Guest Post: David Rothman on the iPad Stimulus Plan


Avoid creating a vast government infocracy to implement the technical side of the plan. On both the library and cost-justification sides, farm out much of the heavy lifting to companies like Google, Amazon and Oracle--hiring them as contractors. 

Private library companies such as the e-book-oriented OverDrive and NetLibrary and specialized software suppliers like SirsiDynix could also participate this way. But librarians, not individual companies, should control the library system. If this approach could miraculously preempt the proposed Google Books Settlement or at least help augment it, I, for one, would be thrilled.


Respect privacy--maybe by way of an independent agency with long-term funding that would administer databases with sensitive information. Carefully overseen private companies could supply the actual storage infrastructure.

Include robust cyber-security precautions, not just for the library but also for e-commerce and protection of individual information, such as the sensitive health-related variety, to reduce the privacy threat. The recent leaking of a database with 114,000 iPad owners' email adressesses and other sensitive information is one more indication that the private sector alone can't deal with the threat. The Chinese hacks of Google and other major U.S. companies are yet another. Security breaches make this proposal more timely, not less.

For iPads or other devices to qualify for tax breaks, should Americans have to use security-certified versions? That's a tricky issue, but one worthy of discussion, although in my opinion it would be a bad idea to make government-approved machines compulsory in all situations. But if you were entrusting your bank information to technology, wouldn't you want a secure system? Granted, the government itself can be a privacy threat, but isn't this true even without the plan I'm proposing?

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What's more, for reasons of economy and freedom of expression and further privacy protections, I  am not suggesting that the initiative replace all bookstores and paper libraries or even that Washington pay for all e-books and other content. But remember, we could start out focused on educational and training materials and free public domain books and grow gradually from there (with collection development assistance and other participation from many local, state, and academic librarians and educators, not just the Library of Congress).

Schools and libraries could still buy their own e-books and other items rather than merely point people to those in the national collection. But considering all the variations in educational spending between, say, Beverly Hills and Watts, this program could help ease the "savage inequalities" even if it it didn't include all content. 

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TeleRead is the name I've used in the past to describe this evolving proposal and I've been refining it and beating the drums for it in various forms since 1992, having even suggested the use of iPad-style tablets in my original article in Computerworld that year. The late William F. Buckley, Jr., my political opposite, championed TeleRead in his syndicated column. Maybe the time for the TeleRead/NISP approach has finally come for the United States and many other countries. The resultant improvements in our lives could be profound. Let books and better jobs and leaner bureaucracies in the public and private sectors, especially in healthcare--not just paperwork reduction among members of the Washington elite--be "the bomb."


David H. Rothman is reachable at, and another copy of this plan is or will be online at . An editor-writer in Alexandria, VA, Rothman founded TeleRead, the oldest English-language website devoted to general-interest news and views on e-books. TeleRead helped prod the e-book industry into developing the ePub format standard now used on the iPad, Sony Reader, the Barnes & Noble nook, and many other machines. Rothman is also the author of Copyright and K-12: Who Pays in the Network Era? (published by the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration). He has written The Silicon Jungle (Ballantine), The Complete Laptop Computer Guide (St. Martin's) and four other books on tech-related topics and contributed a TeleRead chapter to Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier (MIT Press/ASIS). He is the author of a recent novel, The Solomon Scandals.//>//>

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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