Obama Pushes Free E-books, Library Cards for Low-Income Students


President Barack Obama has introduced two new literacy-based initiatives in an effort to expand access to digital content for low-income students.

The first initiative will see a number of major book publishers giving over $250 million in e-books to low-income students.  The second seeks commitments from local governments and schools throughout the country to ensure that every student has a library card.

“We’re going to provide millions of e-books online so that they’re available for young people who maybe don’t have as many books at home or don’t always have access to a full stock of reading materials,” Obama said during a virtual town hall sponsored by Discovery Education.

Obama went on to say to students that how well they do in life will be determined by whether they love reading and writing, in addition to how well they know how to find information.  He added that in order to do that in the digital age, students need to “make sure that [they're] plugged in.”

A number of major US publishers have already signed on to participate, including Simon & Schuster, Bloomsbury, Macmillan, Random House-Penguin and HarperCollins.  Nonprofits and libraries are expected to work together in the creation of an app students can use to access digital books.  The New York Public Library is currently working with book donation nonprofit Firstbook, creating the e-reader app.

Commitments to provide library cards have already come from 30 cities and counties across the US including Baltimore and San Francisco.

The initiatives comes as part of a larger effort by the White House known as ConnectED.  Created two years ago, the program hopes to improve education across the country by increasing digital connectivity.  The goal of the program is to provide high-speed internet in 99% of all US students’ schools and libraries by 2018.

Jeff Zients, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said of the program, “If we’re serious about living up to what our country is about, then we have to consider what we can do to provide opportunities in every community, not just when they’re on the front page, but every day.”

A number of companies, including Apple, have already pledged to provide $100 million worth of digital technology to low-income schools.

The new initiatives are estimated to use $2 billion from the private sector, $2 billion from FCC funding, and another $1.5 billion in annual funding.

According to a recent US Census Bureau study of computer and internet use, almost 84% of households said they owned a computer in 2013.  However, only 62% of households that made less than $25,000 reported the same.