K-12 students in poverty, along with others across the U.S. and some overseas, will enjoy access to thousands of e-books made available by major publishers such as Random House and National Geographic.

Targeted age group for the White House-encouraged initiative is 4-18, and according to the Washington office of the American Library Association, the related Apple and Android apps are “up and running.”

Yes, that’s the real news of the day for K-12 (although it’s fascinating that the Obama Administration has also just unveiled its nomination for Library of Congress).

The basic OpenEbooks idea was unveiled last year, following news reports of understocked K-12 school libraries.

Here’s a video of First Lady Michelle Obama talking up the OpenEbooks initiative to make “popular and award-winning titles” available to young people who qualify under the program. Funders are the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. EdSurge has more details. And here is screenshots of the app:


Nice start! The more efforts like this, the better! I’m highly supportive. Value of the offered books is said to be $250 million. Here’s what this means to the students, according to First Book Marketplace, where educators and librarians can sign up:

“The free app allows kids of all ages and their caregivers to instantly download up to 10 eBooks at a time to their mobile digital devices. Each eBook will be available for 56 days before it must be renewed. Students and their families can choose eBooks based on the topics that get them excited about reading and learning, and search for eBooks by title or author.”

The Marketplace also says: “The Open eBooks All Ages Collection was specifically designed for libraries and programs serving children in a wide age range where a shared device can be monitored by an educator or librarian. Get instant access to thousands of exciting titles for all ages to use in your program, or for kids to enjoy at home. Independent readers can instantly download up to 10 eBooks at a time to a mobile digital device, while younger readers can enjoy engaging eBooks with a caregiver or family member on the adult’s device. Each eBook will be available for 56 days before it must be renewed.”

Great, especially the family literacy angle! But we need to look beyond children in high-poverty schools or those in special-ed classes or on military bases. “Mainstream” middle- and upper-class students outside bases, too, could stand to do more recreational reading. What’s more, even though school libraries are the area of greatest need, how about more library spending for people beyond K-12? Annual public library spending in the U.S. is only about $4 per capita. Hence the need for a national digital library endowment. Books, moreover, as important as they are, shouldn’t be the only thing funded. What about more money for professional development of teachers and librarians to help schools and libraries absorb e-book technology? More effort for e-book library training, among other things? You just can’t read an e-book the way you can a paper book—no pages to flip, although you can make use of power search tools—and you need to figure out which form of the technology is best for you.

Meanwhile here are more details from EdSurge:

To access the app, educators can sign up on the OpeneBooks.net site and receive codes for their students. Using those codes, students can download the free Open eBooks app to mobile devices and access a library of eBooks.

White House partnerships on the app are twofold. First, ten major publishers, including Penguin Random House and National Geographic, provided the texts. Second, to create the app and curate the eBook collection, the White House partnered with the Digital Public Library of America, First Book, and The New York Public Library, as well as digital books distributor Baker & Taylor and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Of interest to me: Again, I’m supportive of the basic idea. That said, I hate to see “Open” used to name a program with so many (presumably) DRMed e-books.