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The Open eBooks Initiative: Giving the Power of Reading to Those who Need it Most

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
A student at Magee Academy in Pico Rivera, CA, selects a book with the Open eBooks app. According to Principal Gisela Castañon, the Open eBooks app provides her students access to desperately needed quality titles that are available for hours of reading pleasure and practice. Photo courtesy of Magee Academy.

Program: Open eBooks

Website: openebooks.net/

 

 

 

 

Caption: A student at Magee Academy in Pico Rivera, CA, selects a book with the Open eBooks app. According to Principal Gisela Castañon, the Open eBooks app provides her students access to desperately needed quality titles that are available for hours of reading pleasure and practice. Photo courtesy of Magee Academy.

There are few things more precious in childhood than learning to read. From Where the Wild Things Are to Cat in the Hat, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird, life lessons are found within the pages of the classics. Every child deserves the knowledge and inspiration that come from reading, but for many, books are not easily accessible. However, with free services and initiatives all over the country, such as Open eBooks, digital material is becoming easier to access. 

Open eBooks, a coalition of literacy, library, and publishing partners, supports the White House ConnectED initiative and provides equitable access to digital books for children from low income families, military families, and for children with special needs. Launched February 24, the initiative allows adults working in libraries, schools, shelters, afterschool programs and other settings to request access to the Open eBooks app for children in need. Now in its third month, Open eBooks is available to millions of students, in elementary school, middle, and high school, offering an unprecedented digital library valued at more than $250 million.

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”*

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) continues to be committed to supporting work that leads to more equitable, affordable access to eBooks. In 2014, many different stakeholders, including IMLS, were engaged in discussions encouraging libraries to collaborate with publishers in narrowing the digital divide, making it easier for children in need to have unlimited access to eBooks. Those conversations grew out of prior work funded by IMLS to simplify access to library eBook collections and resulted in a coalition of partners committed to the goal of providing access to eBooks for children who need it most.

The Open eBooks Initiative partners—Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), First Book, and The New York Public Library (NYPL)—created the app, curated the eBook collection, and developed a system for distribution and use. The partners received financial support from IMLS, assistance from eBook distributor Baker & Taylor, and contributions from major publishers.

“I am so proud of all the partners and supports who came together to make a powerful vision into a reality, and grateful to the thousands of adults who are helping children use Open eBooks,” said Maura Marx, IMLS deputy director for library services. “There is much more work to do, and we are excited to watch this effort grow and continue in the coming years.”

Six-year-old Zyasia Salter explores the Open eBook app at the Seymour Wilson Branch Library, New Haven Free Public Library. The system is purchasing 3 tablets for each of its five locations to accommodate in-library use and to offer content to kids who don’t have devices at home. Photo courtesy of Courtland Seymour Wilson Branch Library, New Haven Free Public Library (CT).

Caption: Six-year-old Zyasia S. explores the Open eBook app at the Seymour Wilson Branch Library, New Haven Free Public Library. The system is purchasing 3 tablets for each of its five locations to accommodate in-library use and to offer content to kids who don’t have devices at home. Photo courtesy of Courtland Seymour Wilson Branch Library, New Haven Free Public Library (CT).

“Tale of Despereaux“

The Open eBooks app contains thousands of popular and award-winning titles that are free for children in need. Adults working with these children in schools, libraries, or programs register for access codes on behalf of the children they serve. Once the app is downloaded and the code and PIN are entered, the digital collection becomes available. An eBook can be read without having to “check out” the book or wait for it to become available through a holds process.  Children can read popular titles from the past and present without the worry of incurring costs for overdue books.

Library Technical Assistant Karina Gonzalez, with the New Haven Free Public Library in Connecticut, recently introduced the Open eBooks app to a student served by a program at the Courtland Seymour Wilson branch library.  The 10-year-old student was excited to see the popular Dork Diaries in the app.  Gonzalez said, “The best part as far as the parent was concerned was there were no late fees, no subscription costs, and no last minute schlepping of books [back to the library]. Both mother and daughter seemed thrilled.”  She added, “This particular app is much easier to explain and run through with patrons than others I've seen.”

Meant to complement other existing, free eBook programs as well as the services of public libraries across the country, Open eBooks makes digital collections available from publishers rather than relying solely on public domain works. The books are selected by the Digital Public Library of America’s Curation Corps, a group that decides on a diverse, compelling, and appropriately targeted set of thousands of titles, ensuring that there is something for every child to read and enjoy and learn in the Open eBooks collection.

Since First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the launch with a video on February 24, the initiative has received strong support from librarians, educators, and other child care providers.

This summer, Open eBooks is encouraging teachers and librarians to hold “Summer Reading Download Parties,” to kick off summer reading activities. Open eBooks will provide suggestions for activities and reading lists with the hope of inspiring kids to keep learning and reading through the summer months.

Veronica Hidalgo of Magee Academy asked her students to end the week with 30 minutes of unwinding with a good read. She told them, “Grab an iPad, find a spot outside, launch Open eBooks, and enjoy the books you selected.” Photo courtesy of Magee Academy.

Caption: Veronica Hidalgo of Magee Academy asked her students to end the week with 30 minutes of unwinding with a good read. She told them, “Grab an iPad, find a spot outside, launch Open eBooks, and enjoy the books you selected.” Photo courtesy of Magee Academy.

“Pride and Prejudice“

As use of Open eBooks grows, the partners are committed to adding new and enhanced content from publishing partners as well as broadening their service network and incorporating new app features. The coalition aims to further the initiative’s reach by facilitating further research and sharing of best practices of the Open eBooks program.

"Open eBooks is an exciting and important project perfectly aligned with libraries’ missions to make information, knowledge, and opportunity accessible to all,” said Micah May, NYPL's Director of Business Development.

To read inspiring stories from those who have benefited from Open eBooks, follow the Twitter hashtag, #OpeneBooks.

If you work with children in need through libraries, schools, shelters and clinics, out-of-school programs, military family programs, early childhood programs, or other activities and think the children you serve may qualify for this program, visit http://www.openebooks.net/getinvolved.html for more information on how to get started.

*Note: Subtitles represent some popular books included in Open eBooks.

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