Distance Read-Alouds

Note: This post was updated to reflect US Copyright Law.

Many students are now learning at home due to COVID-19. For my elementary school students, story time is an important and exciting part of the day. How will students hear books read aloud by their teachers and school librarians now? Educators can simply record themselves reading aloud stories and post the videos to YouTube and Facebook, right? Perhaps. The answer depends on an analysis of the four factors of fair use, in addition to the situation at hand – school is closed. During emergencies, fair use can be considered a bit more broadly. “One critical feature of copyright law is fair use, a flexible users’ right that allows the use of copyrighted works without permission. It accommodates a wide variety of circumstances, including new and rapidly evolving situations” (Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists, 2020, para. 3).

Intellectual property rights are so important that AASL’s Standards Framework for Learners has an entire domain devoted to the subject: Engage. For instance, school library standards state that learners are to use valid information and reasoned conclusions to make ethical decisions in the creation of knowledge by:

1. Ethically using and reproducing others’ work.
2. Acknowledging authorship and demonstrating respect for the intellectual property of others.

COVID-19 has brought forth many challenges, but also opportunities. We have an opportunity to model the ethical use of others’ work by how we share and credit information via distance learning.

So, can teachers and librarians use YouTube under these circumstances? Maybe. Some will always want to ask for permission to use a work that they feel may be unlawful even when fair use might allow the use. Asking for permission can be easy.

My wife teaches first grade in a neighboring school district. She was excited that her colleagues wanted to post read-aloud videos to their school’s Facebook page. My wife felt obligated to get permission from the author before video recording her read-aloud. She searched online for the author’s website to make a request to record herself reading one of his books. She explained in her message that the video would only be shared with students and parents. The author responded in less than 12 hours, generously granting permission to share his stories with students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife commented that she will use her correspondence with the author to teach first graders about fair use and intellectual property.

Asking permission can be difficult because it may be hard to determine who is the rights holder. And when libraries have acquired materials through license agreement, the contract language associated with the work will govern your use.

School librarians should review the four factors of fair use and limitations such as limiting access to the classroom or posting on a private YouTube site.

Scrolling through Twitter these past few days, I have come across several posts from authors granting permission of the recording of their books being read aloud.

Use the hashtag, #readaloudalert to find Tweets from authors granting permission to record and post videos of teachers reading their books for students while schools are temporarily closed. Emily Northcutt, Kentucky Association of School Librarians President, created a #ReadAloudAlert Wakelet with links to video resources created by authors and illustrators.

Author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka is hosting virtual art classes every day at 2 pm EST during the COVID-19 outbreak. His video series is titled “Draw Every Day with JJK.” Don’t worry if you cannot make the live recordings. All of the classes will be archived on Jarrett Krosoczka’s YouTube Channel.

Free Read-Aloud Recordings

There are many FREE curated collections of approved read-alouds online. For instance, author Kate Messner’s website contains a collection of resources that include everything from first-chapter and picture book read-alouds (shared with permission from publishers) to drawing and writing mini-lessons.

The Story Time from Space website has videos of astronauts in space reading books to the children of Earth. The videos are placed under the heading ”Story Time Videos.”

Storyline Online is a children’s literacy resource featuring the world’s best storytellers reading books aloud. Each video includes an activity guide with lessons for K-5 students to do at home.

KidLitTV has created a virtual library of free read-alouds, drawing and writing tutorials, podcasts, art activities, and reading resources for kids!

Schools across the country are (or have been) faced with a very difficult decision—that is to temporarily suspend classes because of COVID-19. Fortunately, we live in a connected world where educational resources are readily available from any place that has Internet. We are even more fortunate to have the support and kindness of many authors and publishers who are letting teachers continue story time (from a distance) with their students.

Works Cited:

Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research.” 2020. https://tinyurl.com/tvnty3a,


Author: Sam Northern, Ed.D.

Sam Northern is a National Board Certified Teacher-Librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. He currently serves as President of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. In 2014, Sam was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program where he spent four weeks in China. Since then, Sam has voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and worked aboard a research vessel on the Atlantic Ocean as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. From January to April 2018, Sam traveled to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program to research best practices for project-based learning. Connect with him on Twitter @Sam_Northern and Facebook @themisterlibrarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom

Tags: , , ,

6 replies

  1. Thank you so much for putting this together. In this crazy time it is so easy to jump before we think.

  2. Author Kate Messner has shared that it is legally up to the publisher, not the author, to give read aloud rights. This article advises to ask the author. Can someone please clarify this?
    Thank you!

  3. Thanks for the info.

    It’s true that authors do not always retain the copyrights to their books once the material is published. Many publishers have started offering exceptions to copyright for online storytimes during these uncertain times as long as people follow their conditions. A common condition is to agree to remove recordings by a certain date. Author Kate Messner has started tracking those publisher permissions: https://www.katemessner.com/publisher-guidelines-on-fair-use-for-online-storytimes-read-alouds-during-covid-19-school-closures.

    Also, another resource that might be helpful is StoryWeaver, which offers stories in several languages under a Creative Commons 4.0 license. That means that with proper attribution, you can use the stories in online storytimes or for other uses. https://storyweaver.org.in/v0/blog


  4. Hi. Thanks for reaching out. Yes, the publisher has the final say so. However, if you ask the author, he or she will contact the publishing house for approval. My students and I have gone this route several times in the past. Authors usually have a direct line to their editors and publishers. Thank you.

  5. Fantastic Information
    Thank you so much!

  6. After attending several webinars and reading many posts, I’m going with this view. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-03-30-can-teachers-read-books-out-loud-online-actually-yes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.