Librarian FAQs for Distance Learning

Hi, friends! School librarians have learned a few lessons through our immersion in distance learning. Let’s pause to discuss a few FAQs here, as we reflect on this educational experiment that caught the world by surprise.

Students Laptop Distance Learning

Can I read this book aloud to my students without violating copyright law?

The doctrine of fair use protects educators who read books aloud online in a closed learning management system (like Google classroom) for an educational purpose. Because the public health emergency drastically reduced student access to books, educators were permitted an expanded interpretation of fair use, to include public readings on public media like YouTube. Those public readings should be removed when student access to books is restored.

Fair use does not protect making a read-aloud available permanently on a public platform that anyone can access. That does not serve an educational purpose, and it harms the market for that book and the author’s and illustrator’s revenue for their creation.

This article in EdSurge, written by attorneys, discusses the legal issues in detail.

How can we enhance our ebook collections?

With access to print books suddenly and completely blocked, many students will rely on ebooks to read for pleasure and information. Take a look at your ebook collection and make a plan to improve it.

Does your local public library have an ebook collection? Work to provide public library accounts for your students so they can access the ebooks from the public library. Train them to search the public library catalog when they’re searching for a book.

Capstone ebooks on iPad

You may choose to spend a significant portion of your library budget on ebooks. Shop carefully to determine exactly what you are buying. Can only one user check out the ebook at a time, or multiple users? Does your license to that ebook expire after a certain time or a certain number of check-outs?

Capstone ebooks allow unlimited check-outs with a one-time purchase. Follett, Mackin and Overdrive all have a variety of ebook options. With Junior Library Guild Digital, the titles come and go, just like the shows on Netflix.

How can I provide lessons and enrichment activities for our students?

Many parents were overwhelmed by the onslaught of distance learning. Work with your teachers to see how you can either collaborate with them or add optional enrichment activities. If you are a subscriber to the Library Learners Journal, or a member of the Learning Librarians Facebook group, you have seen many ideas, including:

Bitmoji Library


  • choice boards,
  • games to play on Zoom
  • at-home maker challenges
  • enrichment bingo
  • find your library books challenge
  • collaborating with other specialists
  • read-aloud and do a scavenger hunt related to items in the book
  • generate a story during an online lesson using Mad Libs
  • play a Kahoot game during your online lesson
  • read a story or chapter and have students answer questions via a Google form or Google Classroom
  • use Flipgrid or Padlet or Seesaw for students to respond to their reading
  • create a virtual readers advisory with Bitmoji 
  • host a virtual book club on your online learning platform
  • create a Google Classroom for your teachers, with tutorials and electronic resources they can use with their students+

Do not allow yourself and your library to be out of sight and out of mind during distance learning! Budget cuts are a reality all over the country. Be sure you are contributing to your school’s mission and make your contributions visible.

How do we disinfect the library books?

This article in School Library Journal discusses the results of the REALM project, supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, for disinfecting library books. This may be our new normal.

  • Leave books untouched for 3 days (if unstacked) or 6 days (if the books are stacked) before handling them.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching library books.
  • Use alcohol wipes on materials with plastic coatings, like DVD cases.

How can we get print books to kids?

There are many ways to get print books in kids’ hands. This is especially important for our students who do not have access to internet and digital devices for ebook reading.

Scholastic Book Club

You can:

  • if you teach at a Title I school, you can purchase low cost books from First Book.
  • you can order inexpensive paperback books from Scholastic Book Club.
  • collect and distribute books along with homework packets or curbside meal pick-up at your school.

How can I keep my job?

Communicate with your administration. Help your teachers with the technology challenges of distance learning. Create virtual classrooms for your specials team and post enrichment activities that classroom teachers can link to, helping to take a load off of their plates. Find ways to get books in students’ hands and on to student devices. Make yourself a vital part of the distance learning team, that no one can imagine teaching without.

Budget cuts are an inevitable result of a downturn in the economy. You must advocate for your job all the time, but especially when you are out of sight and not on campus!

Any more questions?

If you have more questions about your role as a librarian in distance learning, or a suggestion for others, please post a comment!

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    1. Can I read this book aloud to my students without violating the copyright law?
      This is a very good question. I had never thought that reading a book aloud to my students may be violating copyright law.
      With the circumstances, it is a good thing that educators were allowed to do so, however, I am realizing that this is a temporary permission. As educators, we must respect the author’s and illustrator’s rights.
      Thank you for asking this question! Joelle

    2. Hi,

      So if I am understanding correctly, I can legally post a RECORDED reading of the book after it is streamed on Microsoft Teams?

      We will be in person for at least some of the school year (and some with special needs will be in person the entire time) and my administrator would like us to also stream and later post recordings so they are available to students if needed.

    3. Strongly recommend the REALMS website , since there is now more research and information since April. There are test results on books where pages are contaminated vs. cover; the different circulating materials & when virus becomes nondetectable; and data about stacking books in quarantine.

      1. Thanks for your comment, JoAnne. I’ve updated the link in the blog post to direct readers to the REALMS project.

    4. The amount of time you say to leave books untouched is not accurate and potentially dangerous. The advice for months and months was to leave books untouched for three days – not just one. And the REALM project recently found that the virus is detectable on stacked materials for up to six days. Please make sure to correct this information so that it is accurate and safe for your readers.

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