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Long-awaited Open eBooks app launched

A young boy enjoys reading an ebook on his tablet.

A young boy enjoys reading an ebook on his tablet. Image courtesy of Milltown Public Library.

Today, the White House announced that the Open eBooks app to put ebooks in the hands of lower income children and young adults aged 4-18, is up and running. The Open eBooks service to provide age appropriate reading materials, was developed in partnership with the Digital Public Library of America, the New York Public Library, FirstBook, and Baker & Taylor. With the app, the Open eBooks service can begin.

The Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided grant funds to get the project up and running. The Open eBooks service will require the help of librarians, teachers and other professionals who can register eligible children and young adults and provide them with an access code to enjoy thousands of books made available by publishers, including the Big Five. The service is modelled after the existing FirstBook services for print books. The ebooks can be accessed and read from any smart phone or tablet that runs on Android or iOS mobile operating systems. The Open eBooks web site notes:

Open eBooks is an app containing thousands of popular and award-winning titles that are free for children from low-income households. These eBooks can be read without checkouts or holds. Children from low-income families can access these eBooks, which include some of the most popular works of the present and past, using the Open eBooks app and read as many as they like without incurring any costs. The goal of Open eBooks is to encourage a love of reading and serve as a gateway to children reading even more often, whether in school, at libraries, or through other ebook reading apps.

I think it goes without saying that implementing the Open eBooks service initially will be a bumpy ride—isn’t everything?—but worthwhile to so many young people. Time and experience with the new app will allow for working out any kinks.  Everyone should have books to read!  And that’s what the new Open eBooks app is all about.

About Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books and other public policy issues. She has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA in media arts from the University of Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at crussell@alawash.org.

11 comments

  1. You are correct. I guess including the word app in the title was not as noticeable as I thought it would be.

  2. How does this work? Do parents go to their app stores to get it? How is it determined that the child using it is from a low-income family. Further- how many low income families will have smart phones? Not trying to be critical- just curious and want to learn more about it.

  3. If they are low income how do they afford tablets, iphones, readers?!!! You’ll need to provide those also so that they can access the ebook application.

  4. (different Carolyn here) Yes – it’s great that there’s an app – now, what about the reader? And it seems they expect libraries to help with determining which kids get the code… I’m really skeevy about my staff asking for proof of income, it’s none of our business.

    Like may government initiatives, I think they perhaps have not thought their cunning plan all the way through…

  5. Downloading the usernames and pin numbers for students is laborious at best. Yes, these can be distributed by the classroom teacher if they have the time and tech talent. However, it has been left to school librarians at the site or the district level to manage this…. recently we downloaded thousands of usernames and pins which will be distributed by email and spreadsheet to classroom teachers to hand out. Hopefully this will be successful….

    The opening day website reminded us of the issues experienced by the original Affordable Care website users with numerous crashes and other difficulties. Another unfortunate decision …. the app is not device neutral and only works on smart phones, IPads and tablets. With the emphasis on BYOD and 1-1 with Chromebooks, this should have been addressed.

  6. For questions about who is eligible for Open eBooks see https://register.firstbook.org/.
    There are a number of ways to determine if a child is from a low income family.

  7. Stacey: Regarding the number of low income children that actually have a reading device like a smart phone, the White House told us that 85% of kids living in poverty have mobile devices. I’m not sure where this data point came from, but other studies do indicate a high percentage of lower income kids have smart phones.
    See:
    https://www.rt.com/usa/320541-young-children-mobile-devices/
    http://database.cmch.tv/mentors/hotTopic.asp?id=70
    http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/

  8. Second Carolyn: More people are using multi-use computer devices like tablets and smart phone to read e-books. The use of dedicated e-readers like the Nook or the Kindle are waning in popularity at least in terms of purchases. I know some people would never give up their Kindle but more folks are thinking “I don’t need a dedicated e-reader if I have a smart phone.”

    In regards to finding out whether your students come from a lower income family, supposedly there are many ways to figure this out and you do not have to find out how much income any one family has. I direct you toOpen eBooks see https://register.firstbook.org/. This is the group that will verified credentials. The FirstBook people have been doing this for years, except with print books. Good luck!

  9. hello Kate:
    The app is suppose to work with both iOS and Android, so if the students have Chromebooks they should be able to access the app. It is true that the app only works for iOS and Android.

    The Open eBooks initiative was not one that ALA participated in directly. We were asked by the President to let ALA members know and help because he knows the library plays the primary role in digital literacy and guiding readers. Good luck!

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