Blogger Renee Grassi

Rethinking Summer Reading Programs

What is the ultimate goal of your library’s summer reading program?  Is it to increase statistics of the amount of participants or the number of minutes read?  Or is to make an impact on the lives of children?  This was a question that was discussed at the last SNAILS meeting, a group that meets on a quarterly basis to talk about expanding services to youth with special needs.  We all know that Children’s Departments across the country are buzzing this time of year, gearing up for the summer season–and rightly so!  It’s that time of year when we have the opportunity to encourage and reward reading in all of its forms through our annual summer reading programs.   It’s also that time of year when we have the chance to do a lot of outreach, advocating for the value of the public library to nonusers and new families. What about families with children of special needs?  How are they being included or excluded from our annual summer reading programs?

Your library may be one of the libraries that has decided to move away from the traditional “reading” program.  Maybe you have developed a summer program that is more experiential in nature.  Perhaps your library even encourages participants to set their own goal for completing the program.  It’s true–libraries are buildings that house books, but through our summer reading programs, we have an opportunity to do so much more than that.

With only a few more weeks left before summer reading begins, take some time to rethink your library’s program.  Reflect and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is our ultimate goal for library summer reading programs?
  • What benefits do summer reading clubs provide for families of children with special needs?
  • What barriers (physical? perceived?) exist that prevent children with special needs from participating in summer reading clubs?
  • What are some strategies to make our summer reading clubs accessible from the start (ie. universal design)?
  • What are some examples of accommodations that can we make as we go along?
  • What are some methods for inviting families of children with special needs to participate in our programs? (Remember, it’s all about marketing!)

Do you have the answers?  Share your ideas below!  For further reading, check out this thought-provoking article entitled Summer Reading Club: Inviting Accessibility by Children’s Librarian Tess Prendergast. You can find Tess on Twitter here, where she advocates for early literacy, inclusion, and the role of public libraries in supporting families.


  1. Marge Loch-Wouters

    Great post. This year we made a point of making our game card bigger for easier reading (see sample at bottom of this post – a full 8.5″x11″ sheet:, kept the experiential component of the past and said no to prizes except for a culminating book. Kids get stickers instead that they add to blocks that become part of a big robot. The blocks are placed at a number of heights to help all kids reach for stickering!

  2. Renee Grassi

    Fantastic ideas, Marge! I really love the idea of having patrons work towards a common goal….like building a robot–so cool! And you bring up a good point about SRP prizes, too. We talked about that at length at our SNAILS meeting. Even if you give coupons to redeem for food items, food allergies are a big consideration with regard to serving children inclusively. Lots to learn from–thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Jordan Boaz

    Hi Renee!

    Great blog post with a really important message! We conduct our summer reading program through the mail so that we can reach patrons who otherwise wouldn’t get to be a part of all the fun stuff! I’ve worked closely with our programming department to make sure that our toys are accessible this year and that all print outs are available in alternative formats – a huge step for us that I’m really excited about! That explains all the exclamation marks 🙂

    As part of our by mail programming, we let patrons know about activities they can do at home that fit with the theme (we’re doing STEM this year) and I also do follow up calls with everyone to see how their summer is going, what they’re reading and how we can better serve them. It’s a great time for outreach as well!

  4. Sarah West

    My library’s ultimate goal for summer reading is to make reading fun for everyone. We have children set a reading goal of how much time they will read each week. We recommend 15mins a day but it is up to the family to decide. This means that children will not feel pressured to read the same amount of books as others. We did a lot of educating to our non-children’s staff about the importance of praising children for whatever they read and not to judge if a child appears to be reading below their grade level. We want kids to read things they enjoy and visit us once a week and chat with staff about what they have read so we can reinforce how great it is for them to be reading.

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