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

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

WorldReader achieved that milestone with a shoestring budget; Open eBooks, on the other hand, has a $250 million budget.

Do you think the latter program will prove to be that much more effective?

Open eBooks, EdSurge, White House

image by Ryan Dickey

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Nate Hoffelder’s story.