Why are summer reading programs in libraries important? The answers are many but the real reason to participate can be summed up with one word. Reading. Simple, yes? Of course it is. Yet librarians want to go into details of how reading over the summer helps children retain what they have learned in school. Reading during the summer engages a child in an activity that will be enjoyable to them their entire life. Summer Reading Programs provide children with a safe place to spend their days during the long summer months. All true statements about the programs and the list could continue. However, librarians must remember simplicity gets the message across better. Why do children's librarians advocated summer programs for years? Reading is important at every age and in every season. The program with simple reading progress cards, bookmarks and other small incentives. Reading after all is a craft that needs to be developed and honed. Of course that is not how to sell it to children. To children this has become a chore because it has been linked to school work. Unfortunately, there is no getting around that. However, the good news is that getting around the idea that reading is boring and dull is not that difficult of a task.
Summer Reading Programs have become the hallmark of every youth services program in public libraries. Ask any children's librarian what is their busiest time of year, the answer will always be summer. When should every savvy children's librarian begin to plan for the summer? In the winter. The master binder of ideas from Collaborative Summer Reading Program, which many state Libraries including Michigan participate in, usually arrives in the Fall. By the winter, libraries have already at least glanced through to gather some idea of where they will begin when the "planning" starts. As a rule, all summer programs should be simple. It is amazing how many librarians try to make the program more complicated than necessary. The key point to remember is that even if a child reads one book over the summer than the goal of a summer reading program has been achieved. Of course if they read 100 books that would be awesome. Having said that, isn't it important to stress the quality versus quantity of reading. For example, if a child blazed through twenty books, and gained nothing out of the experience except a "prize", was the time spent reading enriching? Wouldn't it be better for a child to read two books, love the stories so much that they could talk to anyone about it for hours and hours. Not only that but it leads them to discover more books about the topic or from the author. This is where the heart of Summer Reading programs lie. Its when children are able to discover on their own what they like to read, which authors stir their imagination and the reason for reading becomes apparent to the child.
Any veteran children's librarian will agree that the programs have grown over the years into a major production. This includes prizes, performers and other promotions to encourage patrons to come into the library with children in tow. It would seem that libraries have become a type of reading "mafia" that lure children with an offer they can't refuse. A little exaggerative to be sure but stay with the thought for a moment. Can a Summer Reading Program be successful without performers? Additionally, are other activities besides reading progress cards necessary to entice the public? On the one hand, if everything was eliminated from the program leaving small prizes for children who achieved their reading goals, the planning for the program would be almost nonexistent. Then again as educators and advocates of reading there are many more enticing activities that compete for children's attention that a little "pizzaz" is needed when promoting reading.
From now until May, this blog will highlight once a week a summer reading program idea that will help librarians stay within a reasonable budget and successfully promote reading to their community. Keep in mind that this year's theme is "Night", and the possibilities are endless. Summer Reading is normally targeted for children, however this has changed over the years. Adults should have summer reading fun too. Keeping that in mind, there will be tons of ideas discussed that can be applied for all ages. Stay tuned, there is much more to come!