Literacy Bridges in Family and Community Engagement

Public Libraries in Summer – the Community Bridge to Families

 //  Feb 4, 2022

Public Libraries in Summer – the Community Bridge to Families

In this blog post, Aaron P. Dworkin, Chief Executive Officer, and Liz McChesney, Field Consultant for the National Summer Learning Association, write about public libraries as a resource for families over the summer.

The mission of the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) is to combat summer learning loss,  and now with all we have experienced over the last several years,learning loss as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are also focused on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps which research shows increase most between lower and higher income children over the summer months. In addition, the negative effects of interrupted and unfinished learning on students has been well documented and is ongoing. Intentional, creative, collaborative and quality summer learning has been identified as a key national strategy and priority to help all students catch up and propel forward. NSLA trains and works with the leaders and summer program staff of more than 15,000 school districts, non-profits and youth serving government agencies supporting millions of students across the country, especially the most vulnerable. In particular, NSLA is proud to lift up the work of the nation’s public libraries as meaningful partners in learning over the summer.

The public library has a unique role in summer learning efforts because they often serve as connectors for programs, partnerships, and local government, including schools and educational councils. Public libraries are providers of free and accessible summer learning activities and books. Additionally, libraries hold a trusted relationship within the communities they serve, and have a unique, community-wide footprint, placing libraries at the heart of every community. Public libraries are committed to equity and access, and as such offer drop-in summer programs that focus on both reading for joy, engaging reluctant readers and book access, all of which are free and available to the entire community.

For over a century, public libraries have provided books, learning and opportunities to youth in the summertime. What started as Victorian-era reading to keep youth on the moral path has exploded into joyous, interest-driven learning aligned to critical 21st Century learning skills and underscored with beautiful, culturally affirming books, music and programs. Workshops for parents and caregivers, inter-generational and inclusive family programs help build strong outcomes, books are given away to help build home libraries, and meaningful time is given to reflect on learning. Public libraries routinely center their programs on youth voice and give a place for youth to interact with caring library professionals in a safe environment—all hallmarks of quality summer programs for NSLA.

While learning loss research underscores the importance of helping youth in Kindergarten through 3rd grade recover reading and math skills, the added good news is that public libraries across the country offer reading and learning programs specifically targeted to these ages during the critical out of school times and especially during summer. Interest-driven programs also embed critical early math, social-emotional learning, and play-based programming to develop the “whole child.” Libraries also have a role in reducing barriers to help youth learn, thousands of public libraries who serve youth living in poverty now offer USDA meals and after-school snacks, often paired with a book.

The public library is a trusted partner in communities. Recognizing that we are “better together” and that it takes the enormous and collective resources of the community to reach all children, public libraries are strong partners for other summer and out of school time programs. For example, libraries will often foster relationships with “park districts” to bring literacy and learning to campers who may not otherwise have access to the outdoors. Library relationships with schools allows NSLA to align summer learning data to instructional priorities as well as reach parents, and our ability to share program materials makes us a strong ally of community camps and other summer programs. Public libraries help build capacity for learning throughout the community and partnerships help us amplify our results. Read here about how the Stark District Library in Canton, OH, is partnering with a local elementary school to provide learning activities for more than 2,000 rising kindergarteners through third graders with targeted learning interventions, meals, and book ownership opportunities.

At the 2021 National Summer Learning Association annual conference, the American Library Service-American Library Service to Children (ALSC) previewed a new national toolkit, Learning Beyond, which helps libraries build 21st century capacity for their programs based on principles of equity, youth voice, STEM and 21st century learning and positive youth development principles, outcomes-based evaluation and the principles for effective partnership. Libraries from across the nation were able to be a part of this pivotal reveal.

NSLA is proud to support the role of public libraries in summer learning and to advance the learning of library professionals with our Professional Learning Community and conference tracks. Public libraries remain essential partners in the collective national effort to close the opportunity gap for all our youth, especially during the summer.