The White House and Michelle Obama Release $250M ‘Open eBooks’ App for...

column | Open Educational Resources (OER)

The White House and Michelle Obama Release $250M ‘Open eBooks’ App for Title I and Special Education Teachers

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Feb 24, 2016

The White House and Michelle Obama Release $250M ‘Open eBooks’ App for Title I and Special Education Teachers

Do you remember how it felt when you first read what would eventually become your favorite book? For many students, that’s a feeling that’s hard to come by—books aren’t always cheap or easily accessible, especially when school budgets are stretched thin.

However, the government is hoping to help schools save money and time by offering thousands of popular and award-winning titles—$250 million worth of books, in fact—to Title I, military base and special education teachers and librarians, and by extension, students. How, exactly?

Today, Michelle Obama and the White House are officially launching the Open eBooks app.

As part of the Open eBooks initiative—an initiative highlighted by President Obama last July—the app allows users to access thousands of free books on smartphones or tablets. The app is open to any educator, student or administrator at one of the 66,000+ Title I schools or any of the 194 Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in the United States. Additionally, White House reps report that any of the hundreds of thousands of special education teachers in the country—no matter what type of school they work for—also have access.

“For so many of us, books opened our minds to a world of possibility. Unfortunately, right now, millions of children in America don’t have that chance because they don’t have adequate access to the books they need to learn and dream,” the First Lady said in a video released along with the app today (shown below). “The new Open eBooks app will change that.”

To access the app, educators can sign up on the site and receive codes for their students. Using those codes, students can download the free Open eBooks app to mobile devices and access a library of eBooks.

White House partnerships on the app are twofold. First, ten major publishers, including Penguin Random House and National Geographic, provided the texts. Second, to create the app and curate the eBook collection, the White House partnered with the Digital Public Library of America, First Book, and The New York Public Library, as well as digital books distributor Baker & Taylor and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Back in October of 2015, the U.S. Department of Education launched #GoOpen, a campaign to encourage educators and their respective schools and districts to use openly licensed educational resources (OERs). While this effort is separate from the administration's OER work (in that Open eBooks is primarily composed of copyrighted materials), today’s launch is complementary in its goals and furthers the White House’s efforts to push for more free online resource usage in American schools, something educators and librarians are hungry for.

“Clearly, the Open eBooks program can provide another digital gateway for millions of children to develop a love of reading,” says Sari Feldman, President of the American Library Association, “and what smarter investment in our future could we make than getting books in front of kids?"

For Colin Rogister, a White House Special Advisor who currently helps to lead the Administration’s ConnectED initiative, this launch hits close to home after having taught second grade at a low-income elementary school in California.

"As a former teacher in a Title I school, I know an app like Open eBooks would have been a game changer for my students,” he says. “Teachers and librarians are always trying to find new ways to motivate students.”

To sign up for Open eBooks and acquire the app, or to get more information, visit or check out the White House's official announcement. Or, check out our additional article with five more facts on the Open eBooks app, with information from the White House and the New York Public Library.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect that the Open eBooks effort is separate from the Administration’s OER work.

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