Trend Alert: More School Libraries Staying Open all Summer

Summer reading—done at school? A growing number of districts are experimenting with keeping school libraries open, with entire collections available, through the vacation season.
Traditionally, the end of the school year is a frenzy of closing up shop—turning in projects, figuring final grades, and gathering library materials to be inventoried and locked away until fall. But a growing number of school districts are experimenting with the opposite: keeping school libraries open and available all summer, and even giving books away. Funding, staffing, and operation vary from district to district, as School Library Journal reported in May, but these fledgling programs share a universal goal: to keep kids reading all year long.

Increasing Access in North Carolina

The Summer Reading program in New Hanover (NC) County just kicked off with reading celebrations at each of the 11 school libraries that will host summer programs. Instead of a reminder about items to return, students at all 38 district schools received an invitation to check out books for the summer, with no overdue fines.   summer library kickoff PVES

Students in New Hanover County, NC kick off summer with a reading celebration. Photo courtesy of New Hanover County Schools.

District leaders, concerned about the “summer slide” in reading skills, have prioritized the US Department of Education’s recommendation to keep students reading when school is not in session. The idea of summer media centers originated at a library conference last year, and school leaders were able to secure enough funding to keep four sites open as an experiment. This year’s expansion builds on what they learned, and leaders hope the program will continue to grow. Jennifer LaGarde, lead school library media coordinator, explains, “We really want to keep resources available to our students who don’t have access. We have a strong relationship with the public library, but many students don’t have transportation. Our program complements what is happening at the public library.” The 11 school sites are in residential neighborhoods so that students can walk to programs. The sites will be open on a staggered schedule, with specialized programs at each location. Students can attend any programs they find interesting, and there’s something for everyone, from traditional storytimes and career/college readiness days to robotics and coding. The sites are staffed by certified school librarians, with support from the Department of Digital Teaching and Learning as well as a technology assistant. LaGarde emphasizes, “We really want this program to be sustainable without grants. This is part of how our district invests in the literacy needs of our students. We want to ensure that this is a meaningful, robust program for kids. That requires trained people to select appropriate materials, develop, and lead programs. It’s much more than just opening the doors.” New Hanover County educators will be carefully gathering data this year to inform next year’s planning. They will record attendance, promotional efforts, circulation, and measure participating students’ performance on fall assessment tests compared with peers. Last year’s trends suggest that kids who participate in summer reading have an easier transition back to school in the fall, and leaders hope that efforts like this will help the summer slide slip away.

Building on Success in Florida

Keeping school-based literacy programs running throughout the summer isn’t new to the schools of Palm Beach County, Florida. For the past six years, a grant from the Pew Foundation has funded book distribution programs at nearly two dozen schools. Additionally, the district has always had generous library media specialists who have volunteered to open their libraries for limited hours while the district’s 187 schools host camp or summer school programs. But this summer, library hours won’t rely on grants or volunteers. Leaders have selected 15 schools with very low performance on reading achievement scores, and will open media centers in those locations with regular hours as a pilot program. The district has hired media specialists and teachers to deliver library services and programs weekly at each site. The programs are timed to accommodate participation from students enrolled in other campus programs, and entirely funded by the district. IMG_7579

The assortment of media center summer programming in Palm Beach County. Photo courtesy of School District of Palm Beach County.

At each location, the full library collection is available, and interactive activities are offered from maker space and technology programs to book clubs. They’ll be carefully tracking circulation and attendance numbers, and plan to build on success as the district strategically expands the program each year. So far, the biggest challenge has been getting the word out. As Hollyanne Ruffner, library media services specialist for the district, explains, “This is a program that needs marketing, as opposed to a class during the school year, when attendance is a given. Two of our locations leverage social media very well, and those have had the best launch. We have to build awareness that these programs are here.” To that end, the district manages a website designed to excite students about reading in any form, including use of the district’s ebook subscriptions, or through games and challenges that can be enhanced using resources available at school libraries. So far, the program is a hit with parents and students. One school circulated 355 items in the first five-hour day. “My girls love the summer library program and look forward to each session,” exudes a parent of two middle school students who are keeping those books they get open all summer—just like the libraries.      

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