Skip to main content

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

Similar Articles


rlfrick February 24, 2016 um 4:42 pm

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.

Nate Hoffelder February 24, 2016 um 5:03 pm

Whoops. I misread it, and will correct.


Daily Links and Deals: Tablets Are Dead | The eBook Evangelist February 25, 2016 um 2:47 pm

[…] The Open eBooks Program Brings eBooks to Students Who Need it Most (The Digital Reader) – Ebooks going where they are desperately needed, but could the government manage the program for less? […]

Scripta manent (II) Recopilación semanal de artículos y fuentes – El blog de Bernat Ruiz February 29, 2016 um 6:46 am

[…] The Open Ebooks Program brings ebooks to students who need it most […]

Free and Open eBooks Won't Help Those on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide | The Digital Reader March 27, 2016 um 12:36 pm

[…] Washington Post reminded us on Friday that the recently announced federal Open eBooks program could fail to reach those who need it the […]

Write a Comment