LibraryBox Kickstarter – Jason Griffey

STEVE THOMAS: This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. My guest today is Jason Griffey. We spoke late last year for the show about his LibraryBox project and he’s got an important exciting update that he wants to tell you all about and we both hope that you will go out and support it.

All right, Jason, welcome back to the show.

JASON GRIFFEY: Oh thanks Steve.

So you talked a lot about the LibraryBox project when you were on the show last fall, but can you give listeners just a quick rundown of what LibraryBox is to bring people up to date who maybe didn’t hear that last episode?

Sure, sure. So LibraryBox is an open source project that is dedicated to sharing files, sharing digital information, for whether it’s e-books or music or movies or whatever, any kind of digital file to areas where there isn’t internet access or really even power. It’s a very small, it’s built on hardware that runs on USB power and it surfs files off of a thumb drive, it surfs files via WiFi to phones or tablets or laptops or whatever. So, it’s a little piece of hardware that runs open source software that makes the distribution of digital files pretty…pretty seamless.

Okay, cool. I have to say when we were at, when we were both at ALA and when I was, I thought it was cool when I was walking around and every once in a while I guess I would be near you, or near somebody else with a LibraryBox and the LibraryBox would pop up on my, when I would try to connect to the WiFi, as I was having to do pretty often because the WiFi kept dropping off. [laughs]

Yeah, it’s actually, it’s, well I keep getting, I keep getting questions through either the regular contact form on the website, or, or direct e-mails that say, “But, internet is everywhere, why could we, you know, why do I need this?” And my response is often, “Have you ever been at a conference with 20,000 people? Know how bad that internet can be?” [laughs]

Yeah, I’m sure the McCormick Center’s WiFi is fine when there aren’t 20,000 people hitting it with their devices all the time. [laughs]

Yeah with, and all of us have three things in our pockets, all of which are trying to connect all the time, right. [laughs]

Well, so since the last time you were on the show you’ve had, I’m going to say two extremely updates to  the project and the first one I want to ask you about is, you’ve chosen a proper plural form for LibraryBox.


What is that and why did you choose that?

That’s it, yeah, that’s so, I’ve had a lot of feedback on that too, so, if you have more than one LibraryBox the appropriate plural is LibraryBoxen, so “I have four LibraryBoxen in my room” would be the appropriate usage there and it’s a, it’s a callback to the, to old-school mainframe computing where it, I think that particular plural started with the Vax, Vax systems and it was the, the engineers that were working on it, this was probably the late 60s or early 70s. Vaxes were, that actually sounded bad, so they started using Vaxen as the plural of a Vax system and it kind of, it’s an in-joke that, that works linguistically but it also works as a nod to the history of computing, so, LibraryBoxen.

Okay, well, more seriously, the big update to your project is that you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for development of LibraryBox 2.0.


What made you initially want to go to Kickstarter to expand the project?

Well, I’m, I mean, I think some part of the impetus to move to Kickstarter was thanks to you and seeing the, seeing the great campaign that you had for Circulating Ideas. But I’ve been looking at Kickstarter for a long time. I mean Kickstarter is not a new, not a new set-up, it’s been around for a bunch of years now and it has an increasing, it has an increasing presence in the mind share of crowdfunding, right. It’s the place that people think about, even though there are a number of other successful funding sites, Indiegogo and others, but Kickstarter really is the, the biggest, it’s the heart of things.


And I’m an academic librarian and when academic librarians have a project and they want to get some funding and they, they want to, they want to move something forward like that they go get grants because that’s the way we do things in academia and I, I looked at that, I talked with the grant officers on my campus and they were confused as to what the project was. It was, I did get a lot of great advice and I have one particular grant officer that really did get it, but it’s hard to get grants as a, as a solo academic. Like, they want, the grant funding agencies want the project attached to a, an institution, not an individual and while I, I have had a wonderful amount of support from the administration and my dean is supportive of the project, it’s not, it’s not the library’s project, right, it’s my project that I want to move forward. So, when I, when I started running into walls with the grant funding that was when I had more and more and more people saying, “You should try Kickstarter, you should try Kickstarter, you should try Kickstarter.” And finally with, a few months ago with ALA Annual on the distant horizon I thought, “You know, if I’m going to do this I need to do this.” So.

So, what were your initial goals for the campaign?

Ah, well, I mean the, the, so the whole, the whole purpose of the campaign is to fund the production of the next version of LibraryBox. So up until now there have been a couple of other people that I’ve asked coding questions of and a couple of, a couple of other coders have, a couple of other developers have added pieces of code to Library Box, mostly it’s been me sorting my way through the, the project and the, the code to make it run and with the goals that I had in mind, I just had, I had reached my natural, my limits of what I already know, I just hit what, what I was capable of and when I started looking at the learning curve for what I know, where I knew the project needed to go, while I could teach myself that stuff, the, that put the, the launch horizon way out, right. So.

Right, right.

I don’t know, then I have to figure out what I don’t know, that I don’t and then I have to figure out how to learn it and then I have to learn it and then I have to do the actual development and that pushed it out far enough that I was really, that didn’t, I didn’t feel like it was good for the, for the project. I wanted to get the, I wanted to get the stuff that I knew was possible done faster. So, as a result I needed someone or someones, I needed people that had the knowledge of how to make the thing go and a result, the way that you get people to help you is you either ask them very nicely and they donate some of their time and you get not a, not a lot of direction and/or time, firm time commitments and that sort of thing or you find money and you pay them and so [laughs] I decided that in order to make the project do what I wanted it to do I would, I needed to find money and I needed to pay someone to do the work as a professional developer that I, I needed for the project to move forward, so that was really the impetus of, and so there was the, that, the bit of needing to pay someone for their expertise. And then the other part is just purchasing testing equipment stuff, just purchasing a few hundred dollars worth of equipment so that I could test different types of routers, right? So different, test the code on different things. I’ve had a lot of interest in solar installations, so running a Library Box off of a solar panel permanently out in the world, but I didn’t have $1500 laying around that I could, that I could spend on that to get the hardware and test it and really put together, put together a way for people to do that themselves, so. So that was the other piece, was just giving me some, some money with which I could actually buy things in that, where it didn’t feel like I was taking food out of the mouth of my daughter, that sort of thing.

Right, well and, so your initial goal that you asked for was what $3,000?

I had-

How quickly did you get to that?

Well [laughs] so, yeah, it was a, I waffled a lot, I looked at what I thought was the bare minimum amount for getting some stuff done and it was in the $2,000, $2,500 range. I thought, “Okay, well, I could, I have a plan, I’ve got lots of things we can do if I get more money than that, but a bare minimum was the three grand,” and I thought maybe that will take a couple of weeks and then if I’m lucky we’ll get up to around five grand or so.

And we, we passed three grand in under 4 hours! I launched on the Friday of ALA, the first day of the ALA Annual conference 2013 and yeah, I, I hit three grand in, it was about 3 ½ hours.

That’s fantastic.

Yeah [laughs] it was quite a few days.

So, and, so we’re recording this on Wednesday, July 17th around 11 am and you are now under, a shade under $25,000, I would guess you’ll get that by the end of the day. What is, what are your next couple of stretch goals?

Yes, so, so we’ve, we’ve fully funded all of the base line stuff that I, that I had in mind for 2.0 and the, the initial goals and they’re actually going to be done, I think, much, much more cleanly and much better than they would have for the, for the amount of money that I had originally asked which is kind of exciting. The, the next two stretch goals are at $25,000 we have a goal that will unlock, that will enable FTP access, we’ll be able to afford to… right now the way that you update a LibraryBox is physical, you actually unplug the thumb drive and you put the thumb drive in your computer and you put new things on it and then you plug the thumb drive back into the LibraryBox. With FTP access people will be able to, to securely update content on the box from a distance. So you’ll still have to be connected to the box via WiFi, you can’t, again, it’s a stand-alone thing, you can’t connect to it across the internet or anything like that, but you’ll be able to then upload or remove files from it remotely. So, for libraries who want to put it out in their communities and have it living somewhere, they no longer have to go and pull the, pull the thumb drive out, they can get close enough to get the signal and then do some updating.

Yeah, that’s very cool.


And once, and then what’s your $30,000 goal?

And then the $30,000 goal, if we get there, is for a system called mesh networking. There’s, the, a couple of examples of this have been tested in the, in the project that LibraryBox is based on, PirateBox and mesh networking is basically, it puts enough intelligence into the boxen that they can tell when they are around another of the same type, so if, just as an example, a library put together three or four or five boxen across a section of their town, if the boxen, if the WiFi signals of the individual boxen could see each other, when you update one of them, it will automatically propagate that update through all of the others. So, they’re kind of, they’re smart about knowing that other boxen are around. And there’s some technical difficulties in making sure that all happens safely and securely and that you, you, the boxen are only updating from others of the same, you know, the same family more or less and not random people that are walking by on the street and.

So there’s something, let’s say they’re there, but the basic idea is that a library would be able to do an install of multiple boxen around a city and then have them be very, very easily and quickly updatable because they, the boxen themselves would do the work of transmitting from one to another.

Well, you mention PirateBox there and it looks like you’re now working with Matthias Strubel who is one of the developers or lead developer of PirateBox?

Yeah, Mathias is currently the lead developer of the PirateBox project and he, he and I, he’s been a really great resource as I’ve tried to do the initial build of LibraryBox and then, with some of the more complicated questions I had about the, the innards of how it works, about how PirateBox works, he was, he really, really invaluable in trying, in helping me with that and when, when I had originally planned the Kickstarter I contacted him and I was, “It’s not going to be much money, I, we’re, I’m not aiming very high, but I’m going to have a little bit of money and I would love to, I would love to work with you on this if you have time in your development schedule,” and he, he said he’ll do whatever he could, and we kind of left it at that. And then when the thing took off I was, “Well now we’ve got some serious stuff we can do, we can, I can, we can really get some development behind this.” And he was very excited to see that there was the, the capacity for it. So, so yes, so in addition to being an awesome project of, in and of itself, I think, we’re also going to have the ability, I hope, to, a lot of the improvements that we’re doing as a result of the LibraryBox 2.0 now are going to be leapfrogging PirateBox in a lot ways, we’re actually going to be improving things, especially the installation past where PirateBox is now and we’re going to be able to roll that back into the PirateBox codes, so.

That’s very cool.

Yeah, I mean it’s the benefit of open source software, right, is that, that I am a fork of this project and when I improve things it gets better too, so it’s a really, I think it’s a, a virtuous circle.



And I assume even the, the Kickstarter goes until July 28th and I assume after that you’ll continue to keep the site updated with the current code and build instructions and things like that so people can continue to build their own LibraryBoxen?

LibraryBoxen, LibraryBox is an open source project, it will always be an open source project, all of the code is going to be completely open and available on the website, it will all be posted on the GitHub, it will be forkable and manipulatable and everything. I will have installation instructions in the same way that we have now with the 1.5 and it will just be updated. We’ll have a whole new, whole new set of instructions, we’ll have multiple hardware types that the new install will support, so in addition to the, to the one hardware type that the 1.5 works on, we’re going to have two or three other routers that will be available for the 2.0, so I’ll have instructions for those. Lots of, lots and lots and lots of changes, but yeah that will happen once the Kickstarter’s done and we have a better idea of the, of the build time for all of the boxen that I’m going to have to build, then the website development will go hand-in-hand with that.

And do you think you have any, and this is beyond the Kickstarter, but vague ideas of would you continue to want to build LibraryBoxen for people like you’re doing for the Kickstarter? Or is that, would you rather roll it back to how it currently is in letting people build their own?

Yeah, that’s something I’m, I’m kind of keeping in the back of my head, but I haven’t certainly made up, made any, made my mind up about yet. I mean one of the things the Kickstarter did was show me that there is, there was a market where I wasn’t sure there was a market, so clearly people find the project interesting enough. I would like, one of the problems with Kickstarter is that it is actually very difficult for institutions to use it.


It’s very easy for individuals to use it and to give money, it’s very hard for libraries, so libraries that may want a box, this is not the way they can get one. If they just want to buy one, Kickstarter is not, is not the way to do that. So, part of me would like very much to be able to make sure that libraries that want one, that they can’t build one, get one. So, I’m, I’m looking at that and if I can find a way to do that with decent customer service and the ability to do support and all of those things that come with the offering of a product, then I will, but I think I have a whole lot of work to do in the next six months, so [laughs].

[laughs] Yes.

And not say definitively one way or the other.

Yeah and I always, when people ask me about things that I’m doing for this too, it’s, “You realize I have a full time job and then I also do this and I have children,” and so, I mean, there’s only so much I can do, so. [laughs]

A full time job and now a job, another half a job.

Yes, exactly. [laughs] Well, the last question I wanted to ask you was at ALA you were able to hand a LibraryBox to Cory Doctorow.


How cool was that?

That was pretty amazingly awesome actually. Better was his reaction to it, he, so I gave it, so I built a custom, a custom LibraryBox with a custom case and everything that, it’s, the case had CoryBox on it. I loaded all of his books on there and gave it to him and said, “Here you go, now you can give your own books away when you’re, when you’re on tour.” And he had surprisingly heard of the project, which I thought was kind of cool.

Yeah, cool!

He knew what it was and, so I gave it to him on Saturday of ALA and then I saw him again at a, at an event on Sunday and I said, “What did you think?” And he immediately started bombarding me with questions, “Okay, so how do I SSH in? And how do I change this? And how do I do this? and can I, can I update the SSID?” And he, he immediately started hitting me with the hacker questions which I would, which was exactly the, the right, exactly the right response, I thought. So.

That’s awesome!

Yeah, and the project was doing very well at that point, but he was, he was kind enough to back it. He actually backed the project and then tweeted about it and that was when it really took on a life of it’s own, that, I mean, yeah.

And he wrote it up on Boing Boing too I believe, didn’t he?

He did write it up on Boing Boing, so yeah, his endorsement really did make the project turn a corner to the point where we’re now 800% of my original goal.

[laughs] Crazy, in a good way!

Yeah, I mean in the best possible way. I, this is going to, this is going to give me the ability to make the project even better than I had thought it could be, so, that’s.

Well if you haven’t already pledged this great, this great project, please get out there and support it. You’ve got until July 28th to still support it.

Ten more days.

Yes. [laughs] So Jason, thanks again for coming back on and telling us about the Kickstarter and good luck with the Kickstarter and the future development of LibraryBox.

Thanks so much, if you’re interested in checking LibraryBox out the website is and then there’s a link there to the Kickstarter page, so if you’re listening and you want to check it out, please do.

All right, thanks, Jason.

Thanks, Steve.