Library Summer Reading Programs
ALA Library Fact Sheet 17
Summer reading programs began in the 1890s as a way to encourage school children, particularly those in urban areas and not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library and develop the habit of reading. Libraries also now offer summer reading programs for adults, as well as children. Research conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that in 1994, 95% of public libraries offered summer reading programs for children; there are not statistics for adult summer programs.
Although somewhat off-topic, we have collected some resources on libraries with summer meals programs.
The American Library Association does not set the themes for summer reading programs held at many public libraries nationwide. These may be set by the individual library or by the state library. Many individual or state libraries use the themes set by either the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), a grassroots consortium of states working together to provide summer reading program materials for children, or the Illinois Reading Enrichment and Development (iREAD) program, a coordinated, self-supporting effort to develop and provide resources and products to enable local library staff to promote reading, not just in Illinois, but also in a number of other states and over a dozen countries.
The value of reading throughout the long summer vacation is recognized by ALA's Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC, a division of the American Library Association) by the ALSC/Baker & Taylor Summer Reading Grant which is designed to encourage reading programs for children in public libraries by providing $3,000 in financial assistance, while recognizing ALSC members for outstanding program development. Applications are due by December 1 of each year in support of a program the next summer.
That value is also recognized by ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA, a division of the American Library Association) with two types of Dollar General Summer Reading Grants for YALSA members. The Summer Reading Teen Intern Grant will award $1,000 to each of 20 libraries for the purpose of hiring summer teen interns to assist with summer reading activities. The Summer Reading Resources Grant will award $1,000 to each of 20 libraries in need with the purpose of helping them purchase resources to bolster their teen summer reading program. Applications are due by January 1 of each year in support of a program that summer.
The benefits to readers in a summer reading program include:
- encouragement that reading become a lifelong habit
- reluctant readers can be drawn in by the activities
- reading over the summer helps children keep their skills up
- the program can generate interest in the library and books
And it being summer, the program can just be good fun and provide an opportunity for family time.
Citing numerous benefits of summer reading programs, the ALA Council adopted the Resolution on Ensuring Summer Reading Programs for all Children and Teens (PDF) at the 2010 Annual Conference urging "Library Directors, Trustees, School Board members and supervising government bodies to insure that their libraries are provided adequate funding to ensure that their summer reading programs for all children and teens are maintained."
Talking points for the benefits of summer reading, Why Public Library Summer Reading Programs Are Important (PDF), have been made available by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. A more comprehensive look on the topic, along with a bibliography, can be found on their web site at Research on the Importance of Summer Library Programs.
There are also public relations benefits of attracting new readers, maintaining or building a library presence in the community, and keeping or building traffic for the library. Over the years, many libraries have entered their summer reading program into the John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award, provided in conjunction with the H.W. Wilson Foundation, EBSCO, and the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA, a division of the American Library Association).
The National Summer Learning Association, which offers some pertinent points as well as full text articles and abstracts on its pages, Know the Facts, and Research in Brief, serves as a network hub for thousands of summer learning program providers and stakeholders across the country, providing tools, resources, and expertise to improve program quality, generate support, and increase youth access and participation. Its vision is for every child to be safe, healthy, and engaged in learning during the summer, and its mission, to realize that vision, is to connect and equip schools, providers, communities, and families to deliver high-quality summer learning opportunities to our nation's youth to help close the achievement gap and support healthy development.
Check for the availability of additional research on summer reading programs at your local library.
Bogel G. "Public Library Summer Reading Programs Contribute to Reading Progress and Proficiency." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. 7, no. 1 (2012): 102-104. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Celano, D., & Neuman S. B. The Role of Public Libraries in Children's Literacy Development: An Evaluation Report. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Library Association, (February) 2001. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Colorado State Library. “Prevent Summer Set Back.” Flier for parents which shares information on the benefits of summer reading. January 2005. Available in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF) (Both accessed June 11, 2014)
Heyns, Barbara. Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling. New York: Academic Press, 1978.
McCombs, Jennifer Sloan, Catherine H. Augustine, Heather L. Schwartz, Susan J. Bodilly, Brian McInnis, Dahlia S. Lichter, and Amanda Brown Cross. Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children's Learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2011. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
New York State Library. Summer Reading at New York Libraries. The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Reading is Fundamental. "Keeping Kids off the Summer Slide." (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Roman, Susan, and Fiore, Carole D. "Do Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Achievement Gap?" Children and Libraries, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Winter 2010), pp. 27-31.
Roman, Susan, Deborah T. Carran, and Carole D. Fiore. The Dominican Study: Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Reading Gap. River Forest, IL: Dominican University, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, 2010. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
We have collected resources on summer reading programs across the country.
California Summer Reading Program. Offers suggestions for developing outcomes-based summer reading programs. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Castek, Jill and Jessica Mangelson. "Thinking Outside the Book: Summer Reading." Booklinks, Vol. 18, No. 5 (2009).(Accessed June 11, 2014)
Collaborative Summer Library Program (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Fiore, Carole D. Fiore's Summer Library Reading Program Handbook. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2005.
Resources and research related to Summer Reading Programs from iREAD (Accessed June 12, 2014)
Malin, Ginger Goldman. "Facilitating a Summer Reading Book Group Program." English Journal. (High school edition). Vol. 96, Iss. 5 (2007); p. 58-63. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Mathews, Joe. "Evaluating Summer Reading Programs: Suggested Improvements." Public Libraries Vol. 49, No. 4 (July/August 2010): pp. 34-40. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Minkel, Walter. "Making a Splash with Summer Reading: Seven Ways Public Libraries Can Team Up with Schools." School Library Journal Vol. 49, No. 1 (January 2003): pp. 54–56. (Accessed June 12, 2014)
Stauffer, Suzanne M. "Summer Reading Incentives: Positive or Pernicious?" Children and Libraries, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer/Fall 2009), pp. 53-55. (Accessed June 12, 2014)
Young Adult Library Services Association. The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.
Gooch, C K, and Charlotte Massey. Camp Summer Read: How to Create Your Own Summer Reading Camp. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.
Johnson, Wayne L., and Yvette C. Johnson. Summer Reading Program Fun: 10 Thrilling, Inspiring, Wacky Board Games for Kids. Chicago: American Library Association, 1999. Visit the companion website for this book at Summer Reading Program Fun. (Accessed June 12, 2014)
Jones, Ella W. Start-to-Finish YA Programs: Hip-hop Symposiums, Summer Reading Programs, Virtual Tours, Poetry Slams, Teen Advisory Boards, Term Paper Clinics, and More! New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2009.
Kan, Katharine L., for the Young Adult Library Services Association. Sizzling Summer Reading Programs for Young Adults: Second Edition. Chicago: American Library Association, 2006.
Sanchez, Victoria. "More than Just "Hanging Out": Reading Lounges Bridge the Summer Reading Gap," Children and Libraries, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer/Fall 2014), pp. 16-20. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
For suggested summer reading lists, see
- ALSC 2015 Summer Reading List for children (see previous years lists)
- YALSA Summer Reading & Learning for teens and young adults
- the finalists for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Fiction and Nonfiction for adults
- the Booklist Reader for everyone!
Additionally, see ALA Library Fact Sheet 23 - Recommended Reading.
Or use the search < LibGuides summer reading > to access a selection of summer reading lists from all types of libraries.
We have collected some current summer reading lists from certain sources online:
Summer reading programs began in the 1890s as a way to encourage school children, particularly those in urban areas and not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library and develop the habit of reading.
Bertin, Stephanie. A History of Youth Summer Reading Programs in Public Libraries. A Master’s Paper for the M.S. in L.S degree. May, 2004. 71 pages. Advisor: Brian Sturm.(Accessed June 11, 2014)
Fehrman, Craig. "How America learned to love summer reading - Our long, tumultuous affair with light books reveals volumes about our changing relationship to leisure." Boston Globe, Aug. 12, 2012. (Accessed June 11, 2014)
Last updated: May 2015
For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.