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Five Strategies for Evolving Summer Reading into Summer Learning

Five key strategies emerged from ULC and NSLA’s research that can help libraries transform their summer reading programs into programs that meet students’ needs for active engagement in learning over the summer.


1. Engage team members across the library.

  • Transitioning from a long-time summer reading program to summer learning requires a cultural shift and new thinking on how the library delivers educational programming. Involving both library leaders and branch staff in planning and implementing summer learning programs can bring in new perspectives and approaches while communicating the value, impact and expectations of the library’s summer learning approach.

  • Tips and Tools for Implementing this Strategy:

    • To gain buy in and support from team members for the redesign of the library’s summer reading program, Chicago Public Library leaders used a multi-step process that included a system-wide focus group of librarians who later became “cohort leaders.”
      • A fact sheet for cohort leaders explains their role in helping team members adapt to change.
    • Broward County Library developed tools that staff members can use to build consensus around summer learning programs with both internal and external stakeholders.
      • With the “Top Down/Bottom Up Planning Tool,” staff members list “actors” and “players,” discuss the roles of each and identify the barriers that exist in building consensus.
      • The Learning Continuum planning tool is used to map out partners and partnership requirements; resources, including funding sources; marketing and parent engagement ideas; and indicators of success.
    • Fort Worth Library trained staff members on how to lead learning activities intended for participants to gain specific learning goals aligned with Texas state standards in English/language arts and science.
      • This presentation was used to help staff understand how to lead activities based on a written curriculum and how to promote the change in approach to summer learning programming with patrons.
    • Denver Public Library uses a concise statement on their Summer of Learning to explain why and how its existing summer reading program is transitioning into a summer learning program and how key partners are involved.

2. Connect summer reading with other library services to create an integrated learning program.

  • A summer learning approach can be built around activities that the library already does well, such as offering family reading programs, opening maker spaces and digital learning labs, hosting special events and speakers and creating opportunities for older youth to volunteer or work as program leaders to gain job skills. Libraries are also summer hubs for services that students might not receive when schools are closed, such as providing free meals. When summer reading is linked to other library services, a more diverse and active summer learning program can be established.

  • Tips and Tools for Implementing this Strategy:

    Summer Meals

    Parent Engagement

    • Chicago Public Library developed a Parent Tip Sheet to give parents ideas for additional reading and activities to do together with their children, which they can do at home or at “parents’ reflection stations” set up at branch locations.

    Including Maker Activities

    • Saint Paul Public Library includes Maker Camps as great options for youth ages eight through 12 to gain creativity and experimentation skills while earning credits toward the completion of the overall summer program.

    Engaging Teens as Program Leaders

3. Start planning in September.

4. Initiate and cultivate intentional partnerships with schools, museums and other partners.

  • Connecting with organizations in the community that are also providing learning and enrichment opportunities can help reach more students, provide expertise in new content areas and offer a cost-effective way to expand learning opportunities. Taking steps to establish shared learning goals strengthens partnerships and provides incentives to exchange data to demonstrate program effectiveness. Partnership agreements help to ensure that roles and responsibilities are defined.

  • Tips and Tools for Implementing this Strategy:

5. Plan programming with clear learning goals.

  • To ensure that students are not losing ground during the summer, programs that reinforce content knowledge, build skills and link to academic standards will have the greatest impact. Strong partnerships with educators and school districts are needed to ensure that summer learning programs support academic standards. Programs can also be designed to help students acquire important 21st-century skills, such as problem solving, leadership, digital literacy and teamwork.

  • Tips and Tools for Implementing this Strategy:

    • Chicago Public Library’s Summer Learning Challenge, is aligned to the Framework for 21st Century Learning Skills and built on three STEM/STEAM-central learning tracks: Read, Discover and Create. Librarians use an activity planning tools to pre-determine learning goals, activities, materials and ways to differentiate lessons to facilitate skill development.
    • Fort Worth Library’s Worth Reading summer programs are aligned with the state’s educational standards for students, and this program planning activity packet describes the activity, the learning objectives, the materials needed and the academic standards addressed through each activity.