The ComputerTown, USA! project started with Bob Albrecht and Ramon Zamora, friends who played tennis with the lead librarian at the Menlo Park Library, saying we want to put computers out for your patrons. A year or so after they started this, the National Science Foundation got wind of it and invited People’s Computer Company to submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation.
Bob was always gathering groups of kids together to show them how to program and play computer games. He was involved with the Point Foundation (institutional home of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog), Dymax, the publisher of People’s Computer Company newspaper, and the storefront computer center called People’s Computer Company. Putting microcomputers in libraries was an obvious next step.
With NSF funding came the necessity to publish quarterly and annual reports in addition to the handouts needed for teaching in the library and helpful letters to other libraries, community centers and schools wanting to clone the ComputerTown concept. The LO*OP Center/HCLE archive contains the original NSF proposal that tells exactly what the grant funded, including the publication of the ComputerTown, USA! News Bulletin. As the 3-year grant period drew to a close, Julie Anton, Ramon, and Liza Loop gathered all this material together into a final report to the NSF. They then re-edited this material into a book for Reston publishers (then a subsidiary of Prentice-Hall) in 1979.
Reston, which was already in financial trouble, printed the book but never marketed it (the cover price was an unfortunate $10.00) so the public never had an opportunity to buy it. When Reston went out of business in 1985, they offered the remainder stock to the authors at 75 cents each. Liza Loop bought 750 copies which are now available through LO*OP Center to the highest bidders (starting at $100 per copy). Book collectors have a few copies but the book is out-of-print. There is a copy of an earlier, shorter version in ERIC (see:https://eric.ed.gov/?q=Loop%2c+Liza&ft=on&id=ED224478).
Liza took copies of the book to Moscow and Novosibirsk in 1987 when she visited computer clubs there. They were still on the shelves when she visited in 2001. The full book is available from Internet Archive’s Open Library, and anyone can download the ebook.
A lot has changed in 35 years and it might be fun to revisit the ComputerTown concept with three questions: How accurate were Bob Albrecht and his team at predicting the future? What has changed in the communications and computing landscape to make ComputerTown no longer relevant? What elements of ComputerTown are still needed today?