LSC Journal Club Summer 2019: Summer Reading Clubs

Coming in a bit late with this recap but it’s been a busy summer! Here’s what we discussed at our summer meeting for the Library Services for Children Journal Club.

What better time to discuss summer reading than in the summer. Summer Reading Clubs, also known as Summer Reading Programs, Summer Learning Programs, Summer Learning Challenges, etc., are a core part of children’s services in public libraries. But what are best practices around this ubiquitous feature? And how do we evaluate them?

The main article we discussed is called A Hook and a Book: Rewards as Motivators in Public Library Summer Reading Programs (2017) by Ruth V. Small, Marilyn P. Arnone, and Erin Bennett. There were two supplementary articles that helped us look beyond traditional models of summer programming.

Article Summary

The main article studied incentives offered by two urban public library systems during their summer reading programs and how these rewards impacted kids’ reading motivation and behaviour. They begin with an excellent summary of the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and summarize the research on extrinsic rewards for reading. Most notably they found that extrinsic rewards intended to control behaviour are ineffective and even detrimental. However, if there is little intrinsic motivation to start, extrinsic rewards can be effective at first to help kids identify the value of a task. Lastly, and most applicable to libraries, kids who receive rewards for reading have less interest in reading going forward unless the reward is a book.

The end of the article contains the most useful bits in my opinion. The authors present 6 recommendations for best practice. Among these are providing reading choices, building variety into the program, designing programs that stimulate curiosity and interest, and providing rewards related to reading.

My absolute favourite part of the article which I have implemented into my own practice is the idea of fostering “creative readers.” Noting that schools have incentive programs that control what kids read, they recommend that libraries become “reading advocates and role models to foster students’ creativity and lifelong reading habits.” Now that’s what I call a goal.


Our group spent a fair bit of time talking about what a summer reading program would look like if we took into account the article’s recommendations for best practice and could create it from the ground up. One of our main questions is around the goals of a summer reading program. Does your library explicitly state your goals? We realized that the library system many of us work at doesn’t have a guiding statement around what we are trying to achieve over the summer. Having it laid out would help us cater our messages to kids and families and investigate if what we are doing and saying now is relevant and meaningful. We agreed that getting kids excited to read and learn by providing choices and recommendations is a key aspect of our summer program. We also want to build connections – to the library as a place and to the staff through relationship building.

Thinking about the goals of a summer reading program made us turn to the supplemental documents, especially the guide called Libraries at the Center of Summer Learning and Fun by the Urban Libraries Council. This brief guide gives examples of libraries transitioning to summer learning programs. One thing we noticed as a trend particularly in the U.S. is the push to tie library programming to school curriculum standards. The guide argues for this alignment and mentions that it can be helpful in an effort to secure funding. As I mentioned in my critique of Every Child Ready to Read, the trend to explicitly support education goals raises concerns for me personally. While I do think schools can be natural allies for libraries, I wonder what we lose when we focus so heavily on education goals.

Particular to Vancouver, we discussed the changing demographics of our city. So many of our school-age kids are in day camps throughout the summer making it near impossible for them to attend our programs during the day. How are we communicating with day camps and serving them? Should they be a priority for us? What are our limitations with resources (staff, space, supplies)? We agreed that a system-wide strategy for how to maximize our connections with day camps would help us reach our most vulnerable kids who need access to books over the summer the most.

Coming away from this meeting I was invigorated to do even more research on summer reading clubs. I am planning on writing a post called something like, “If I Could Design a Summer Program From Scratch” which takes everything I’ve gleaned from the research and gives a pie-in-the-sky vision. Something I can actually be excited about.

What are your thoughts on summer programs? What have you found to be super successful? What would you change? What are your pie-in-the-sky ideas?

The Fall 2019 Library Services for Children Journal Club meeting has just been announced! Next up we are looking at social emotional learning. I am so ready!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.