Are Summer Reading Programs Effective? Issues in program evaluation.

Bam, Pow, Read! Manchester City Library, CC BY-SA 2.0

The goal of Summer reading programs (SRPs) is to encourage reading over the summer holidays.  It is thought that SRPs offered by public libraries may help prevent “summer reading setback” which refers to a decline in reading skills over the holidays, or “summer slide”, a tendency to lose some of the gains in academic achievement over the school holidays.

It is assumed that reading loss occurs over the long holiday break when children do not read.  Emily Bent (2015) explains that this reading loss accumulates, and children fall further behind in reading and learning over time.  Summer reading loss occurs most frequently in children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Julia Proctor, writing for the Age, reports that debate exists as to whether “summer slide” exists in Australia.  A spokesman for the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said that it was not a concern in Victoria, but Rhonda Craven, from the ACU, stated that summer slide does exist in Australia.  Tom Nicholson, Professor of Literacy Education at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, reported that some students’ reading levels dropped by as much as 6 months over the summer break.  When students were given books to read over the summer, Professor Nicholson found that lower SES students maintained or improved their reading skills, and advised parents to get students to read over the summer.

It seems that SRPs delivered by public libraries could help to address the issue of summer reading loss.  Matthews (2013) cited a study in which teachers reported that 31% of participants in a SRP maintained or improved reading skills, compared to 5% of non-participants.  Matthews’ own survey of parents’ perceptions following their child’s participation in a SRP indicated a number of positive outcomes including increased reading comprehension, vocabulary, time spent reading, and enjoyment of reading.

de Groot (2009) says that SRPs aim to help children develop into lifelong readers, but identified the following issues with public library SRPs in Canada:

  • children viewed reading as a solitary, individual pursuit
  • library staff lack time, experience and training to plan and implement SRPs in small- to medium-sized public libraries
  • diverse populations and expectations
  • other challenges such as fluctuating attendance and costs.

SLQ has a Summer Reading Club (SRC) that is delivered Australia-wide, online and in participating public libraries, in partnership with ALIA and APLA.  SLQ’s 2015 Summer reading club report states that:

“Research continues to demonstrate that access to books, involvement in fun recreational reading programs and extending connections to literature through arts and multi-media activities has proven to combat the Summer Slide. As such, libraries are best situated to help children and families support continued development of multi-literacy skills in children throughout the summer.”

It appears that summer reading programs in public libraries are ideally placed to encourage reading during the school holidays in a positive, enjoyable way.  SLQ’s SRC provides support and resources for public libraries to participate in their annual themed SRC program, and I think this centralised support helps to alleviate the issues identified by de Groot in effective planning and implementation of SRPs.

The SLQ SRC report further states that:

“The outcomes of the 2015 SRC continue to demonstrate that the program is an effective means by which to engage children and young people with literature, literacy and their local library during the Australian summer holidays.”

Some research indicates that SRPs are effective in preventing summer reading loss, however, it was noted that outcomes related to actual changes in reading skills after participation in a SRP are rarely measured to determine SRP effectiveness. The SLQ SRC reported outcomes (above) do not state that children’s reading levels improved following participation in the SRC; it focuses more on the program being a good way to engage children with literature over the holidays.  Program evaluations that linked improvements in reading to SRP attendance would provide more evidence for the statement that SRPs do, in fact, prevent summer reading loss.


You’ve got a makerspace…now where’s your maker?

We discussed makerspaces in libraries in our Twitter chat #ifn614makechat  on Monday night.  It was a lively conversation! We talked a lot about whether the library is the right place for a makerspace, with many agreeing that if there was a community need, and it could be related to the parent body’s strategic plan, then yes, a makerspace should be a priority for the library to enable access to technology that many in the community would otherwise not be able to access; e.g. see Katie Ferguson’s tweet.

Not everyone agreed that the library was the right place for a makerspace; e.g. Sharee Cordes suggesed that creativity might be better supported by the art gallery.  Sharee Cordes went further to comment that if libraries were going to provide makerspaces, why only offer technology, and not also offer resources to support people’s interest in more traditional maker pastimes such as pottery?

It appeared to be a controversial issue, and so I wanted to find out what is currently happening in makerspaces in Australian libraries.  A web search on “libraries makerspaces” brought up a list of relevant results on the first page – 50% of the search results on the first page were from Australia, showing that makerspaces are indeed emerging in public libraries in Australia.


Screen shot of Google search results, retrieved 22 September, 2016.

One of the results was a link to a slideshare presentation by Slatter and Howard (2013) about makerspaces in public libraries. This led me to read their article, A place to make, hack and learn: makerspaces in Australian public libraries (2013)In their article, Slatter and Howard stated that many Australian libraries have adapted their programming models to incorporate makerspaces.  They observed that the general consensus of the literature was largely supportive of the library makerspace movement, although some opponents existed: e.g. See Hugh Rundle’s post from 2013  for an alternative viewpoint.

Slatter and Howard also noted that most of the research into makerspaces is from the United States and that there was little research on makerspaces in Australia. In their qualitative study, Slatter and Howard looked at makerspaces in Australian public libraries, interviewing a small sample of 3 information professionals who had set up, or were in the process of setting up makerspaces in their libraries.  They identified benefits, challenges and identified some possible strategies.

The search results from the United States showed how much further along they are with the development of makerspaces in libraries.  See Sharona Ginsberg’s website, which is a resource guide on the subject of makerspaces, maker culture, and 3D printing in libraries in the USA, and visit Maker Bridge,  the online community Ginsberg has created for people interested in the maker movement in schools and libraries. I read 3 articles on Maker Bridge, and each one highlighted an issue I hadn’t yet thought of.

A quote from this blog post resonated with me: “Makers make makerspaces”, bringing home the fact that libraries need to consider how they will acquire and sustain the expertise to make the most of their makerspace.  After dealing with budgetary considerations, resistance to change and proving the relevance of the makerspace, a library may well be able to provide the space and the equipment, but the programming and technical expertise considerations are significant.  As librarians, we must know our limitations. If we don’t have the skills, or the time to acquire the skills to use the equipment, and develop effective programming to teach the community, the equipment will not be utilised to its best capacity.  Does an unused makerspace represent value for money?  What consequences will this have for the relationship between the library, the community, parent bodies and funding bodies?  The issue of funding ongoing technical expertise will need to be carefully considered, and factored into budgets in order to create sustainable library makerspaces that will serve their communities into the future.