What School Librarians Should Know About Bookshare


One of the principles of intellectual freedom is to provide access to information and learning resources to all students and this includes students with print disabilities. Having a print disability means “A person … cannot effectively access traditional print materials because of a visual impairment, a physical disability, or a severe learning disability that affects reading” (Bookshare Possibilities). It is estimated that two percent of students in the U.S. have a print disability that may prevent them from reaching their full learning potential (Bookshare Possibilities).

Help is available to eligible students through Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible online library currently making over 296,000 educational titles available to its members (Verne).

Who is eligible to use Bookshare’s accessible ebooks? Eligible users fall into three categories and must be certified by competent authorities as having one of the following types of disabilities:

  • visual impairments i.e., blind or have low vision making the individual unable to read standard print
  • physical disabilities i.e., unable to read standard print and the physical disability “significantly interferes with reading,” and
  • learning disabilities i.e., the “learning disability significantly interferes with reading” (Bookshare Qualifications).

Students with hearing loss, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotional or intellectual disabilities, or who are English language learners do not qualify unless they are certified by a competent authority as also having a qualifying vision, physical, or learning disability (Bookshare Qualifications). A list of competent authorities is found on the Bookshare website. They include family doctors, special education teachers, school psychologists, and others.

Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a nonprofit California-based technology company that supports projects for social change and is currently funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. As a result, membership is free to qualifying students in public and private schools in the U.S. (Benetech Bookshare). Student members can search Bookshare’s catalog and download an unlimited number of ebooks and use free reading tools such as Bookshare Web Reader (Bookshare What Does It Cost?)

Student members use a dialogue box to search by author, title, publisher, ISBN number, or a summary, and the advanced search feature permits searching the full text of the book. Students can also search Special Collections such as “Picture Books and Easy Readers,” “Hot Books for Emerging Teen Readers,” “Award Winners,” and “Student Resources” (Bookshare Search by Topics or Subjects). The books can be read on Android and Apple tablets and phones, Windows and Mac computers, Chrome books, assistive technology devices such as MP3 players and refreshable Braille displays (Verne). Bookshare accessible ebook features include text highlighting and text-to-speech.

Team up with special education teachers to increase your school’s print-disabled students’ access to information and achieve improved academic success.  Visit the Bookshare website and Bookshare’s YouTube channel with many short educational videos describing this resource and tutorials on how to use it. Check out Bookshare on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.



Bookshare. “Learn Who Can Join.” https://www.bookshare.org/cms/bookshare-me/who-qualifies/.

Bookshare. “Possibilities Abound with Bookshare!” January 12, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S71aGLIaYuc/.

Bookshare. “Qualifications.” https://www.bookshare.org/cms/bookshare-me/who-qualifies/qualifications#visual/.

Bookshare. “Search by Topics or Subjects.” https://www.bookshare.org/cms/help-center/search-topics-or-subjects/.

Bookshare. “What Does It Cost?” https://www.bookshare.org/cms/bookshare-me/what-does-it-cost/.

Benetech. “Bookshare.” http://benetech.org/our-programs/literacy/bookshare/.

Verne, Lisa Wadors. Telephone Interview with Author, August 28, 2015.

Image Source: Bookshare logo used with permission from Benetech and Bookshare Communications Department. http://benetech.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Bookshare-Logo.jpg



Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email: hadams1@centurytel.net.

Categories: Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom

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1 reply

  1. Helen: Thanks so much for covering information about Bookshare’s free reading resources for the benefit of U.S. students who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability or learning disability, such as dyslexia.

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