The National Emergency Library: A Useful Tool for Educators

by Theron Cosgrave, an educational specialist in school redesign and teacher training

Almost three months of pandemic-inspired school closures have made one thing painfully clear for educators: distance learning is a completely different ballgame than in-person teaching. Worries about classroom management and test prep have taken a temporary backseat to challenges with student WiFi access and cyber hygiene concerns like “zoomboming,” the colloquial term for when an uninvited guest appears in a video call.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for high-quality learning resources to engage students. Despite all its challenges, this time has fostered a renaissance of online tool sharing. In my school consulting practice I’ve been connecting educators with a variety of links to help ease the transition online, and out of all the digital resources I’ve seen, the National Emergency Library recently rose to the top of my list of the best tools for remote learning. 

Using any internet-connected device, teachers and students can borrow free online digital books from the National Emergency Library’s massive collection. Here are some specific ways that educators can benefit from this tool:


Teachers can use the Library to connect students with many of the books that are currently locked away in shuttered classrooms and school libraries, including hundreds of titles found on Common Core reading lists. Need a copy of The Paper Crane to read aloud to your first graders during a video call? Done. Want your fourth graders to read the Christopher Paul Curtis story Bud, Not Buddy? Send them the link. Looking for a copy of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for your high school history class? The Library has that too.


At the university level, the National Emergency Library enables college instructors to conduct and assign research despite limited access to their own university collections. And while you may not teach at MIT or University of Oklahoma, you can borrow titles that these institutions have in their collections.


School libraries—particularly at the K-12 level—have struggled to transition their services online in such a short timeframe. Fortunately, the National Emergency Library can fill the gap. Librarians at the K-12 and college level can link the Library to their school websites and notify their teachers and students that books are still available through digital lending. 


District and school-level leaders currently developing plans for reopening schools in the fall with social distancing practices in place can lean on the services of the National Emergency Library’s parent organization, the Internet Archive, to ensure students have full digital access to core texts. Schools that join the Archive’s Open Libraries initiative can be assured they have reliable library access in case of any possible school closures in the future.

Educators have plenty to worry about during these unprecedented times. Fortunately, with the help of the National Emergency Library, accessing engaging books is no longer one of them.

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  1. Pingback: National Emergency Library für K-12-Teachers | digithek blog

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