Summer Reading Goes to School
An Iowa university and Connecticut high school are reinventing recreational reading programs
Posted Tue, 07/10/2012 - 13:20
Book review slip developed for St. Ambrose University Library’s summer reading program.
Julie Barker, a teacher at Cheshire High School in Connecticut, reads one of the Dragonflight books, while her handmade dragon sits on her shoulder.
The lazy days of summer are here—a time to relax, vacation, and sun by the pool. It’s also a time to catch up on all those good books you didn’t have time to read all year. For students, this season can be especially prime reading months.
While public libraries have traditionally provided space for schoolchildren and adults to participate in a wide array of programming geared around summer reading, a growing number of academic and school libraries are now taking a page from their public-library counterparts by hosting programming—and they’re seeing positive results.
Summer reading programs began in the 1890s as a way to encourage schoolchildren, particularly those not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library, and develop the habit of reading. Nontraditional summer reading programs approach literacy in a new and innovative way.
What follows are two examples of how summer reading programs sponsored by nontraditional institutions are making a difference for students and staff.
In 2010, the St. Ambrose University (SAU) Library in Davenport, Iowa, launched the SAU Staff Summer Reading Program for university employees. The popular program now includes faculty as well as student workers who are on campus during the summer break.
But why summer reading? Director Mary Heinzman said the goal was to get on-campus summer staff to interact more with one another by getting them out of their offices and visiting the library. “Why should students have all the fun?” Heinzman said, adding, “We also wanted to encourage staff to use the library. We are not here to provide service only for students; we serve staff and faculty as well.”
Now in its third year, the 2012 SAU reading program kicked off the season in June with an ice cream–float social and life-size Angry Birds competitions. The informal get-together encourages patrons to sign up, mingle, browse, and discover new materials in the library’s recreational reading collection. In return, the library receives valuable feedback: Participants are asked to fill out “rate this book” forms and encouraged to give their reactions and offer suggestions through request slips placed as bookmarks within patrons’ summer reading choices.
There’s an additional incentive to filling out rate-this-book forms: They become entries in weekly raffles for a variety of prizes solicited from local businesses and campus groups; prizes include gift cards to local restaurants as well as museum and movie passes. At the end of the program, all entries qualify for a grand-prize package, two of which are awarded; each package consists of a Kindle and an Amazon gift card to purchase ebooks. The collaborative effort (with groups such as the campus bookstore and the alumni office) is mutually beneficial: The program becomes more attractive, patrons can win fun prizes, and local businesses get traffic.
Hooked on reading
At Cheshire (Conn.) High School, a brand-new summer reading program has students and staff excited about reading together. Built around a model developed by nearby Brookfield High School, the program works like this: Every member of the faculty, staff, and administration chooses a book to read during the summer months. In addition, each decides on a discussion and/or activity to accompany the book. Students then use email to sign up for one of those books, thus partnering with the adult who recommended it.
“We really wanted to make this more of an engaging experience,” explains Megumi Yamamoto, English faculty department leader.
The reading list ranges from fantasy, such as Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight series, to nonfiction titles, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Discussions about Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns were scheduled to be held over sundaes at a local ice-cream shop. An area softball game is the venue where participants will talk about Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.
Students even signed up with the superintendent. “I think it’s a great idea to get kids involved with summer reading and spend time with teachers,” student Catherine Rodgers said. “I am also excited to discuss the same book with my sister.”
During their lunch hour before the end of the semester, members of the DoRAK Club (Do Random Acts of Kindness) and the student book club sold books on the reading list; the groups partnered with a local bookstore to offer them at a discounted price. “This is a fantastic idea to sell the books,” said science teacher Dorothy Gillespie.
“It’s really a great idea,” said sophomore Zoe Sheehan. “I’m involved with the book club, and this is a way to expand its wings and get new people interested.”
MALAVIKA SHRIKHANDE is cataloging assistant at St. Ambrose University Library in Davenport, Iowa. ELLEN SPEIRS is teacher-librarian at Cheshire (Conn.) High School.