US central government backing for digital library resources, as covered previously by David Rothman, seems to have taken another step forward with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announcing President Barack Obama’s speech on the Open eBooks initiative and the ConnectED Library Challenge. These initiatives, backed by the IMLS and executed by several library and non-profit partners, “leverage the extensive resources of the nation’s 16,500 public libraries to help kids develop a love of reading and discovery by making e-books and library services broadly available, particularly to students from low-income families.”
IMLS repeated an email from the President stating: “America’s librarians, like our teachers, connect us to books and learning resources that help us dream big….I’ll announce new efforts to provide popular books to millions of underprivileged children and young adults around the country and connect more students to their local libraries – because we know that reading just 20 minutes a day can make a tremendous difference in a student’s success.”
According to the IMLS announcement:
The Open eBooks initiative will make over $250 million in popular e-books from major publishers available, for free, to children from low-income families via an app. The Open eBooks app is being developed by the New York Public Library, which is partnering with the Digital Public Library of America and First Book to curate and deliver the e-books to students from low-income families. IMLS is investing $5 million to support the development of the e-reader app, as well as tools and services to help the public more easily access e-books and other digital content. Complementing that effort, the ConnectED Library Challenge is a commitment by more than 30 communities to work to put a library card into every student’s hand as soon as they enter school.
Quite how big a boost this provides to e-library services remains to be seen. The Open eBooks initiative, for one, seems very much engineered in conjunction with publishers, and $250 million, while impressive, likely pales in comparison to even the current total ebook library stock in the U.S. Still, every little helps, and the whole platform on the IMLS side seems to have its heart at least firmly in the right place.
“With this initiative President Obama acknowledges the powerful role libraries play in leveling the digital divide and empowering kids to dream big,” said Maura Marx, Acting Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “We’re thrilled to spotlight the work America’s 16,500 public libraries do every day to inspire people of all ages to live better lives through learning and discovery.