Summer Reading Programs

Overview | Why are SRPs important? | Practical Strategies: Planning Your SRP | SRP Success Stories | Securing Funding for Your SRP | A Nontraditional Approach: Interactive Exhibit/Learning Centers | Recommended Resources | Terms | References


In the 1890s, summer reading programs (SRPs) first appeared in libraries as a way to encourage children to visit the library, continue reading throughout the summer, and develop the habit of reading (Summer Reading Programs, 2011). Today, 95 percent of public libraries in the United States have some form of a summer program (Fiore, 2005, p. 3). Each library has its own methods, but many include a variety of special events and activities offered throughout the summer and prizes or incentives for reading. A common theme connects these programs together and creates a distinct and memorable experience for library patrons. Some libraries offer multiple developmentally appropriate programs for their patrons; for example, some offer different programs for toddlers and preschoolers, elementary and middle school students, and teens. More libraries are even creating summer reading programs for adults. The focus of this page will be on SRPs for children with some information on teen programs as well.

The Summer Reading Programs of today still seek to sustain student literacy activities and prevent learning loss during the summer months. In addition, many programs share the following goals:
  • fostering a lifelong love of reading and library participation in young library patrons
  • involving children, teens, and their families in library activities
  • providing access to library materials and programs for children and teens
  • supporting and encouraging reluctant or struggling readers

Why are SRPs important?

Summer reading programs benefit libraries because they increase circulation of materials, program attendance, and general use of the library. They bring in large numbers of both users and non users and allow libraries to showcase the resources and skills they have to offer to the community. Far outweighing the benefits that libraries receive from summer reading programs are the benefits that patrons receive. For young readers, summer reading programs can strengthen and extend the literacy skills forged in the classroom, but they also offer much more. A large body of research identifies summer reading and learning as key factors in determining academic achievement. The following information provides a brief summary of researchers' conclusions regarding the importance of summer reading.

Preventing Achievement Gaps and Learning Loss

In their study of Baltimore youth, Entwisle, Alexander, and Olson (2000) found that students made equal achievement gains during the school year regardless of their socioeconomic status. However, during the summer months, disadvantaged students fell significantly behind their peers in reading. Entwisle et. al call this phenomena, the "Faucet Theory." During the school year, resources and opportunities are "turned on" for all students, but during the summer months, learning opportunities and educational resources are "turned off" for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The losses that occur add up each summer. Resulting summer reading gaps can accumulate to a two-year loss by the time a child is in middle school (McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2009). As the Baltimore School Study and others have shown, "differences in out-of-school access to books, positive reading practices, and connections with institutions supportive of self-discovery and reading, account for much of the disparity in student academic success" (Importance of Summer Reading, 2011).

Summer reading programs address these inequalities and make sure those will benefit most from the SRP are able to participate by offering free programming, activities and events throughout the summer that encourage literacy and learning. In order to best serve all patrons, libraries can offer programs during evening and weekend hours so that working parents have an opportunity to bring their children to the library. Libraries can also make outreach a part of their SRP and bring resources out into the community by partnering with daycares or other organizations. The Portland Public Library teamed up with Portland Bus Service to offer a free ticket to anyone 18 and under who checks out a book from any Portland Public Library throughout the summer reading program. As lack of transportation can be one of the main barriers to access for disadvantaged children, this important community partnership will allow them to access the wealth of educational resources and learning opportunities available to them through the summer reading program. Think outside the box to make library access a possibility for everyone in your community.

Motivating Young Readers

Self-selection, access to books, and sharing books are important factors in reading motivation (Edmunds & Bauserman 2006, p. 414), and are also key elements of summer reading programs. Children who are motivated to read, read more, and children who read more, have a higher level of comprehension (Taboada, 2009). The relaxed and fun atmosphere of summer reading programs encourages children to read whatever interests them in whatever format they like. SRPs encourage children to listen to audio books, read magazines, and even read articles on the web; just as long as they read something. Engaging in free voluntary reading results in better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical development (Krashen, 1993, p. 17).

Practical Strategies: Planning Your SRP

Planning for evaluation

  • Much like writing a grant (and you may in fact be writing a grant for your SRP), you must assess the needs of your community and consider the outcomes and objectives of your program in the initial stages of your planning. This forward thinking approach will give you a clear idea of what changes you want to make in the lives of your patrons. Create a plan of evaluation so that you can assess the effectiveness of your program once it is over. Decide how you will measure outcomes and what data you will need to collect (Fiore, 2005).

Participating in a statewide/regional program

  • If you are involved in planning a statewide or regional program, you will have to begin working 18-24 months before the program will begin. This time allows the planning committee to meet and decide on a theme, develop promotional materials, create a training manual, and facilitate a training workshop (Fiore, 2005, p. 79).
  • If you are participating in a statewide program but not serving on the planning committee, your planning will begin 11 months prior to the start of the program. You will have to consider the amount and ages of your participants to order sufficient materials (Fiore, 2005, p. ).
The 2011 SRP theme at many libraries. Created by ALA Graphics

Selecting a theme

Designing reading logs

  • Reading logs allow children to keep track of what they are reading throughout the summer. They can either check in with the librarian throughout the summer or at the end of the program. The logs can either measure the amount of books read or alternatively the time spent reading.
  • The reading logs will have the same graphics and theme of the overall program.
  • Consider creating different reading logs for the different age groups that you are serving.
    • The children's department at the Oak Park Public Library had a unified theme of, "One World, Many Stories," but created separate reading logs for those who still read with an adult (2 - 5/6 year olds), and one for those who read on their own (6 - 12 year olds). The younger children kept track of the number of books they read with an adult while the older children kept track of the time they spent reading. The older group had to complete travel challenges in addition to four hours of reading to earn each prize level The travel challenges encouraged children to learn more about other countries and cultures around the world and encouraged use of library materials and creativity. In order to complete the program and earn all four levels of prizes, young readers had to read 72 books while the older readers had to complete 16 hours of reading.

OPPL reading log for younger children

Choosing incentives

  • Incentives and contests are a somewhat controversial aspect of summer reading programs. Research has shown that extrinsic rewards do not have a lasting effect on reading motivation (Edmunds & Bauserman, 2006, p. 414). Children who are already motivated to read are going to be coming to the library and reading over the summer regardless of what they win. However, if a prize draws in a reluctant reader and motivates him or her to read a few more books over the summer, than incentives can have a positive impact on the overall success of a library’s summer reading program.
  • Incentives can come in a variety of forms and do not have to be physical prizes. For example, the Oak Park Public library offered a special incentive program for readers entering the 4th through 6th grades called, “Read Locally, Give Globally.” Instead of reading for prizes, children were able to read for charity. For every book a reader finished off of the prescribed list—which was comprised of age appropriate, culturally diverse books and tied this program into the overall theme of “One World, Many Stories”—he or she would receive a book buck. Readers would write their names on a book buck and then choose a charity to which they would like to donate. The Oak Park Children’s department staff chose three different charities and created a display in the children’s department where patrons could learn more about each charity and see who had contributed book bucks to each. The funds for this program were provided by the Friends of the Library.
"Read Locally, Give Globally" display at OPPL

  • For more tips on creating a charity reading program at your library, check out this Prezi presentation from the California Library Association.

Creating fun programs for children, families, and teens

  • Create weekly programs and activities that tie into your overall theme. Offer storytimes for a variety of ages (babies, toddlers, preschoolers) every week. All ages family storytimes should also be a staple of your summer reading program. Offering family storytimes during evening or weekend hours will allow more families to participate.
  • Libraries can offer enrichment, reading, and entertainment programs that relate to the SRP theme. These supporting programs will bring more people into the library, attract more people to participate in the summer reading program, support summer learning, and allow families to have fun together.
  • Schedule supporting programs well in advance of the summer months. Make connections with community organizations to avoid scheduling conflicts with other major events.
  • Summer reading programs across the country are offering innovative programs for teens. Poll your teens to find out their interest in library programs. Teens can take an active role in shaping the summer reading program through volunteering at the library, submitting book reviews, voting on programing, and much more. Need some inspiration? See what other libraries around the country are doing for teen summer reading programming.
    • Albany County Public Library in Laramie, WY sponsored a “make your own play list” night where teens made soundtracks for their favorite books (Owens, 2009).
    • The King County Library System in Washington had a video book review contest in which teens created YouTube videos of their books reviews to enter to win a flip video recorder (Owens, 2009).
    • The Teen Summer Passport Program sponsored by Oakland Public Library in California encouraged teens explore their city and get their passports stamped in order to win prizes and enter a raffle for cool tech tools. Travelers can also get passport stamps for writing reviews, submitting artwork, or volunteering at the library (Owens, 2009).
    • The Point-Claire Public Library in Québec, Canada, created a program where teens played Monopoly on a life-sized game board! Each participant was a playing piece in the game, and teams had the chance to win prizes (Owens, 2009).

Generating publicity

  • Marketing and publicity have to be multifaceted and on-going throughout the summer. Many libraries set up visits or assemblies with schools in the area to promote the summer reading program. Be sure to contact both public and private schools as well as community youth organizations like scouts, camps, and child-care facilities to set up visits.
  • Reach out to local media including newspapers, radio stations, and television channels. Advertising should begin one month before the program begins and should be placed around the community to attract nonusers. Send out a press release with a general overview of the summer reading program initially, but follow up with additional releases for specific programs and events throughout the summer. Be as specific as possible with your information (Fiore, 2000).
  • Make sure that everyone who works in the library, even those who do not directly interact with patrons, is informed about the program (its theme, how it works, start and end dates, registration process, etc.) so that each person can be an advocate for the program within the library and the larger community (Fiore, 2000).
  • Consider creating a public service announcement to promote your summer reading program. The local television or radio station may be willing to help you produce your PSA or you can create one on your own. Make sure to check with the individual station technical requirements. You might also want to cooperate with other libraries or children’s departments in the area to create a unified message and share the responsibilities of taking on such a project (Sullivan, 2005).
  • Take advantage of web 2.0 technologies to promote your summer reading program. Consider making a short YouTube video that will catch the attention of your patrons and will inform them about the summer reading program. Better yet, have teen volunteers make a promotional video or create a contest as a part of the teen summer reading program. The library website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed are all great places to promote the summer reading program and individual events that happen throughout the summer.

Recruiting Volunteers

  • Tween and Teen volunteers are a valuable resource. Volunteers can help make SRP events and activities runs smoothly by helping with preparation, facilitation, or clean up.
  • Check with your administrative staff to see if volunteer policies are already put in place. If your library has a volunteer coordinator, he or she will be able to help you with the logistics of recruiting volunteers and creating a volunteer program (Soltan, 2008).
  • Provide orientation for volunteers so that they know their way around the library, the department, and the summer reading program. Create name tags for volunteers and make them feel welcome.
  • Give volunteers meaningful activities that allow them to contribute to the program’s success.
  • Reward volunteers for their efforts. Throw an end of the summer party to thank your volunteers for their hard work.

Decorating the Children's Department

  • One of your final preparations for your SRP will be decorating the children's department to match the theme.
  • Have fun and be creative! You have the opportunity to transform your space into one that will inspire, excite, and entertain your patrons.
  • This video gives some tips and inspiration on decorating. It is based on the "One World, Many Stories" theme from 2011, but its ideas can applied to any theme.
    • Incorporate elements that stimulate the senses or encourage exploration/interaction
    • Include recognizable icons or signs
    • Highlight or display parts of your collection

Evaluating your program

  • Using the evaluation criteria you created in the early stages of planning, you can assess the effectiveness of your program once it is finished. Using the data you have collected, you will be able to share your success with administrators, funding agencies, patrons and other stakeholders in your community. Your evaluation will also help to inform your decisions for your next summer reading program.

SRP Success Stories

Denver Public Library

After providing summer reading programs for over 80 years, the Denver Public Library has seen tremendous growth in the past 7 years. In 2011, participation in DPL's summer reading program increased from 17,000 in 2004 to 38,150. They attribute their successful increase in participation to longer library hours (32 hours a week at most branches), dedicated staff, and successful outreach programming. The teen reading theme was "Make Waves!" and the kids theme was "Make a Splash!"
Their Summer of Reading (SOR) program consisted of 482 programs in 23 branches. They offered a variety of events including sports clinics, arts and crafts, magic shows, story times, and much more. Their prizes included books, backpacks, and amusement park tickets for children and a raffle for iPods or a laptop for teens. The logistics of successfully operating such a large program included the collaboration of many library staff: a senior librarian managed the entire SOR; representatives from each library formed a committee to oversee programming at the branches; a web, print and design team published information on the library website and designed and produced promotional materials; and a community relations and development team secured funding from sponsors and spearheaded the marketing campaign. The marketing campaign consisted of print, online, TV and radio advertisements in both English and Spanish. Librarians visited 455 schools and even held promotional events at the zoo and a children's museum (Whelan, 2011).

Winner of the Teen SRP poster contest

2011 DPL Summer of Reading Website

What can your library do to replicate Denver Public Library's success?
          • Offer a diverse range of free family activities
          • Provide longer library hours and increased access to dedicated staff members
          • Collaborate among staff members across departments and branches
          • Actively and aggressively get the word out
          • Cater to the needs and interests of your community

Chicago Public Library

This past summer the Chicago Public Library hosted a summer reading program that not only broke the record of books read, but also number of participants involved. In her article, Ruth Lednicer reported that this past summer's numbers beat "the previous year's totals by 17%". With the theme of Book Beats, the Summer Reading Program tied book reading with discovering the world of music. Chicago Public Library collaborated with Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park, the Chicago Orchestra, Ravinia and Chicago Public Schools to provide participants (between the ages of 3 and 14) with hands-on, interactive programs throughout the eight week program.

CPL's 2011 SRP logo

Participants at the younger end of the age spectrum (3 to 8) received a Book Beats t-shirt after reading twenty-five books. Older readers (ages 9 to 14) earned their t-shirts by completing ten chapter books. At the end of the eight weeks, all the participants "received a certificate declaring them a Rahm’s Reader, and were invited along with their families to attend a special Reader’s Night celebration at Millennium Park" (Lednicer, 2011).

2011 CPL Children's Summer Reading Program - Book Beats

What can your library do to replicated Chicago Public Library's success?
  • Collaborate with local organizations and businesses
  • Connect participants with another literacy outside of reading
  • Set prizes that are obtainable through participation

Securing Funding for Your SRP

  • If you need extra funding, you can seek out community or corporate sponsors. Sponsors might supply free prizes or incentives that you can use for your summer reading program.
  • In addition, consider apply for grants to help fund your program:

A Nontraditional Approach: Interactive Exhibit/Learning Centers

Rita Soltan has created an interactive exhibit/learning centers approach to summer reading programs that she outlines in her book, Summer Reading Renaissance: An Interactive Exhibits Approach (2008). Inspired by her own family’s summer vacations visiting museum with hands-on children’s exhibits, Soltan wanted to find a way to incorporate the experience of learning through play, experimentation, and literature into summer reading programs. Soltan wants to create a reason for children and families to come to the library other than to receive a reward for a formal record-keeping checklist of books. The goal of a learning center approach is to foster an environment where children and families play, learn, and read together for pleasure and to fulfill their own curiosities. Her approach includes rotating and changing exhibits over a six-to-eight week summer session with “diverse components such as art, music, writing, and technology [that] will keep patrons interested in each new display” (p. 8). The successful implementation of this type of program requires support from the community, volunteers, and staff. Not all libraries have the space or resources available to facilitate an interactive exhibit/learning centers approach, but it could be a viable SRP alternative for some libraries.

Recommended Resources



  • Fiore's Summer Library Reading Program Handbook Covers all of the elements of planning a successful summer library reading program and focuses on strategies for organizing and promoting programs. In addition to supplying a plethora of theme and programming ideas, this handbook offers numerous, detailed examples of successful summer reading program models.
  • Sizzling Summer Reading Programs for Young Adults This guide is specifically for librarians serving preteens and teens. YA Librarians from across the nation share their tips for creating successful teen summer library programming.
  • Camp Summer Read: How To Create Your Own Summer Reading Camp A how-to handbook based on the authors' own experiences developing and running a summer reading camp for children. Organized as a checklist, it is a step-by-step guide that includes what you need to know to plan and run your own summer reading camp. It also includes multiple book lists and read-aloud lists and dozens of book-based activities.


Public Service Announcement (PSA) - Public service announcements are recorded statements that are broadcast over television or radio. All stations are required by the Federal Communication Commission to run PSAs to fulfill their public responsibilities. PSAs are a great way for libraries to advertise their services and promote a positive view of the library (Sullivan, 2005).

Faucet Theory - During the school year, all students have access to learning opportunities and educational resources—the faucet is in effect, “turned on.” Children from families of low socioeconomic status experience setbacks over the summer to a greater extent than their peers of medium and high socioeconomic status (SES). This achievement gap builds each summer and puts low SES children behind their peers. During the summer, the faucet is “turned off” for these children because they do not have access to learning opportunities and educational resources (Entwisle, Alexander, & Olson, 2000).

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) - Or, "reading because you want to," is the kind of reading most people do everyday. FVR is free of assessment, requirement, and pressure. FVR is the basis of most SRPs and allows children to read whatever interests them. Studies have shown the free voluntary reading is the single most important factor in stimulating a child’s reading potential (Krashen, 1993).

Web 2.0 - web applications that are interactive and collaborative. Instead of just having access to content, users can generate content. Social networking sites, blogs, and wikis are among some of the most popular current web 2.0 tools. Libraries can use web 2.0 tools for marketing, promotion, and even reference.


Edmunds & Bauserman. (2006). What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children. Reading Teacher. pp. 414-424

Entwisle, D. R., Alexander, K.I. & Olson, L.S. (2000). Summer learning and home environment: A nation at risk. Richard D. Kahlenberg, ed. New York, NY: Century Foundation Press, pp. 9–30

Fiore, C.D. (2005). The summer library reading program handbook. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers

Guthrie, J.T., Wigfield, A., Metsala, J., & Cox, K. (1999). Motivational and cognitive predictors of text comprehension and reading amount. Scientific Studies of Reading (3) 231–256

Importance of Summer Reading. (2011). New York State Library. Retrieved from

Krashen, S.D. (1993). The Power of Reading: Insights from Research. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lednicer, Ruth. (2011). "THE CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY’S 2011 SUMMER READING PROGRAM BREAKS RECORDS YET AGAIN." Chicago Public Library. 23 Aug. 2011. Retrieved from

McGill-Franzen, A. & Allington, R. (2009). Why summers matter in the rich/poor achievement gap. Teachers College Record

Miller, B.M. (2007). The learning season: the untapped power of summer to advance student achievement. Retrieved from

Owens, D. (2009). Cool ideas for hot summer teen programming. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Ross, C.S., McKechnie, L.E.F., & Rothbauer, P.M. (2006). Reading matters: what the research reveals about reading, libraries, and community. Ann Arbor, MI: Libraries Unlimited

Soltan, R. (2008). Summer reading renaissance: an interactive exhibits approach. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited

Sullivan, M. (2005). Fundamentals of Children's Services. Chicago, IL: ALA

Summer Reading Programs. (2011). American Library Association Wiki. Retrieved from

Taboada, A., Tonks, S. M., Wigfield, A., & Guthrie, J. T. (2009). Effects of Motivational and Cognitive Variables on Reading Comprehension. Reading And Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22(1), 85-106. doi:10.1007/s11145-008-9133-y

Whelan, D.L. (2011). DPL Sees Its Summer Reading Program Explode. School Library Journal. Retrieved from