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April 30, 2015

Obama to announce free e-books for low-income kids

President Barack Obama will go to a public library in one of Washington's poorest neighborhoods on Thursday to talk about a plan to give low-income children access to 10,000 e-books.

Working with publishers and libraries, the White House sees the modest plan as part of a strategy to address inner city problems by increasing educational opportunities for kids - woes brought into focus with recent riots in nearby 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," said Jeff Zients, Obama's top economic adviser, in a briefing with reporters.

Zients cited research showing 80 percent of low-income children lag below their grade level in reading skills and lack books at home. The president will be visiting Anacostia Library in Southeast Washington, DC.

The plan includes $250 million in e-book commitments from publishers, including from the five major publishing houses: Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH's Macmillan, CBS Corp's Simon & Schuster Inc, Penguin Random House, Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group Inc, and News Corp's HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

The New York Public Library is developing an app to connect low-income kids with the books, and Obama will urge more communities to find ways to get kids into libraries.

Kids will need computers and devices to read the e-books. Zients noted the White House had previously announced programs to upgrade Internet services for schools and libraries, with private sector help from companies including Apple, which pledged $100 million in devices to low-income schools.

"It's very different than for our generation," said Cecilia Munoz, Obama's domestic policy adviser. 

"More and more, you're going to be seeing kids using devices, and what we're doing is making sure that there's more books available on those devices," Munoz told reporters.