Many school librarians and administrators have often wondered why the vast and various resources housed in the physical space of the library are not available to students and families during school breaks and the summer months. For many children and youth, the school library is the closest and most familiar (and free!) provider of reading material for independent reading. Whether they are seeking books and magazines for pleasure reading or to answer their questions and gain specific knowledge, the school library is their resource and the school librarian is their go-to person. In most districts across the United States, however, school libraries are closed for the summer and are shuttered over for fall, winter, and spring breaks.
Researchers and practitioners in the field have identified summer reading loss as a problem that can be addressed. Many researchers have studied this issue with the goal of finding evidence to help close the reading achievement gap between children who live in poverty and those from affluent homes. Some have found the positive impact of summer reading has been most pronounced for low-income families and most particularly for kindergarten and first-grade children (Allington and McGill-Franzen 2013). One study showed that teachers and parents recognize children are better prepared for the new school year when they have engaged in reading through a summer reading program (Bogel 2012).
School librarian practitioners and others have called for school and public library partnerships (Von Drasek 2006). We know that for many students the public library is their source for summer reading materials (Lu and Gordon 2008). A recent Pew Study noted that libraries can do a better job of outreach for both preschool and after-school activities (Rainey 2013). Summer reading programs for all ages fit into this strategy for serving the year-round literacy needs of the children and youth in our communities.
So what is a concerned school librarian to do? You can reach out to your local public or county library’s children’s, youth, or teen librarian, of course! Your colleague at the public or county library shares your passion for literacy and serving the needs of the children and youth in your community. School librarian/public librarian collaboration to support readers’ continued enjoyment of reading and their intellectual growth is a win-win-win strategy for all literacy stakeholders.
Many school librarians use the resources of the public or county library to supplement their collections. When interlibrary loan within the district is stretched thin by required curriculum topics or the result of dwindling budgets, school librarians put their tax dollars to work by borrowing from local public libraries. Whether for literature circles or inquiry units of study, effective school librarians gather resources from the public or county libraries. However, rather than simply reserving materials online and picking them up from the holds shelf, the wise school librarian makes an appointment to meet and talk with the pertinent children’s, youth, or teen librarian. From this initial conversation, a full-fledged collaborative relationship can develop that will benefit librarians, library programs, and the children and youth they jointly serve.
A firsthand example of this type of collaboration for a summer reading program occurred in the service area of the North Branch (NB) of the Denton (Texas) Public Library. Dana Tucker is a public services librarian who focuses on the needs of children. Julie Sorum is a middle school librarian and Texas Woman’s University graduate student. I worked with them to lay the foundation for school-public library collaboration for summer reading 2014. Our story can serve as a springboard to create a collaborative summer program of your own.
Dana, Julie, and I started our planning in the fall by reaching out to the four elementary school librarians who serve the youngest children in the NB area. We emailed the librarians a survey to ask questions about their willingness to participate in a collaborative effort for summer reading and to seek additional ideas and information from them. From that data, we developed a timeline of activities to prepare the schools, public library, and community for this joint work. See Figure 1.
Fig. 1. Example of a summer reading timeline.
We also developed an infographic similar to the one that can be found on “Use This Page” in this issue of School Library Monthly. We appended the infographic to summer reading promotional materials for public and school library events and used this tool as a talking point when we spoke to the media about supporting our effort for “Expanding Our Reach through Summer Reading.”
The public library will collect data to document the increase in participation in the summer reading program. When children register for the program, the library will record each child’s elementary school.
These are the intended outcomes for our collaborative effort:
- Increase participation in the NB summer reading program by at least 10% from 2013
- Increase June and July youth item checkouts at NB by at least 5% from 2013
- Increase June and July youth program attendance at NB by at least 5% from 2013
School librarians can be instrumental in building the relationships that will create a groundswell of support for summer reading programs. Together school and public librarians can work to prevent summer reading loss and help children and youth maintain or develop their reading proficiency when the school library is closed. This collaborative work has the potential to bring more children, teens, and families into both school and public libraries where they can meet their pleasure reading and information needs.
Let’s reach out and increase literacy in the entire community. Let’s collaborate to ensure that youth are reading… all summer long.