Are Summer Reading Programs Also Irrelevant?

I suspect that this is a controversial topic, and since ‘Tis the season’ for summer reading, let’s see how controversial. A library director friend told me that in some places the summer reading programs are still a good thing, although in these times of reduced budgets she sometimes wonders. But, moreover, summer reading is one of those sacred cow things that public libraries still do blindly. She noted that the program use to create a bridge between school years in which there was a recommended reading list for age groups to help them continue to read and not lose ground during summer months. Supposedly, it also helped kids start on that next level of reading.

Another friend commented to me that maybe this summer kids would either be reading on their Kindle or laying on a blanket under a tree with a good book, and wondered which option they would choose. She knew which option she would choose, but it’s really hard to find a shady tree with nice grass, the smell of flowers and a soft breeze. Ah, the good old days…….

Many of today’s local public library summer reading programs are driven from a national level through a consortium of states that support Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) Aren’t summer reading NEEDS local, based on the local school’s assessment?

(I would have used their CSLP logo here, but they have their website locked down with a message that says their images are copyrighted, so….)

Used to be the summer reading lists were created in partnership with local school librarians. Is that still happening? Anywhere? Or, has summer reading become an excuse for libraries to give kids some cheap piece of plastic toy or gold star and say they read a few pages? Are any summer reading programs using technology, or eBooks, or mobile devices to enhance technology literacy? Personally, I suspect there is little or no thought as to whether a nationally developed summer reading program will benefit MY community. Is summer reading just one of those ‘library things’ that comes around every year to justify the library’s existence and increase gate count during the summer, so why put any more thought or resources into it than necessary?

Any program that is continued because ‘we’ve always done it’, is the worst justification for the expenditure of library resources that ever existed. A 21st Century Library meets the needs of their local community. Does a national program meet your local needs? Do you even know what your local needs are? Should summer reading be placed on the Zombie Librarianship list?


Filed under Uncategorized

41 responses to “Are Summer Reading Programs Also Irrelevant?

  1. Oh, boy. Yes. I think you probably stepped in it here. I shared the link to this post on Facebook and Twitter because I am very interested in reading the responses. I hope you get some. Personally, I don’t have enough front-line experience with the public or with this program to comment with authority or credibility. But I’ve been wondering about the same thing, which is why I’m hoping to see a conversation develop.

    • Thanks…I think. As much as some might think I’m just trying to stir the pot, that’s not my style. I am seriously interested in whether anyone actually plans a summer reading program specifically for their community, or are they just following the library tradition of doing what they’ve always done – for whatever reason. I probably should have included this story that I love about my wife’s great-grandmother who was famous for her Sunday beef roast. She would always cut off the end of the roast and put it back in the fridge, so her daughter and her daughter all did the same thing. To make a long story short – come to find out great-grandma cut the end off the roast because her baking pan was too small for the cut of roast that great-grandpa would give her. Everyone has to be careful to examine why they do what they do and whether or not it’s effective – or even necessary.

      • As an aside, we are currently undergoing training in the Logic Model for program-based evaluation so that we can better understand and measure the goals for our programs. Eventually, summer reading will probably have to be evaluated using this method.

      • Anonymous

        Hello Dr. Matthews I have worked at my local library for six years now, and am still asking myself as now I am the director what is the point of a gold star or a crummy toy. I would love to try any program that would allow kids and families to have fun. This blog and your comment have me scratching my head, maybe paintball hehe.

        • Kimberly Matthews

          Dear Anonymous,

          Hope you don’t mind me answering your question on my father, Dr. Matthews, behalf.

          During my years as a librarian, then branch manager, then in Administration, I ultimately abandoned the traditional approach to programming. I stopped planning events that took weeks of staff effort and cost money and only drew two people. I started asking people what programs they wanted to see. I started asking members of the community to help plan or present (freeing up my staff and providing a built in audience!) I also continued programs that took no staff time or money- such as knitting circles or chess clubs that were really just an opportunity for 2 or three patrons to meet at a regular time and be social. Remember to focus on those programs that utilize your resource but provide little to no return on the investment (ie- attendance)

          Summer Reading is tricky! People who never darken our doors still believe we should have Summer Reading. With that in mind, pick your battles. I kept summer reading; but I completely revamped the program. I immediately discarded the ALA theme. General my kids found it trite and corny. I took the money previously spent on bookmarks and bags and hired STEM presentations for kids as programming during the summer months. The year ALA did the super hero theme we focused on Hometown heros. That summer I was particularly strapped for staff so during our 8 week summer reading we asked various community agencies and departments to host a week. For example, we had your standard ‘heroes’ by inviting the Police and Fire Departments. But we also invited our local recycling organization to talk about why taking care of our environment and City could be a ‘heroic’ action. These organizations planned the week and hosted events and people loved it! And it was the easiest Summer Reading program ever!
          We also stopped giving penny toys purchased from Oriental Trading mags. Instead we began rewarding reading with school supplies, donated books, arts & craft supplies. The end of Summer Reading prizes became donated backpacks filled with grade level specific school supplies. Kids loved it and the parents were motivated to get their children reading with (essentially) a monetary incentive- the more they read the less supplies parents had to buy for the school year. And one last thing to wrap up Summer Reading: It’s always about the reading. We must work with the schools to get the lists in time to order enough copies that students can be successful. Stopping the ‘summer slide’ is the true purpose of Summer Reading. When we lose sight of that…well we might as well make it about anything because it is no longer fulfilling its true purpose.
          I see programming as both educational (which can be fun if done correctly- guitar concert followed by a quick lesson on how to play 2 chords) and as a marketing tool. Much of programming is designed simply to bring people to the library- creating a community gathering place and to expose them to your other resources and services. I have planned Teen Battle of the Bands and Harry Potter Midnight Release Parties that can draw thousands. Let your younger staff help by tap into their talents. Have a Library Assistant or Youth Librarian who loves Star Wars? Throw a Star Wars party on May 4th. Etc. Host a Comic-con!

          But whatever you do, as is the point of this blog, do it because you have reviewed the program or offering and find it relevant to your strategic direction and your patrons. Those programs that we continue year in and year out for no other reason than the fact that its routine should be revamped or replaced. Efforts that tie up your staff and drain your budget but aren’t providing a measurable benefit to your patrons keep you from trying something new that make give you the results you want. Be bold- take a risk! People will love it.

  2. Kay Dee

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I have found that Summer Reading Programs are that “sacred cow” of library programming just as you mentioned. No one wants to be the person in the room who first says “What is the program achieving?” How many kids are really participating? WHAT are the goals of the program? Are they being achieved?

    I can think of two clear examples of programs that missed the mark:
    First, A friend of mine’s library spent over $12,000 on their summer reading program (bags, stickers, prizes, candy, incentives, printing, end of program pizza parties, etc) and when the stats were evalutated at the end it became clear that, though there were roughly 90 “neighborhood” kids who particpated, the bulk of the participatants were large groups brought in by paid daycare providers for an “additional” activity. Gee, glad the library spent $12K for the daycare’s benefit – I wonder if they could have gotten the daycare owners to chip in?
    Second, I listened to a school librarian tell me about her public library that had ‘borrowed’ a reading list from a nearby school for its summer reading program because her school district did not create one that summer. Sounds good until she explained that the school the library had borrowed from was a private super-duper academic powerhouse cranking out ivy-league candidates. Oops. She said her kids got their reading lists and quickly became disheartened and quit. It wasn’t until nearly 3/4 of the way through the summer that a staffer screwed up the courage to say “Um…don’t these lists seems a little advanced for our kids?” No one wanted to be accused of implying the kids were behind in reading schools OR be the one to “call-out” the children’s librarian on the ‘borrowed’ list.

    I would bet dollars to donuts many (NOT ALL-there are always exceptions) Summer Reading Programs DO NOT have a set goal or clear mission beyond- “Gee …its summer reading. We have to!” I’m not opposed to summer reading programs. Far from it! However, I do believe that they should be treated like all other programming with purpose, goals, achievements, evaluation. They should not just turn into an exercise of ordering cute posters and bookmarks, new children’s and YA paperbacks, and neat trinkets to draw kids into the building.

    • Thanks for helping me make my point Kay Dee.

      • Consultant Joe Matthews (no relation) contacted me about his article in Public Libraries from almost two years ago.
        Evaluating Summer Reading Programs: Suggested Improvements. Public Libraries, 49 (4), July/August 2010, 34-39.
        “The point of the article is to get public libraries to focus more on the outcomes, in particular to partner with local schools, to demonstrate that participation in the summer reading program reduces or eliminates “summer reading loss” and thus kids do better in school if they read (and the summer reading program encourages kids to read)!”
        Thanks Joe, sounds like a good resource to check out.

    • Suzanne Stauffer

      They have a very clear goal — increase the gate and circulation count. Individual librarians have other, worthier goals, but as an institution, it’s all about the numbers.

  3. Beth

    Just to clarify: The national program provides suggestions for programs, reading lists, promotional tools, etc for any community’s summer reading program. It does not attempt on any level to dictate the methods of summer reading to anyone. Any library worker who has ever planned a summer reading program understands the sheer amount of coordinating involved and the CSLP provides some guidance from experienced providers from all over the country. From my own experience, I worked with schools and previous statistics to set goals and objectives to create the most succesful reading program for my community, using CSLP materials when and how I felt were most effective.

  4. Susan

    At my library, the goal of the summer reading program was always to encourage kids to read for fun with the added advantage that reading during the summer enhanced their reading abilities when school started. They could read books, ebooks, magazines, comics, whatever. They could even listen to books. We had suggested lists, but they didn’t have to use them. We tried to get lists from the local schools, sometimes they were available, sometimes the schools handed out our lists. Most prizes were free admission to local museums, zoos, farms, etc. If they spent some time reading (they and their parents set the amount of time) for 35 days during the summer, they completed the program and received a free book. I know my last director had the added goal to increase library circulation, but I personally didn’t care where the reading materials came from.

    We used materials from CSLP. They do not dictate how the program is run. They provide manuals of ideas and materials at a very reasonable price. I would spend about $1200 per year on a program that served between 1100 and 1300 kids. We used many of their marketing materials and a few of their programming suggestions.

    I have no scientific evidence that our goal was met, but over the 30 years I worked as a children’s librarian in public libraries, I had many excited kids tell me about the book they had just finished. I know that our circulation skyrockets during the summer, but I don’t have a control group for comparison.

    • Suzanne Stauffer

      I love the fact that your “prizes” were cultural and educational, and that the “grand prize,” as it were, was a book. What better way to show kids how great reading is, than to give them a book as a prize?

  5. Marleena Young

    I’ve been the Youth Service Librarian for five years now, and while our SRC numbers have gone up and down the end results for the participants stays the same, our kids are more successful in the following year at school. While a lot of our kids and teens don’t have a summer reading list anymore, we still partner with the local schools and try to get them recognized for the efforts that they have made over the summer. I was invited to one of the school’s closer assemblies last year, and I would say that 75% of the award winners at that assembly were kids that participated at the Summer Reading Club.

    As for technology advances, we’re more than willing to advance too. However, our goal is always to meet the needs of our community, and we serve in a poor community. Most of our e-reader owners are the elderly with expendable income, not our kids and teens. Yet, in the future when e-readers become more affordable we will be more than happy to include them into the Summer Reading Club, because here the summer programing works and we spend less than 1,000 each year.

    • Suzanne Stauffer

      How do you know that “our kids are more successful in the following year at school?” What kind of metrics are you gathering? And how do you know that it’s due to your SRC? It’s just as likely that the kids who are motivated to win awards at school are the same ones who are motivated to read during the summer.

  6. Thank you ladies for your positive and informative reports on SRP. I hope your situations are typical of the majority of libraries’ SRP. But, I’m curious who out there have some different stories about their SRP experience. Any areas that might need improvement?

    • Anynomous

      Seems to me that you are just looking for negativity about SRPs. Have you bothered to talk to your states’ CSLP representative to see how they evaluate either their services to libraries concerning summer reading or if they help their libraries do self-assessment? Here’s something that may shock you: it is indeed done. It doesn’t sound like you’ve done as much research to not just come across as someone who is just critical rather than helpful.

      • Seems to me that your comment supports the “sacred cow” notion about SRPs. So, thanks for sharing your opinion.

      • Suzanne Stauffer

        Do you have any examples of self-assessment beyond counting the number of kids who attend events, the number of books they report they have read, and the circulation during the summer?

  7. Interesting post. My only experience with summer reading programs comes from the other side of the desk…as a parent. I suspect we’re not the target given that we’d read regardless of the program, but tbh I’ve wondered the same thing about the summer reading program. If it’s just to earn little trinkets I’m a great deal less likely to want to drive my kids over to the library to participate. There has to be something “more” to draw us in….a really fantastic theme, well put together programming, a special event, the ability to earn points to get a free book, etc.

    What I’d really prefer is something book club-esque to encourage more than just reading to get something, but to encourage reading on a slightly deeper level. A group of kids reading the same book, talking about the book, and programming related to the content of the book. Now *that’s* a summer library program we wouldn’t miss.

    • Excellent ideas. Thamks for sharing.
      Seems very 21st Century. I wonder if ANY libraries are doing this.

      • Alyssa C

        As a children’s librarian, I agree with your thoughts about cheap prizes. This year I did purchase silly toys, but I attempted to purchase “learning” toys, like puzzle boxes, compasses, sensory toys for younger children. At my library, it’s not just a reading program, its a literacy program–we recognize many different types of literacy, including kinetic, social, and math skills. I don’t use a reading list, but I do use weekly activity bookmarks that, of course, include reading, but the child selects what they want to read. I also include at least one math activity, one physical type of activity, and a play or explore activity to foster creativity. We also have a book group in which we do exactly what you suggested, including handing out free copies to the book group members. The book group lasts the entire year, though meets every other month during the school year.

        For teens, I require them to read, to evaluate our collection (which I admit makes my job a bit easier), and to volunteer. Having teens assist with programming for younger children is working really well–and helps both groups. Once again, I do not dictate what the teens read, just that they spend one hour reading during at least 15 days.

        We host a party at the end of the summer for all children that complete more than half of the weekly bookmarks, and each child receives a free book. The teens that complete all of their volunteer work, reading, etc. are invited to a library lock-in, complete with reading challenges, scavenger hunts, and of course food.

        This is my first SLP ever, but attendance has been great. I have twice as many people registered this year as were last year (although the program was a different format), circ for children’s items has increased, and program attendance is up 600%.

        Perhaps more libraries need to go to the parents and childr

      • Suzanne Stauffer

        Actually, it sounds very 19th century through WWII. We lost that focus probably during the 1960s, with the rise of youth culture and the increasing focus on entertainment.

  8. Sue Sherif

    Many public libraries do have specific goals for their summer reading programs. Most are intent on keeping children reading over the summer because of the whole idea of “summer loss”, that children were not reading in the summer and return to school in September with a slump in their reading skills. The summer reading program, along with early childhood activities, are actually a couple of the few things that public libraries do that are based in educational research. A recent study that tried to examine the benefits of summer reading was limited to a large extent by privacy laws that make it very difficult for anyone outside of school systems to track reading scores of individual students and thereby verify results.

    Public libraries do operate book discussion programs and offer programming that is book-related. While many offer trinkets, I have found in a long career as a youth services librarians tha it is often the trinkets that drive parents’ willingness to bring their children to the library each week. Kids often are happy just to have their reading record stamped or earn online badges.

    Even with the themes and materials made available by CSLP, there is no one summer reading program. Each public library devises its own, creates its own target group (new readers, elementary students, teens, preschoolers for read-alouds, or all of the above). Although one library may have the wherewithal to spent $12,000 on 90 kids, most public libraries do not have funds to spare and are very careful about how they allocate resources. In our state, we spend less than $1 per participant in supplies on our summer reading program.

    I am a bit curious about why you might encourage above more people to respond to support your point of view than just to collect information from public libraries about how summer reading programs actually operate. You dismiss positive comments with a call for more comments to support your case. Why not accept all comments to get a broader picture about what public libraries are doing with summer reading programs?

    As for the sacred cow accusation, you might want to talk to your library director friend about what parents and participants, not librarians, would say to that charge. Summer reading programs are long-standing aspects of programming in public libraries, but for each kindergartener or first-grader and their families they are a new experience. I am not sure that families who have experienced a well-run summer library program would be pleased to have the service curtailed or would agree that they should be ended simply because they are long-standing programs that may or may not been scientifically validated. Might summer reading programs not only attack the summer slump, but also introduce children and parents to the idea that they do not have to amass a personal print or digital library in order to practice their reading skills, enjoy a good story, or learn about a topic that interests them? Parents may like the fact that summer reading and other library programming offers a wholesome activity for families and children that doesn’t have an admission fee. In small communities there may be few alternative activities outside of the home for children. I would think if you studied the issue more closely that there would be a number of aspects valued by families including the most obvious encouragement of reading.

    • Encouraging ALL perspectives is exactly what I’m trying to do.
      Opposing experiences or opinions should not be threatening to anyone else’s experiences or opinions.
      Thank you for sharing yours.

    • Suzanne Stauffer

      Would you mind sharing the references to that educational research on summer reading program?

  9. Sue Sherif

    Not threatened, just questioning the way you have framed this discussion. It’s always good to question things and to re-examine assumptions. It just is good idea to bring both pro and con into any discussion meant to provoke debate. Obviously people who have close experience with summer reading programs have chimed in on both sides. Please keep listening.

  10. A few years ago, I was dismayed to hear several popular, accomplished children’s librarians in my system talk about how much they dreaded summer. Why? Because Summer Reading and the craziness that accompanies it create such a chaotic, exhausting environment in their libraries. That got me thinking about why these people, who work hard all the time to get kids in the library and constantly encourage reading would feel so dramatically different about summer. The answer I arrived at is that they treat summer reading differently than they do reading in general. There is an urgency tacked on to summer reading that manifests itself in harried parents and kids desperately trying to get their hands on the hot book from the school reading list, or hyper-competitive parents who enroll their kids in multiple summer reading programs at multiple libraries just to collect the prizes and certificates.

    Fortunately, the CLSP program materials help calm some of the chaos experienced by the librarians who still offer formal reading programs. I encourage community engagement with all the librarians in my system, and many of them are in close touch with the wants and needs of their individual communities. That is evident in the fact that, among 34 locations in my system, we have many types of summer reading programs. Some use the CLSP materials exclusively, others devise their own programs, and some don’t do anything at all except encourage kids and their families to come to the library and read together.

    I do wish you wouldn’t make such broad assumptions as “maybe this summer kids would either be reading on their Kindle.” My system serves a large urban population in western NY where owning a Kindle or any other type of reading device is not within the reality of most kids. You will find plenty of kids here lugging home bags of books, reading them where and when they can.

    • Thank you for your informative and considered perspective. I think it helps further the conversation, if for no other reason than it shares what other library systems are doing. I was particularly intrigued by your description of some SRPs – “There is an urgency tacked on to summer reading that manifests itself in harried parents and kids desperately trying to get their hands on the hot book from the school reading list, or hyper-competitive parents who enroll their kids in multiple summer reading programs at multiple libraries just to collect the prizes and certificates.” You didn’t comment on whether this was a positive aspect of the SRP, or something that you think might need changing.

      My ‘broad assumption’ wasn’t even an assumption, it was an observation from a colleague about the impact of technology on SRPs. Obviously, every library and community is different, and they should do whatever works for them. It would be very helpful if you could shed light on WHY your libraries do the SRP – whether it’s so “hyper-competitive parents” can satisfy their need to have their kids get certificates for their bedroom wall, or some more altruistic reasons.

  11. Eileen

    I don’t think parents care if their kids get a certificate or plastic trinkets. Most do like that their kids take the time to make reading part of their summer, even if they do a little of the nudging. I have been planning and implementing Summer Reading for over 15 years, and I put as much effort into it now as I ever did. We spend hours coming up with ways to make the theme work, find interesting and different programs for the public, and help the kids to find books they enjoy reading over the summer. CSLP is a godsend when it comes to planning – we never use the whole program but do integrate alot of their ideas and work that saves us valuable time.
    What should be changed is things like the Governor’s Summer Reading which is just repeating what libraries do each year.
    I confess, I didn’t read all your responses because frankly I don’t have time as I am in the midst of planning our summer, but here’s my point: why are you taking the time to pick apart summer reading programs when libraries are facing enough challenges these days? Frankly, in the world of real librarians, or at least children’s librarians, I’d say you’re irrelevant.

    • Thanks for expressing your opinion Eileen. I applaud your 15 years of dedication to ‘your’ SRP.
      If you think questioning WHY a library is doing something, and IF they are doing it effectively to meet the needs of their community versus doing it because they’ve always done it is all irrelevant, then all I can reply is enjoy your summer!
      Oh, and don’t worry about whether you’ll have any more or not, or whether you’ll be the next library to close, even though that’s what real relevance is about.

      • Eileen

        I have no problem with the public questioning why their own library does what it does, or with a Library staff questioning why they are doing things over and over. We re-examine our summer program every year and often change things that aren’t working. I would hope that most librarians do the same, or can see when a particular program has run it’s course or usefulness to it’s community. You suspect there is little or no thought as to whether a national summer reading program would benefit your community, but I’m sure the Children’s Librarians in your community have thought about it. We may not be doctors, but we aren’t dumb.

  12. Anonymous

    Public libraries are an informational & entertainment business that support the educational system. The book, in all its various formats, is still a library’s main product. A summer reading program can boost circulation, create new customers and keep current customers satisified. (My public library generally experiences a 30% increase in the circulation of juvenile books during the months of June & July which is a direct result of the summer reading program. We spend roughly the same amount on programing, etc., for June, July & August as we do for our Fall quarter). However, beyond just being good for business, a summer reading program can encourage familes to spend quality time together, promote an interest in the arts and sciences and increase the amount of reading materials in the home.

  13. Beth

    I would offer up another reason for Summer Reading, aside from preventing the “Summer Slump” (though I still feel that is an important one).

    Our goal as Children’s Librarians is not always to quantify our work. One major goal for us is to create lifelong readers–and in particular, lifelong library users. If, as an entity, public libraries serve to make information available to our communities–freedom of information being a cornerstone of Democracy–then I think we can agree how important public libraries are. So, creating new generations of library users is important. And in order to engage children and get them into the library, you have to offer them programs that draw them in. This means that our programs are not always educational, do not always serve a ‘higher’ purpose other than that they are FUN. Because kids are attracted to and create positive associations with things that are fun.

    Now, this most definitely applies to the elementary-aged craft programs, LEGO programs, and other not-particularly-book-related programs that we do. And it applies, in some ways, to Summer Reading, also. We want to get those kids in our doors, to show them that the library is not a stuffy place where you have to be quiet, but rather a place where they can have fun and find all kinds of items, books included. It just so happens that one of our biggest ways to do this is Summer Reading. (We do allow them to read e-books, and yes, our library has moved into the 21st century and offers e-books for check out now.)

    Sorry I’m a bit late to this party–I stumbled upon this blog when searching for ideas to keep circulation up if we change the format of our program (yes, we also self-evaluate, and yes, circulation is a VERY IMPORTANT aspect of Summer Reading from the library’s end–if you want to talk about money, let’s talk about the fact that higher circulation justifies getting more money, be it from grants or the state). It seems to me that you approach this from an academic perspective, and that’s fine. It’s good to get someone else’s perspective. But from your “About” page, it doesn’t seem like you have much or any experience in public libraries, and the fact is that academic and public libraries exist in very different spheres, often with vastly different goals.

    • Thanks for your comments, and you make several very valuable points about the value of your summer reading program.
      However, my point of the Post was “Any program that is continued because ‘we’ve always done it’, is the worst justification for the expenditure of library resources that ever existed.” which I made because other directors told me they questioned why they were doing their program. No one’s lack of years of experience in any library environment diminishes the value of asking “So what?” or “Why?” If we don’t constantly ask ourselves why we are doing a program or activity, then we’ll never evaluate the outcomes or value of what we’re doing. Sounds like you do and have good reasons for your SRP. Congrats.
      BTW: Anyone can always evaluate a program’s outcomes, if they want to, and outcome data provides even more justification for continued funding.

  14. Suzanne Stauffer

    Yes, you have stepped in the sacred cow pie.
    I remember summer reading program as a child; I don’t remember any reading list. I remember trying to get the thermometer to the top with number of books read. Today, it is a major production, whose purpose really seems to be to justify its own existence.
    I have not been able to find one valid empirical research study of the benefits of summer reading program. The only data collected, as far as I can determine, are self-reported numbers of books read, circulation statistics, and the total number of children who attend events over the summer, meaning that the same children may be counted multiple times. And yes, I am aware of Roman, et al. It does not compare the reading level of the children before and after the program; it does not compare the number of books each child was reading before, during, and after the program; it looks only at children who participate.
    No one has ever looked at whether summer reading program actually prevents reading loss over the summer by comparing students’ reading levels at the beginning and end of summer reading program. No one has ever compared children who participate in summer reading program with those who do not. No one has ever looked at the long-term effects on reading — both level and amount — through a longitudinal study.
    I know how to design such a study, but I’m not sure I could get it through IRB, and I’m quite certain that no library would agree to allow me to run it. I have thought that one possible simple study would be to compare the rates of circulation of children’s books quarterly over, say, a 10-year period, to see if the numbers show a steady upward trend. It would be correlational, of course, but could identify a trend. And if it did not show any upward trend . . .
    I did write a brief historical overview of the history of summer reading programs in general, and the user of rewards in particular, in Stauffer, Suzanne M. “Summer Reading Incentives: Positive or Pernicious?” Children and Libraries, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer/Fall 2009), pp. 53-55.

    • Excellent comments. Thank you.
      Just anecdotally, libraries I consult with are experiencing very good results this year, at least in terms of participation. Intuitively, it seems that if kids keep reading through the summer vs. letting their brain atrophy, SRP should have positive results toward reversing the summer slide. I also would be interested in some valid statistical analysis of reading ability studies of SRP.

      • Suzanne Stauffer

        Participation is always high. It’s free day-camp these days. Programs run several hours and, with SRP, parents do not have to remain in the library the way they do with story time.
        The question is whether kids are actually reading, whether they are developing a love of reading, and whether there is any long-term effect.
        It has the potential to do all of these things, if it’s structured correctly, but it frequently is not.

  15. Mel

    Research indicates that children who don’t read in the summer experience “summer slide”. Most of these kids are kids who were already behind and from lower socioeconomic homes.
    The question is “Why do libraries do Summer Reading Programs?”
    Librarians are aware of the research regarding summer slide. The kids most affected by summer slide are the kids who are already behind. Are we reaching these kids who often live in lower socioeconomic homes? It is not always easy to tell. I recently moved to a different city. The area where I work currently is a much lower socioeconomic area than where I previously worked. The library is the place they come to feel safe, to eat summer lunch, use the bathroom, or to get on a computer. We rarely see parents. Do the kids read? Not much. If you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these kids don’t have their basic needs met.
    I like the idea of reading groups, but the kids won’t come to them. Perhaps if we read to them and get them hooked. I am also a fan of audiobooks.
    I am not a fan of prizes. If you read Punished By Rewards, you might agree that reading should be its own reward. I am not opposed to giving the kids prizes for other things, like attendance at an event. If we have refreshments, the kids will come because they are always hungry.
    Solutions That Work
    Clearly, we need to make sure that children have books to read over the summer. But that’s not enough. In our view, the missing ingredients for an inexpensive, cost-effective summer reading program are: 1) providing books that are individually matched to children’s interests and reading levels, and 2) teacher and parent scaffolding that encourages sound comprehension and fluency practices and plenty of parent/child interaction.
    We agree summer book reading programs need to be extended across multiple summers. Why not make these programs as effective and inexpensive as possible?
    It’s not expensive to match books to children’s interests and reading levels. Nor is it costly to enlist teachers and parents to help with scaffolding. Teachers can easily conduct lessons at the end of the school year and administer a survey of reading preferences.

  16. anonymous

    The public library where I worked for over ten years participated in summer reading programs because “that’s what you do”. I was once told that, “we would lose our funding from the state if we didn’t participate”, but I never verified that claim.
    The kids who participated in the program were the kids who were already heavy readers and their parents had been bringing them to libraries right after they were born. A handful of parents would comment on how they wanted their kids to more things outdoors because their sons and daughters were not getting enough exercise, etc.
    The library spent a large portion of its budget on prizes and “incentives” to hand over to kids as they reported their progress in reading. It felt a bit more like 2.5 months of “trick or treat” at the library than anything else. The kids who would read all year no matter what, would know that during the summer they got to fill a bag full of goodies at the library.
    The library staff — clerks who worked the circulation desk –hated summer reading because their work doubled but pay remained the same. Meanwhile, the directors and children’s librarians loved it because they got the credit for “increasing circulation” and for all of the excitement that the kids felt when they got another prize that the underpaid, harried clerk handed over to them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s