croatian, among others. The locals may enjoy literature in their native language while countless tourists who visit the country’s’ capital each day can read in other languages. All they need is to log in using an Access Code provided by the café.

The technology is powered by Total Boox, ebook service known to U.S. publishers and librarians for its revolutionary ebook model which makes ebooks instantly available, with no limitations, holds, or expirations, while paying publishers for reading. Readers may browse Total Boox’ collection of 100,000 titles, which includes books in all categories—from literary and genre fiction to poetry and philosophy; from cookbooks, arts, and photography to sports, entertainment, and travel; from children’s books and YA literature to professional and scientific literature. Publishers represented include an array of world-class brands from around the globe, including, to name a few, Lonely Planet, Workman, Sourcebooks, F&W Media, O’Reilly, Other Press, Elsevier, New World Library, Marshall Cavendish, Berret-Koehler, Lerner, and Berlitz.

The Free Reading Zones initiative was launched in 2016—under the leadership of Mirela Roncevic, Managing Editor of No Shelf Required, and in cooperation with Total Boox—with the goal to spread reading to various public and private spaces beyond libraries and endow them with culture. These ‘zones’ may be sponsored by private and public institutions, corporations or government entities and include, among others, parks, hospitals, trains, airports, schools, universities, cafes, etc. When Free Reading Zones are sponsored by libraries, users inside the zone access the collection via their active library card; when sponsored by private entities (as in the case of Velvet Café), readers simply log in using an access code. They may also continue reading once they leave ‘the zone.’

“It’s truly an honor to lead such an important initiative, and to take it outside the United States,” said Roncevic. “It’s strongly aligned with the mission of No Shelf Required—to educate, enlighten, and inspire everyone inside and outside the book industry about what ebooks and digital content can do for literacy. In short, they can transform the world into a place where access to knowledge flows freely in all directions. There is a way. And we are paving it together.”

Read Mirela Roncevic’s editorial on how it all came together here.

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Zagreb, 06.12.2014 - Praznicki ukraseni kafici

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