The Open eBooks Program Brings eBooks to Students Who Need it Most

23125949686_d36c462872_heBooks have the potential to bring an unending supply of reading material to those who need it most, but not all schools and public libraries can afford to pay the fees for the commercial platforms.

Now there's an alternative.

On Wednesday the White House announced Open eBooks, a new free program intended to help the neediest students in the US bridge the digital divide. Developed as a partnership between the Digital Public Library of America, Baker & Taylor, and the New York Public Library, FirstBook, Open eBooks gives educators at the US's poorest schools, as well as special ed and disability teachers, access to a catalog of thousands of popular books.

The program is modeled after the existing FirstBook service for print books (like Maryland's), only with a nod towards library services (it is in fact built on B&T's Axis 360 platform).

Access is restricted to only those with codes obtained by educators, but once a kid has a code they can check out an ebook and read it on any iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone/tablet and read the ebook for up to 56 days before it is automatically returned (unless it is renewed).

“For so many of us, books opened our minds to a world of possibility. Unfortunately, right now, millions of children in America don’t have that chance because they don’t have adequate access to the books they need to learn and dream,” the First Lady said in a video released along with the app today (see the WH link above). “The new Open eBooks app will change that.”

While it is good to see the US govt following in the footsteps of non-profits like WorldReader, which came up with this exact idea four years ago, I do wish that Open eBooks looked more like Worldreader than like a commercial library ebook platform.

WorldReader is a non-profit devoted to literacy in Africa. It first started by distributing Kindles, but in 2012 it turned to promoting reading apps which could run on feature phones and smartphones. The app is open to all, with no restriction, so it can help all age groups.

After helping thousands read on Kindles, by September 2015 WorldReader boasted that five million people were using its apps, including both young and old.

And to top it off, WorldReader achieved that milestone with a shoestring budget. Do you think the latter program will prove to be that much more effective?

Open eBooks, EdSurge, White House

image by Ryan Dickey

About Nate Hoffelder (11598 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

2 Comments on The Open eBooks Program Brings eBooks to Students Who Need it Most

  1. There should be a correction to your story. Open eBooks does NOT have a $250 million dollar budget.
    That dollar figure is in reference to the estimated value of the collections contributed by publishers over the course of the 3 year project.

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