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.

Themes | Grants | Benefits | Research | Best Practices | History



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. The deadline for 2014 consideration has passed. The ALSC Grants Administration committee will be accepting applications for the 2015 Baker & Taylor Summer Reading Grant next fall.


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. Eligible applicants can apply now through January 1, 2014. Recipients will be announced during the week of February 17, 2014.



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.

Bogel G. 2012. "Public Library Summer Reading Programs Contribute to Reading Progress and Proficiency." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. 7, no. 1: 102-104.

Celano, D., & Neuman S. B. (2001, February). The Role of Public Libraries in Children's Literacy Development: An Evaluation Report. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Library Association. (Accessed June 14, 2013)    

Colorado State Library. “Prevent Summer Set Back.” January 2005.  Flier for parents which shares information on the benefits of summer reading. Available in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF) (Both accessed June 14, 2013)

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 14, 2013)

Malin, Ginger Goldman. (2007) "Facilitating a Summer Reading Book Group Program." English Journal. (High school edition). Vol. 96, Iss. 5; p. 58ff,

Mathews, Joe. 2010. "Evaluating Summer Reading Programs: Suggested Improvements." Public Libraries 49, no. 4: 34-40. (Accessed June 13, 2013)

New York State Library. Summer Reading at New York Libraries. The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning. (Accessed June 14, 2013)

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 14, 2013)


Best Practices

Additional reading.

California Summer Reading Program. Offers suggestions for developing outcomes-based summer reading programs. (Accessed June 14, 2013)

Castek, Jill and Jessica Mangelson. (2009) "Thinking Outside the Book: Summer Reading." Booklinks, v. 18, no. 5.(Accessed June 14, 2013)

Collaborative Summer Library Program (Accessed June 14, 2013)

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 January 15, 2014)

Minkel, Walter. “Making a Splash with Summer Reading: Seven Ways Public Libraries Can Team Up with Schools,” School Library Journal 49, no. 1 (Jan. 2003): 54–56.

Reading is Fundamental. “Keeping Kids off the Summer Slide.”  (Accessed June 14, 2013)

Stauffer, Suzanne M. "Summer Reading Incentives: Positive or Pernicious?" Children and Libraries, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer/Fall 2009), pp. 53-55.

Sample summer reading programs

For suggested reading lists, see ALSC Summer Reading List or for adults the finalists for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Fiction and Nonfiction.  Additionally, see Recommended Reading or use the search < LibGuides summer reading > to access a selection of summer reading lists from all types of libraries.



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 14, 2013)

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 14, 2013)


Last updated: January 2014


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:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.