When Kids Can’t Afford Books During the Pandemic | Scales on Censorship

Ensuring that all students have access to reading material during remote learning; adjusting expectations for student research; fielding questions about Little Free Libraries.

I’m a librarian at the only elementary school in my town. All students are issued laptops, and teachers and librarians have been instructed to make plans for e-learning this fall. I think that book clubs could be an excellent way to keep students reading. I’ve read in your previous columns that equity of access is an intellectual freedom issue. Most of our students can afford to buy books, but I don’t know what to do about those who are economically challenged.
Forming book clubs is an excellent way to provide students with a rich reading experience, but access is important. Notify public librarians of the books you plan to use. Most public libraries are offering curbside service even if their doors are closed. Select titles that are in paperback to make buying the books affordable. If budget allows, purchase multiple copies and make them available for pickup at school or a central location in town. How is your district distributing meals to students on free and reduced lunch? Consider distributing books the same way to assure equity of access.


The English and social studies teachers in my high school require all students to write a research paper. Students select their topics (from ones provided) in the fall, and the paper is submitted in April. Our school may begin with online classes only. Since no one knows how long this will last, the principal has asked teachers to reconsider the assignment, but they are reluctant to. I want the faculty and students to have access to library services, but I’m not sure how I can help should there be a delay in opening school.
Everyone needs to think outside the box and make sure the assignment can be accomplished in today’s environment. If your district is offering e-learning, I assume they’ve made it possible for all students to have the equipment and access to broadband needed to do their work. If not, postponing the research paper may be necessary.

Some schools provide remote access to databases. If yours doesn’t, students may depend on the public library. Many are offering e-cards to new patrons. Walk students through this application process. Ask the English and social studies teachers to make time in their online classroom for you to talk with students about availability and access to resources. You could also consider offering an online class in identifying reliable internet resources and how to cite them.

Check with the principal to see if it is possible for you to offer curbside pickup of books and other resources. If it isn’t, suggest students begin with what’s available online. Remind them that if the material they need isn’t at the public library, they can make an interlibrary loan request. Consider creating an online space where students can ask you for guidance as they move through the research process—and encourage them to email you questions.


The public library in my city has just reopened after being closed for three months. During that time, a number of Little Free Libraries popped up in my neighborhood. My neighbors know I’m a librarian, and some have complained to me that these little libraries are mixing children’s books with adult and YA titles. They feel this is inappropriate, and weren’t satisfied when I informed them that they don’t have to use the
libraries. What else could I say to these concerned neighbors?

You gave the right answer. These libraries are about sharing and choice. You might also make sure neighbors understand that most children reject what they aren’t ready for. Given the choice between the “Captain Underpants” or “Judy Moody” series and Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing or books by Ruth Ware, they would almost certainly choose the kids’ books. If these neighbors are so concerned about the books their children are choosing from the Little Free Library, then they need to go with them and help them with their selections. Suggest that children and young adults who contribute to the Little Free Library leave notes inside the books describing what they liked about them. Seeing those will likely offer all the guidance a reader needs to find the perfect book.

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send your questions to pscales@bellsouth.net.

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