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Open University to put full textbooks on-line

The Open University has uploaded the full text of dozens of textbooks onto its Web site, which will be available to the public free of charge beginning next Thursday. In the first initiative of its kind to place so many full texts on-line, the university has reformatted textbooks from 10 of its courses to a readable electronic format and posted them on the site at http://per.openu.ac.il/. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was the first to start putting materials on-line six years ago, but the Open University's project is the first to place entire books on-line. Among the courses whose books have been uploaded are "The Theater Experience," "Trends in Israeli Society," "Genocide," "From National Homeland to State-in-the-Making," "Critical Thinking," "Fundamentals of Physics" and "Statistics." Materials from a course in Russian called "Between Jews and Christians" will also be made available. As soon as enough materials are translated into Arabic, they will be uploaded as well. Next year, the university hopes to put textbooks and other course materials from 40 more courses on-line. The easy-to-use electronic format will even allow readers to mark the books and search by keyword. "The university was founded 34 years ago to make education accessible. The university does not demand matriculation exams or psychometric tests. Putting up these textbooks continues that vision," Prof. Ora Limor, the university's vice president for academic affairs, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "There are many people who can't make it to classes. This bridges the physical gap and gives them access to knowledge," she said. "Regarding copyrights, the books that were written specifically for us are ours to do with as we wish. However, there are pictures or quotes from other authors [for] which we have obtained permission from them," she told the Post. There was an open question about what it would do to the price of books, she added. "We print a million volumes a year, and we don't know how this will affect that. We hope that it won't hurt sales, but rather the opposite - people will become interested by reading on-line and then go out and buy the book so that they can read it more comfortably or not have to print out hundreds of pages," she said. Limor said the project had already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and would probably cost more. She added that audio versions of the books would also be available as MP3 downloads so that "one could listen to a book while sitting at the Dead Sea." There will be a formal launching ceremony next Thursday attended by the president of the UK's Open University, upon which the Israeli institution is based.