Five steps to get open-source books right

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Children reading a book Several global digital “libraries” provide thousands of illustrated and well-written books for children in hundreds of languages. Copyright: Shutterstock

We have all heard about the wonders of open-source educational materials, especially books for young readers. The idea of accessing quality materials for free is appealing. And it should be—financial resources in education are scant and there are thousands of wonderful open-licensed resources available in multiple languages. If you worry about contextual relevance, do not fret—available books target different countries and regions. The use of open licenses like Creative Commons, particularly the CC BY license, means that books can be adapted and translated.

So, how to go about it? Here are five practical steps to follow.

Step 1: Find quality books on global digital platforms.  There are several global digital “libraries” that include thousands of illustrated and well-written books in hundreds of languages on a variety of topics. For instance Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver contains 25,000 titles in 261 languages; the African Storybook Initiative contains nearly 1,500 books in 210 languages; the Bloom library, contains 6,250 titles in 410 languages; the Global Digital Library has more than 5,000 titles in 72 languages; Book Dash, Room to Read’s LiteracyCloud, and others, all house many open-source children’s books produced by local and international NGOs, as well as development projects. In most libraries, you can filter by language and level.

Sample of books in global digital libraries
Sample of books in global digital libraries

Note that some of these books are not “print ready” (more on this in step 3). To access titles that are ready for large scale printing, check out the Early Literacy Network digital platform (in development).

Step 2: If you don’t use one of the libraries mentioned above, check the copyright agreement of the books you select. The titles in the global digital libraries that we just listed are registered under the Creative Commons 4.0 International Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license. This means you can share, adapt, and translate the books with attribution to the original content creator or publisher. Local publishers can also use these books to jump start the process of creating high quality children’s books in relevant languages. If books come from a different source, they might have a different type of CC license. In these cases, we recommend that you consult the Read@Home Copyright Guide. Module 3 centers on open access and creative commons licenses and illustrates the concepts with clear examples.

Summary of CC licenses and rights
Summary of CC licenses and rights

Step 3: If planning large scale printing (more than a few thousand copies), seek technical assistance to convert the files to “offset print ready.” Books on platforms other than the Early Literacy Resource Network will require additional pre-press work to be ready for large scale printing.  All CC BY-licensed books and many books licensed with other types of CC licenses can be adapted for large scale printing. The Read@Home program is developing guidance on how to do this.

Step 4: If you don’t find books in your language or that fit your context, you can consider creating or versioning new books using software. Some of the global platforms mentioned above include software to easily version books (see, for instance, StoryWeaver Translator or the African Storybook Maker app). REACH also developed clear Recommendations for Storybook Versioning with a step-by-step guide to translate books. If time and budget are available, hiring local authors, illustrators and designers should also be considered.

If you are producing books with government or donor funding, we recommend that the books be CC BY licensed and shared on one of the global platforms. This ensures that public funding is used for the greatest possible public good.  The copyright guide and other guidance produced by Read@Home includes more information and sample contracts as well.

A step-by-step to translating books
A step-by-step guide to translating books

Step 5: Use transparent and effective mechanisms to procure book printing and distribution. Getting affordable, well-designed books into children’s hands on time requires the effective, transparent procurement of printing and distribution. To facilitate our support to governments, we have developed several products covering key issues:

Making affordable, well-designed books available to all children is an integral part of ending learning poverty. Let’s use the tools at our disposal, including open-source resources and efficient procurement practices, to get storybooks in the hands of every child.  For additional information and assistance, please visit our webpage or contact us at


Penelope Bender

Lead Literacy Specialist

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