The online library of free books for students with disabilities was co-founded by computer science professor Gary Bishop and Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies Karen Erickson. Since its founding in 2008, the site has seen a huge increase in users — all without a single dollar spent on advertising.
Kevin Jeffay, chairperson of the computer science department, said TarHeelReader.org has seen such widespread success partly due to buzz spread by fans of the site.
“(Bishop and Erickson) built this thing, and they put it out there, and teachers started writing books, and pretty much by word-of-mouth, this thing spread across the globe,” he said.
Bishop said the site was built with a focus on children with visual impairments, but later it was used by students with other disabilities.
“Most of our users have motor impairment or cognitive impairment,” he said. “They can’t handle a conventional book.”
The collaborative project began with no funding and a goal of eventually hosting 1,000 books on the site. This goal was surpassed within months, and now, nine years later, the site hosts over 50,000 books written in 27 different languages.
Bishop said he is still in disbelief about the rate at which the site has grown.
“When we started it, I had no idea it would get this big,” he said.