May 4, 2015

Obama administration pledges millions in e-books for low-income children


President Obama has announced a plan to donate $250 million in e-books to low-income students. © Nadin3d / via Shutterstock

President Obama has announced a plan to donate $250 million in e-books to low-income students.
© Nadin3d / via Shutterstock

Late last week, President Obama unveiled a new plan to donate e-books to children from low-income families. Cory Turner reports for “All Things Considered” on NPR that he made the announcement at the Anacostia Library in southeast Washington, DC.

The New York Public Library is developing an app, with the support of major publishers, that will make $250 million worth of e-books available to children without the resources to otherwise afford them. Simon & Schuster, for example, has opened up its entire catalog of books for readers aged 4-14. CEO Carolyn Reidy praises the program, saying, “Children should not be unable to get reading materials because their parents don’t have money.” Karen Lotz, CEO of Candlewick Press—which publishes the Judy Moody series—echoes that sentiment: “We really, really care about getting books to all kids. Kids who can’t afford them. Kids who are in rural areas and not near bookstores.”

While this all sounds very magnanimous, Turner points out that “publishers aren’t giving kids a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of free books. They’re free e-books.” And access to those is far from guaranteed, particularly among poorer families. 40% of households with an income of $25,000 or less don’t have a computer, and even fewer of them have an internet subscription, to say nothing of often-pricey e-readers and tablets.

To ameliorate that, the Obama administration is aiming to make public libraries a space where young readers will be able to access these e-books. Turner writes that they’ve made it a priority to install broadband in every public school an library by 2018, and Obama’s chief technology officer, Megan Smith, states that they plan on “really leveraging libraries as a third place; if families don’t have access to devices at home, the children can get to the library and [get in] that habit.”

Reporting on the same story for Reuters, Roberta Rampton writes that the initiative will get a boost from companies, including Apple, which has promised $100 million to provide digital devices to low-income schools.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.