What Will Open eBooks, The Free E-Books For Students Project, Look Like?

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It’s been a few months since the announcement of the ambitious White House-led initiative aiming to create a free ebook collection for low income students. From what we know thus far, The Guardian (“App could turn America’s poor into lifelong readers”) notes how the free ebooks will consist of “public domain titles, spruced up with new art and typography, accessible for students from all backgrounds.” But simply providing free ebooks might be the easy part —

“The app will have to be pretty enticing to lure teenagers off Snapchat, but it’s certainly a laudable scheme … The low cost of distribution can make digital-based literacy schemes seem deceptively easy to implement. For something to be more than a showy gesture, communities need to be receptive.

Will the app be good? Will the books themselves be interesting enough, of good enough quality, and useful enough to get buy-in from students and teachers? Details remain scant for the time being, but it will be extremely interesting to watch as the project develops — and hopefully succeeds. Free ebooks won’t solve all of the problems of digital education access, but the Open eBooks project would be a huge step in the right direction if it works.

For a recap, Bustle: “The Open eBooks App Will Allow Children From Low-Income Homes To Access Thousands Of Books For Free” has a quick rundown —

“First Book, a new nonprofit, White House-led initiative, has joined forces with publishers, other nonprofits, and the New York Public Library to create an app called Open eBooks that will bring free literature to students across the country. The app is currently being developed by a team of tech leaders working with the New York Public Library, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and will provide readers aged 4 to 18 years old, from low-income homes, with thousands of free e-books.

… Once completed, the app will be made available to nonprofits, community organizations, and schools that serve low-income youth.”


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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