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Are e-books an answer to inner-city problems?

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Susan Walsh/AP

(Read caption) '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,' Obama said during a recent visit to a Washington, D.C., public library.

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How to address inner-city problems like unemployment, drugs, and violence? President Obama says he thinks books are part of the solution.

In a visit to Anacostia Library in Southeast Washington, D.C. Thursday, Mr. Obama announced a plan to give low-income children access to 10,000 e-books, part of a larger strategy to lift inner city communities by improving educational opportunities for kids.

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The announcement comes just two days after Obama said the country has to do "some soul searching" following the deaths of a number of black men in police custody and the racial unrest that has followed, most recently in Baltimore.

 “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,” Jeff Zients, Obama’s top economic adviser, told reporters in a briefing Thursday.

Obama's plan brings together a diverse group – from publishing houses to libraries to Apple – to provide kids in lower-income neighborhoods greater access to e-books and library cards.

Publishing houses have agreed to donate digital access to some 10,000 books to low-income students, worth about $250 million.

And as part of a plan to get library cards for all students, some 30 towns and cities said they would work on programs to connect students to libraries and get them library cards. Not only does this provide students access to thousands of books, it also gives them access to the Internet and to digital books, access they may not have at home.

And according to the announcement, the New York Public Library is playing a key role in the White House's plan. It is developing an app to connect low-income kids with books.

Finally, the White House is working with technology companies to get devices in the hands of low-income students. Apple has pledged $100 million in devices to low-income schools, and others may follow suit.

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Countless studies have pointed to a correlation between access to books and reading level and income: For example, 80 percent of low-income children lag below their grade level in reading skills, according to research Zients cited in his briefing. He also said that there are 13 books per child in middle-income neighborhoods but only one book for every 300 children in poor neighborhoods.

Which is exactly why Obama is looking to books to help improve the odds for kids in poor communities.


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