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PA Forward: Moving Forward with Open eBooks Initiative and ConnectED Library Challenge

Diane Schmidt photoby Diane Schmidt

Last week Osman Yahya, a middle school student, acted as moderator to a “virtual field trip” with President Obama.  Osman may have stolen the show when he told the President to “move on” after a lengthy 3-minute answer to a question about writer’s block.  And who amongst us has not felt that same urge when listening to a political speech.  But, this time I think that we as librarians and educators should take the time and listen to what the President had to say.

President Obama revealed two new plans that are a development from his ConnectED initiative that was launched a few years ago. The original goal of that plan was aimed at transforming teaching and learning through digital connectivity and content. It is aimed at providing opportunities for all children, especially those in low-income communities. So far, that plan is on target to connect 99% of all schools with some form of digital access to resources in the 5-year timeline initially presented.

The first new plan that the President spoke about was the Open eBooks Initiative.  This will bring together major publishers that will offer over $250 million in free eBooks for low-income students. Some big publishers participating so far include Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Cricket Media, Hachette, HarperCollins, Lee & Low, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.  The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has committed $5 million in support of an app that is being developed by the New York Public Library and the Digital Public Library of America to permit access to these materials from the public domain.  The app is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2015.

His second plan is the ConnectED Library Challenge whose goal is to guarantee that every child has the opportunity to get a library card and public access to the Internet.  This program will attract schools, libraries and civic leaders working together to provide services to children from all backgrounds. So far there have been over 30 library systems across the United States that have committed to support this challenge.

According to the White House press release, “President Obama recognizes the critical role that libraries play as trusted community anchors that support learning and connectivity at all times and many different paces. In fact, more than 70 percent of libraries report that they are the only providers of free public internet access in their community. Like many modern challenges, improving education for all children requires key leaders to collaborate in new and powerful ways. Libraries are uniquely positioned to continue to build programs and partnerships that bridge the divide between schools and homes and provide educational services to every person in the community.”

Those of us PA Forward Logo of Five Literaciesfamiliar with PA Forward should not be surprised by the words of the President.  They fall right in line with what we have been saying for years. This brings us back to why we should be listening to this message from the President—because it appears that someone has been listening to us.

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