obama-reading-kids-virginiaIt’s a good day for anyone concerned about child literacy and easy access to educational materials. According to Raw Story, President Obama will be at Anacostia Library in Southeast Washington, D.C. this morning to announce a new plan to give children from low-income families access to 10,000 free e-books.

Jeff Zients, Obama’s top economic adviser, announced the plan yesterday in a briefing with the press, identifying it as part of a strategy to combat inner city problems by increasing educational opportunities for kids. Publishers, including the five largest publishing houses, have pledged $250 million in e-book commitments and the New York Public Library is developing an app to help get the books into the hands of low-income kids.

The e-books plan will work in conjunction with a previously announced program intended to upgrade school and library internet services, which includes a pledge by Apple to give $100 million in electronic devices to low-income schools. According to Ziets’ research, 80 percent of low-income kids lag behind their grade-level in reading and don’t have access to books at home. These plans are an effort to address that.

“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…” said Jeff Zients.

Obama’s plan is one of a few working to get books into the hands of young, underprivileged readers. Dolly Parton has the Imagination Library, which partners with communities and mails high quality, age appropriate books directly to kids, regardless of their family’s income. There’s also The Children’s Book Bank, which repairs and packages used books and makes them readily available to families in need.

According to the website for The Children’s Book Bank, the ratio of books to kids in low-income neighborhoods is one book for every 300 kids and poorer children often enter school with an average of 25-hours of one-to-one reading time, compared with up to 1,700 hours for a middle class child. It’s easy to underestimate how staggering the problem really is.

If we want to fight income inequality, we have to start with the issues of poverty, unemployment, and access to education and opportunities. Free e-books aren’t going to magically address all the ways people are hurting and struggling, but they’re a step in the right direction. The need for easy access to educational materials is real and pressing, and it’s great to see the Obama administration drawing attention to this issue and making efforts to address the problem.

(Photo: Pool / Getty Images News)