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Reading Lounges: A New Model for Summer Reading Outreach

Milwaukee Public Library, WI
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Innovation Summary

Summer reading loss can have a devastating impact on children---especially those from low socio-economic backgrounds. To increase summer reading MPL worked intensively with three organizations that ran children’s summer camps to create a welcoming reading environment where the pleasure of reading was discovered with support of a reading mentor.

Problem Statement

The combined effects of low reading scores, high concentrations of poverty, the summer reading gap, and reductions in city-wide summer school offerings put the city of Milwaukee into a state of reading crisis with lifelong implications. The correlation between poverty levels and reading scores is irrefutable. In an April 2011 report published by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “…those who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers.” Further, “…The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.” A variety of factors contribute to the summer reading gap. These include limited access to reading material, fewer opportunities to participate in enriching activities during the summer months and access to fewer academic resources in general during the summer. Reading during the summer is the single most important thing that children can do to help avoid summer learning loss or “brain drain”. Participation in library summer reading programs is one significant way for children to maintain their reading skills during the summer months and avoid the summer reading gap. MPL knows that not all children have access to their public library during the summer. In order to get serious about addressing the summer reading gap, we bring the library to students enrolled in summer programs throughout the city.


For eleven years MPL has reached out to 80 partner organizations so the children at those organizations could participate in MPL’s summer reading program. Outreach efforts have evolved from dropping off material to meeting with children three times over the summer to encourage them to read and complete the summer reading program. In 2012, we intensified efforts by setting up Reading Lounges at three organizations. Approximately 300 kindergarten through fifth grade children spent time in the Reading Lounges each day enjoying books, being read aloud to, participating in Reader’s Theater, listening to audio books, and discovering the pleasure of reading. MPL supplied comfortable seating and thousands of age-appropriate, high interest books. Children got to choose what they wanted to read and then spent time reading just for the pure joy of it. The library representative served as a “reading lounge mentor”, helping children discover what they enjoyed reading while they built their reading interests and stamina. Staff from the organizations were expected to be part of the lounges so they could learn and replicate the concept once the library was gone. They helped set up the lounges, read with the children and maintained an atmosphere that was conducive to reading. All sites participated in a library card drive and took a field trip to MPL‘s Central Library so children could see the library firsthand and discover all it has to offer. To engage families and encourage the habit of reading at home, children took books home nightly. Each site hosted an Open House and invited parents to attend so they could learn more about the Reading Lounges and get tips for reading with their children.


The Summer Reading Lounges were an important step in positioning MPL as a literacy leader in the community. The Lounges provided children access to books and an adult to help spark a passion for reading. The main goal was instilling in children print motivation, that desire to read, and the project was extremely effective in that. Ninety-five percent of the children stated they “looked forward to coming to the Reading Lounge” and “enjoyed the books that were in the Reading Lounge”. A secondary and more challenging goal was generating staff and parent buy-in to continue the progress the children made and incorporate the reading lounge into the organization’s program when the library is not there to run it. The staff at the sites had varying backgrounds, few with post-secondary degrees or a love of reading themselves. The library made progress as evidenced by this comment: “I liked how we had a reading lounge and how the kids wanted to read so much more because of it.” The library continues to maintain contact with the organizations and is providing ‘mini’ Reading Lounges for afterschool programs. Our greatest success was the increase in reading stamina and the amount of reading the children accomplished. They read a lot. Students reported reading more than 3,700 books during the project. Research suggests that by reading just 4-5 books during the summer children will avoid summer reading loss. We feel confident that students who participated in this project started the school year positioned for success.