Tar Heel Shared Reader

Two Million Books Read in 1000 Days!

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On Friday 11 February 2011 Tar Heel Reader simultaneously hit two amazing milestones: two million books read and 1000 days online! Since we started in May of 2008 the site has been visited nearly 300,000 times by over 100,000 different computers in 150 countries and all 50 states.

This map shows where books have been read.

The countries with the most books read are:

  1. United States 1,709,424
  2. Canada 104,162
  3. Australia 61,773
  4. Germany 47,880
  5. Great Britain 16,611
  6. New Zealand 12,502
  7. Spain 9,852
  8. Korea 7,270
  9. Italy 5,398
  10. Brazil 2,417

Over 3800 authors have written nearly 15,000 books in 15 languages (Arabic, Basque, Danish, English, Filipino, French, Galician, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish).

The top 10 most read books on the site are:

  1. Declensions
  2. Our First Black President
  3. The ABC Book
  4. Lady Gaga
  5. The ABC Book (yes there are two ABC books at the top of the list)
  6. I am Michael Jordan
  7. Disney Princesses
  8. Three Little Kittens
  9. Cupcakes
  10. Silly Bands (This is the currently the hottest book rising to number 10 in only 37 days.)

Problems with the book writing wizard

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Several users have reported problems with not being able to find pictures while writing a book. We use Flickr (a giant on-line picture web site) for images and when they have problems, we inherit them. I understand they are working on the problem and hope to fix it soon.

Until they get it fixed you may experience problems trying to find pictures when writing new books.

iPad Speech Support

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Updated: 8 February 2013

Tar Heel Reader now has full support for reading books out loud on the iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone. The new version of Tar Heel Reader released in February of 2013 now fully supports reading and creating books on the iPad and other tablets.


PowerPoint download failed

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Starting about 11:30 24 May 2010 the PowerPoint download facility of Tar Heel Reader failed. It seems to be working again. Thanks to Patrick for reporting it. All, when you see it problem, let me know.

10,000 Books!

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Today we passed 10,000 books at Tar Heel Reader! I remember when we passed 1000.

As of today we have books in 12 languages. They have been read over 1.2 million times in 137 countries.

Over one million books read!

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The movie below shows the distribution of Tar Heel Readers across the world from the start back in May 2008 until we passed 1,000,000 books read at about noon on March 3rd, 2010.

The pitch you hear reflects the rate that books were read day by day. Listen for the pitch to go down during the summer and at Christmas. The regular structure in the notes is caused by the drop in reading on the weekend. The pitch is too low to be heard near the beginning of the movie.

Congratulations to all you Tar Heel Readers who read all these books!

Click to view the movie!


Books have been read in 133 countries and all 50 US states. We have books in 12 languages. Over 25,000 books are currently being read each week. Over 100 new books are added each week. The geolocation data provided by Info Sniper Geolocation Service.

Changes at Tar Heel Reader

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The site has been slowing under the load of ever more books and users so I’ve made a few changes to help speed things up.
First, you may notice that the counts have been removed from the links in the sidebar. It turns out that producing those is very expensive, almost doubling the time to generate each page.
Second, you’ll notice that books written in English now have an English tag. This greatly speeds up showing English-only books. I think I’ve got things setup to make it provide the English tag by default so you should not have to type it in yourself.
I’m working on a new version of the site that will have provide new features and better performance but that is taking longer than I’d hoped and I’ve got other projects that require my attention. Maybe in the summer…

We crashed!

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The site crashed about 2:30pm on 24 November. We had a report of problems writing books earlier in the day. Perhaps these were related. The site was down for about 1/2 hour but now appears to be working fine.

We apologize for the inconvenience. We are working to improve the software to support the growing load.

We crashed!

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Something began happening this morning about 9:30AM EDT that caused the system to slow way down and finally I had to reboot it to put it out of its misery. It’s back now. I’m trying to track down what went wrong. I apologize to any of you who lost work. As when using any computer application save early and often.

Update: It appears we were attacked by a computer whose IP address maps back to a school in Ga. I’m trying to follow up with their IT people to see what is up. In the meantime they are being blocked by our firewall.

Changes to Search

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We were having some problems with the search facility on Tar Heel Reader so I have made some changes. Performance should be better but we have temporarily lost the ability to search by author name. I hope to get it working again soon.

Language Selection Now Sticky

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Today I enabled a new feature at Tar Heel Reader. When you select a language in the Books By Language list in the right column you will only see books for that language as you select other categories until you select another language. Your language selection is “sticky” in that it “sticks” after you select it. This is indicated by a little dot and underline on the selected language and the name of the language appears in the title for the page.

For example, if you select the English language link you’ll see the Books category with only English books shown (actually only books not tagged with another language the site recognizes). Then if you select Reviewed Books, you see only English books that are reviewed. Likewise for any of the other languages on the site.

To return to see all languages simply select the All link in the languages list.

As always let me know of bugs you find on the site. I don’t know about problems unless you tell me.

I know of one limitation. The search does properly restrict itself to only books in the current language. I’ll work on that when I get a chance.

Over 500,000 books read at Tar Heel Reader!

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Yesterday we passed the 1/2 million mark for books read at Tar Heel Reader. These books have been read in 109 countries. I’m excited and pleased to be part of such a successful project.

We are approaching 5000 books on the site (4937 as I write this). Thank you to all the authors who have contributed your work.

The top ten countries in number of books read are:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. Australia
  4. Germany
  5. Great Britain
  6. New Zealand
  7. Korea
  8. Spain
  9. Italy
  10. Japan

You can learn more about where our readers are and see them on a world map here.

Flickr Commons Pictures Added to Search

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Penny suggested that we should add the Flickr Commons pictures to the search in the book writing wizard here at Tar Heel Reader. That category didn’t exist back when I was writing that part of the code (or at least I didn’t see it). It turns out the addition was trivial. So now your searches will include the huge collection of pictures with no known copyright. Check out the Flickr Commons page for the the list of institutions participating. Thanks Penny for a great suggestion.

Problems with Internet Explorer 8

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Laura reported a bug in the writing wizard when using Internet Explorer 8. I think I have fixed it.

Everyone, let us know when you see problems.

Attention Switch Users: changes coming to keyboard controls

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Dr. Gretchen Hanser of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and I are planning to make changes to the keyboard controls for reading books at Tar Heel Reader. These changes will enable 3-switch scanning and direct access while still supporting the 2-switch scanning compromise we have in place now.

Currently the site uses right arrow (and down arrow, page down, space, N) as the mover and left arrow (and up arrow, page up, back space, enter, P) as a chooser on choice pages (Favorites, and menus like What would you like to do now?) and as go back when reading a book.

The new scheme leaves left arrow as it was but it changes up arrow to always mean previous selection. The other change is that down arrow is always a chooser. With this change a 3-switch user can use right arrow to always mean next selection, up arrow to always mean previous selection and down arrow to always mean choose.

We hope these changes will have minimum impact on our switch users. If you happen to be using down arrow instead of right arrow as your mover, you may need to change your setup. Gretchen will be glad to help anyone who has problems adapting their switch setup.

To summarize, here are the keyboard controls for each kind of page on the site:

Key Page Function
left arrow
Book 1st page Choose another book
Other book pages Previous page
Choice pages Chooser
up arrow Book 1st page Choose another book
Other book pages Previous page
Choice pages Previous choice
right arrow
Book 1st page Next page
Other book pages
Choice pages Next choice
down arrow Book 1st page Nothing
Other book pages
Choice pages Chooser

We have also implemented keys for direct access to the choices on the various Choice pages. The direct access keys are:

Key Function
a Read this book again.
r Rate this book.
d Read another book.
1 1 star.
2 2 stars.
3 3 stars.

Gretchen has made overlays for the Intellikeys keyboard to implement 2-switch, 3-switch, and direct access.

Let us know if you see problems with these changes. We plan to implement them on the site next weekend.

New Features at Tar Heel Reader

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Today we’ve rolled out several new features on the site.

  • Adding tags for state educational standards to published books. When you are logged in to the site you’ll see a new section on the Reading Controls page for each book (go to the front page of the book and click Setup). There you can select your US State or Canadian Province and enter the appropriate letter and number combination for your state’s standards that apply to the book. Click submit and a tag will be added to the book. You’ll see the word Standards in the list of tags for the book. Hovering over it will show the applicable standards. Clicking that link will take you to the reading controls page where you can see them all listed.
  • German language translation of category names, welcome page, and writing wizard. With this in place, German readers and authors can work (almost) entirely in Deutsch. Now that the machinery is in place for translation, enabling other languages is a simple as filling in a form with translations of English text to the target language. Contact me if you’d like to help with translation.
  • The number of pages in each book is shown in the lower right corner on the Category and Search pages.
  • Speech is disabled for books in languages like Latin and Swedish that don’t have working text-to-speech engines.

With new features, come new bugs. Let me know if you see something broken.

Tar Heel Reader is one year old today!

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One year ago today Karen posted the first book, Jimmy Choo Shoes, to the creaky version of this site running on my desk side computer. We had no idea the site would take off like it has!

Here is a graph showing the number of books read each week since we began (click the image for a larger version). You can see that from modest beginnings we have grown to delivering about 15,000 books in a typical week.
Books read per week

Over the year 424,689 books have been read in 97 countries. We now have 3,955 books in 9 languages (English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Spanish, and Swedish). Check out the map and tables showing the locations of our readers.

The most frequently read book on the site is The First Black President by Adunnola Waterman French.

It has been a great pleasure to hear from those of you who are using the site. Reports that children are enjoying reading make the investment of time and money worthwhile.

Happy Birthday Tar Heel Reader.