Kindergarten–Middle School 6–12

Add It Up Logo

Talking Points for
Public Libraries

6. Students participate in reading activities year-round, thanks to the public library’s innovative after-school and summer reading programs. Programs like these help combat the achievement gap that has been shown to significantly widen over the summer.

Quick Stats Supporting This Talking Point

Programming and outreach for children and young adults is an important part of public library services. In 2006, there were over 102,000 library programs geared towards young adults with a total attendance of 2.1 million students. Under school outreach efforts, 70% of libraries reported that classes visited the library and 73% reported that the library visited classes. Libraries also reported strong partnerships with other organizations to serve youth: 66% with youth organizations, 54% with recreational organizations, 52% with cultural organizations, and 38% with health or mental health organizations. In 2006, 77% of libraries reported they had a children’s or young adult page on their website. (Public Library Association and Public Library Data Service 2007)

Differences in reading activities and family involvement in summer learning beginning in first grade account for the achievement gap that give children from high socio-economic status an advantage over children from low socio-economic backgrounds. The best way to address the achievement gap is to provide disadvantaged children with rich and engaging educational programs during the summer months. (Alexander, Entwisle and Olson 2007)

Public library summer reading programs can have a profound impact, especially on children living in poverty. On the whole, these children have a greater summer learning loss than do children from affluent families, and any gains that they had over the summer were smaller than their peers whose families had higher incomes. Twice as many fourth graders (58% versus 27%) from disadvantaged families fell below the basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than did students from more affluent families, and far fewer tested at a proficient level (13% verses 40%). (Allington and McGill-Franzen 2003; Krashen and Shin 2004; Alexander, Entwisle and Olson 2007)

Library summer reading programs have a major impact on student reading levels, ability, and enjoyment. An evaluation of summer reading programs in Los Angeles found that participating children spent more time looking at and reading books than before they joined the program. During the summer, the percent of children reading 10–14 hours a week increased by nine percentage points and the proportion of children reading 15 or more hours a week rose by 11 percentage points. Teachers contacted as part of the Los Angeles study found that the difference between students who participated in summer library programs and those who did not was readily apparent the following fall. The most dramatic difference was that participants were much more enthusiastic about reading: 55% had a high enthusiasm for reading compared to less than 40% of non-participants. Teachers also reported that participating students who were reading above grade level before the summer were more likely to maintain this reading level than peers who did not participate in the summer reading program. (Evaluation and Training Institute 2001)

Regular access to public libraries can make the difference between summer setback and summer success. Children who reported easy access to books read more books. Reading as few as four to five books over the summer can prevent a decline in reading achievement scores from the spring to the fall. (Kim 2004; Preddy 2007)

Public libraries increase literacy levels among elementary school children through summer reading programs, which are particularly effective at addressing the achievement gap. Summer reading programs increase young people’s interest in reading by combining silent reading with opportunities for children to read out loud, listen to stories, and take part in creative activities inspired by what they’ve read. These programs have also been very effective at drawing parents into students’ reading lives, a crucial element in developing strong reading habits. (Celano and Neuman 2001)

Public libraries are the top source of curriculum or books for homeschooled students. In 2003, approximately 1.1 million students, or 2.2% of the K–12 student population, were being homeschooled, with 78% of homeschooled students (ages 5–17, with grade equivalent of K–12) and their parents reporting they used the public library as a source of curriculum or books. (Princiotta and Bielick 2006)

Public libraries are in an ideal position to serve students as an after-school activities and services venue. Of K–8 students who participated in weekly non-parental after-school care arrangements, 77% participated in homework, educational, reading, or writing activities. This number was stable across student characteristics—such as age, sex, and race/ethnicity—and family characteristics, such as family type, household income, and poverty status. (Carver and Iruka 2006)