Evidence Summary


Public Library Summer Reading Programs Contribute to Reading Progress and Proficiency


A Review of:

Roman, S., & Fiore, C. (2010). Do public library summer reading programs close the achievement gap? Children and Libraries, (Winter), 27-31.


Reviewed by:

Gayle Bogel

Assistant Professor, Educational Technology/School Library Media

Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions

Fairfield University

Fairfield, Connecticut, United States of America

Email: gbogel@fairfield.edu


Received: 28 Nov. 2011                                                                Accepted: 28 Jan. 2012



Description: cc-ca_logo_xl 2012 Bogel. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative CommonsAttributionNoncommercialShare Alike License 2.5 Canada (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/byncsa/2.5/ca/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly attributed, not used for commercial purposes, and, if transformed, the resulting work is redistributed under the same or similar license to this one.





Objectives To explore summer reading partnerships between public libraries and school libraries, and the impact on student achievement in reading.


Design – The design is mixed methods: tests, interviews and surveys.


Setting – Eleven US sites involving school and public library partners.


Subjects – A total of 357 elementary school students entering fourth grade that met specific criteria. Parents, teachers, school librarians and public librarians were also included.


Methods This study occurred over a three year period from 2006-2009. It was developed as a partnership between Dominican University, the Colorado State Library Agency and the Texas Library and Archives Commission. Additionally, the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University was contracted to conduct the research. It was designed to explore the research question central to a 1978 study by Barbara Heyns.


An advisory committee, with representatives from each partner agency, developed evaluation questions and established the objective selection criteria for participants in the study. The criteria included: at least 50% of students qualifying for free and reduced price meals; at least 85 percent of school population would take the reading proficiency test in English; public library summer reading programs with a minimum of six weeks of programming; a history of collaboration between the paired school and public library applicants; both school and public library would sign a partnership agreement and participate in conference calls.


In spring of 2008, students at participating sites were given a pre-test using the Scholastic Reading Inventory, and also provided with special summer reading logs developed for the study, to be used during their subsequent participation in the public library summer reading programs. 


In fall of 2008, the same children were tested on the Scholastic Reading Inventory. In addition, surveys of students, parents, teachers and library staff were administered, as well as a structured interview of library staff.


Main Results The students who participated in the public library summer reading program did not experience summer loss in reading as measured by the post test administered in their schools.


The researchers note patterns in the demographics of students who chose to participate (participation was self-selected and voluntary): predominantly Caucasian girls above poverty level, who generally scored well on reading tests. Those who participated in the study also used libraries, had more books in their homes, and parents who used libraries and provided literacy activities at home.


Teachers found that students who participated in the program started the school year ready to learn, had improved reading achievement and displayed stronger motivation, enjoyment and confidence in reading. Parents of students who participated in the program also strongly agreed that their children where better prepared to begin the school year.


Conclusion – The results from this study confirmed findings from an earlier study (Heyns, 1978) and subsequent related research that summer reading programs in public libraries can contribute to maintaining reading progress and proficiency, and that the recreational reading that is available to all students regardless of socioeconomic status through the public library can make a difference in reading scores.


In this article the researchers presented results and conclusions based on selected subsets of the results in the full study. The participants were self-reported and no control group was established.   


The researchers also use the results of the study as a starting point to provide a call to action that highlights the value of public library summer reading programs, and the need for the education community to invest in partnerships with public libraries, particularly in communities that serve children and families in low-economic or depressed areas. They also note the need to include parents and grandparents in outreach efforts. 





While there is significant research to support the value of public libraries in teaching children to read – not as instructional supports, but to provide the vitally important recreational reading that helps children develop as engaged readers – the education community has been slow to focus on the value of partnerships between school and public libraries. Public libraries provide support for independent reading that builds on the instructional role of the school and classroom teachers, and augments the school library collections, particularly during the summer months.


The authors’ methodology was designed to measure the effect of summer reading programs on at-risk students, but, by the description of the participants and actual data collected, it is not clear whether they were able to achieve this goal since it appears that the majority of actual participants were not at-risk students. The authors did, however, translate the entirety of the research to a call for action that encompasses the potential value of collaborative efforts between agencies and is applicability across several states.


Previous research has consistently shown that pleasurable reading builds fluency and confidence, and children who enjoy reading a wide variety of materials are likely to have higher scores on reading achievement tests (Krashen, 2004). Particularly for disadvantaged children, the availability of public library reading materials and the support of summer reading programs may help combat the long-term educational consequences (lower achievement in all areas) that result from cumulative effects of summer learning loss. The value of public libraries summer reading programs has been well documented (Allington, et.al, 2010; Gordon, 2008; Gordon & Lu, 2008) and this study supports the view that partnerships between schools and public libraries can provide significant support for children from all socioeconomic groups in establishing and maintaining consistent progress in learning to read.


The final section, the call to action, outlines specific strategies that can be implemented in daily practice to capitalize on the findings of this study.





Allington, R. L., McGill-Frazen A., Camilli G., Williams L., Graff J.,  Zeig J., Zmach C., & Nowak R. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411-427.


Alexander, K., Entwistle D., & Olsen L. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 167-180.


Gordon, C. (2008). A never-ending story: Action research meets summer reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(2) 34-41.


Gordon, C., & Lu, Y.L. (2008) I hate to read, or do I? Low achievers and their reading. School Library Media Research, 11. Retrieved 13 Feb. 2012 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmrcontents/ volume11/gordon_lu.cfm


Heyns, B. (1978). Summer learning and the effects of schooling. New York: Academic Press.


Krashen, S. (2004) The power of reading: Insights from the research. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.