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Pausing to Talk About Copyright and Virtual Storytimes

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(This is an excerpt from the forthcoming ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide)

While it is generally considered fair use to share copyrighted stories and songs for library programs held in-house and for outreach programming, these implied permissions change when library programs go online. When using print or music resources in virtual storytime, it is critical to obtain permission from publishers or artists first (unless using original work or materials from the public domain). It is equally important to credit the publisher/artist appropriately.

Publishers, authors who hold sole publishing rights, and music creators understand the difficult circumstances during the current COVID-19 crisis. Many have released temporary, widespread and limited permissions to use materials in virtual storytimes. These permissions vary widely and often come with requests to avoid specific platforms, remove videos after a certain time frame, and use specific verbiage to credit the copyright holders.

Remember, these permissions are temporary! Be ready to request permission from copyright holders once these deadlines have passed, or if you would like your virtual storytime videos to remain available after the crisis.

Here are a few tips for storytime staff to be aware of while developing and presenting virtual storytime:

  • Use copyrighted materials with publisher permission (see the COVID-19 Publisher Information Directory below).
  • The use of copyrighted material is a balancing act of fair use, the rights of creators, and temporary permissions granted during crisis. Decisions made regarding the use of creative content are unique to each library and their use of materials.
  • Verbally credit the author, and artist when introducing a book or song, and the publisher if reading with publisher permission. Pointing out the author also helps children develop print awareness and understand that people write books.
  • Consult the Public Domain resources below. Common folktales, fairytales, nursery rhymes/songs, and fingerplays may be in the Public Domain and can be used and adapted without credit. Consider drawing on these resources to share stories and sing songs, or retell in your own words with: Flannel Boards, Magnetic Boards, White Boards, Puppets/Props, or Creative Drama.
  • Tell your own original story!
  • Consider avoiding using copyrighted music in virtual storytimes if your library is using a social media platform such as Facebook or YouTube. Using recorded music, even with permission, can trigger automated algorithms designed to detect and prevent the sharing of copyrighted material. Your video may be flagged, taken down or the audio disabled.
  • Open licensed books and music can also be used with proper Creative Commons credit.
  • Follow copyright licensing instructions when creating images for storytime.
  • Use a Storytime Template to help you keep track of copyrighted materials and information in your virtual storytime. Here is a Sample Storytime that was developed using this form.

To find out more about copyright and other virtual storytime topics, including resources for video editors and library leaders, look for the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide coming out soon!


School Library Journal: COVID-19 Publisher Information Directory

This resource provides a directory of publishers and the most current information regarding their read-aloud policies and requests.

Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy: Music Help for Streaming Storytimes

A continuously updated blog post listing artists who have granted permission for their music.

Best Known Public Domain Children’s Songs

This list is based on USA Copyright Law and is intended only as a help in researching public domain music.

Children’s Literature Before 1923

This is a list of children’s books in the Public Domain.

Read Aloud Canadian Book Program

A one stop website created by the Association of Canadian Publishers to help access permissions and guidelines.

Youth Services Shout-out: Want Permission? Current Info on Authors and Publishers

A curated list of multiple sources for music and publisher permissions.

The Copyright team are all members of the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide Writing Group and include: Celeste Swanson, the Youth Services Coordinator for The Lane Libraries (OH), a member of the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award Committee, and chair of the Ohio Ready to Read Task Force who can be reached at; Rita Christensen, a Children’s Librarian at the Orem Public Library (UT), a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee, and the Utah Library Association (ULA) Copyright Education Committee who can be reached at; and Marge Loch-Wouters, a retired youth librarian, educator, blogger at WI Library Association’s Youth Services Shout-out blog and Youth Services Consultant for the Southwest WI Library System who can be reached at

This post addresses Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries: II. Reference and User Services; III. Programming Skills; IV. Knowledge, Curation and Management of Materials; VI. Administrative and Management Skills; VII. Professional Development 


  1. Lauren

    Hi! What’s ALA’s stance on their own ALA publications? For example, I’d planned to use 1 rhyme out of More Storytime Magic during my library’s virtual (non-recorded) storytime. This books is published by ALA. To me, this seems like fair use since it’s only a small portion of the entire publication (and I plan to credit on the PPT slides).

    1. Elizabeth Serrano

      Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for asking! Because ALA keeps track of these requests both big and small, please fill out a short permission request form: You can also send a note to ALA’s Licensing and Permission’s Manager, Mary Jo Bolduc: and Kit Curl with ALA Editions: requesting permission.

      Please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to help!

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