One of my earliest childhood memories was going to the public library and participating in the summer reading program. I can still remember one program where there was a travel theme and I got a paper picture of a suitcase on which I could place country stamps after I had read a book on the country in question. I remember the great satisfaction that I had when the summer was over and my suitcase was overflowing with stamps.

What do I remember about the countries? Not much. My parents were probably thrilled that this activity has caused their very active son to be quiet for long periods of time and out of their hair. Did it make me a better student when I returned to school in the fall? I do not remember nor do I have report cards to prove the case one way or the other.

Public libraries have long claimed that summer reading programs do have value for the retention of student reading skills over the long summer. Do we have empirical proof of this belief? Not much, as very little research has been done in this area.

At the Williamsburg Regional Library we are concerned about the value of the programs and services that we offer to our community. So we set out to find if our summer reading program does provide value for those enrolled in it. The library contracted with the Center for Summer Learning of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland to do a study on our summer reading program.

After going through all the required paperwork and permissions, a research group consisting of students at James River and Matthew Whaley Elementary Schools were given pre-tests prior to summer vacation. Their participation or non-participation in our summer reading program was then documented and a retest was given when these students returned to school in the fall. The study showed that for students going into second grade in the fall there was a statistically significant continuance of reading skill on the part of those who participated in our summer reading program as opposed to those who did not participate in the summer reading program. For students going into the fifth grade in the fall there was a significant difference in reading behaviors on the part of those participating in our summer reading program as opposed to those who did not participate.

What does this tell us. First, that for younger children the summer reading program does what we have indicated it does, help students retain or improve their reading skills over the summer vacation period. Second, that by the time children grow older, summer reading programs provide motivation to continue to read. Teachers of both age levels indicated that summer reading participants exhibited more learning readiness skills in the fall than those who had not participated in the program.

What are we doing with this information?

Our Youth Services and Outreach Divisions are intensifying our work with community partners to get more young children, particularly those from lower income settings, into the program. As a part of our on-going summer reading program evaluation, data from the study will be used as we consider how we might adjust our program content for all children.

So long for now!