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.

Library program review: Silver Wattle Book club

Gapers Block Book Club: Water for Elephants, by Daniel X. O’Neil (CC BY 2.0)

Tea and a good book – what could be better?

I reviewed a book club for reading and literacy week in our subject, Information Programs, Products and Services.  Rockhampton Regional Library  runs a program of “Lively Events” for adult community members that includes monthly book clubs, mah-jong meetings, classic movies, trivia.net (in which people are taught to use the internet to find answers to trivia questions) and other activities.

I attended a book club at the library in historic Mt Morgan, a former gold mining town, located about 35 minutes from Rockhampton.  The Silver Wattle Book Club is held once a month at the library, between 2:00 and 3:00 pm, and is facilitated by the Librarian, Kath.  The library assistant also participates. Books are chosen collaboratively by the group.  The group has a “loose” agenda of democratically going around the table to get everyone’s impressions of the book, then moves on to further discussion about the book, facilitated by the librarian.  When the discussion of the selected book is finished, the group moves on to a sharing of other books that they have been enjoying recently. The group finishes up with a cup of tea, and a reminder of the next meeting.

This month’s book was “Grace’s Table”  by Brisbane author, Sally Piper.  (The book was very good, by the way).  When I arrived, the librarian made me feel very welcome, as did the other group members; introductions were made and I was given an explanation of how the group runs.  The discussion was wide ranging, from the shared cultural meaning of Arnott’s biscuits, to the unequal roles of men and women in suburban Australia in the early 1970s, to the relative merits of listening to an audio book over reading a book.

Having never been to a book club before, I turned to the literature and the internet to find out more about book clubs and how they typically run, to provide a more informed assessment.

Book clubs have been around for centuries; from promoting self-development or “self-culture”  in 19th Century literate, upper-class women, through to a more inclusive focus today in which anyone and everyone, from any background, can access a book club in person, or online, to discuss books.  Alvarez-Alvarez  (2015) describes book clubs as consisting of individuals who are “consumers of literature”, who meet regularly to discuss an agreed-upon book they have chosen to read during an agreed-upon time-frame (usually monthly).  Book clubs usually welcome diversity in age, gender, culture and education, but special interest groups also form; e.g. online feminist book clubs,  which provide a forum for young women to critically discuss the depiction of women in mainstream novels and advocate for social change.  I was interested to discover that Emma Watson   founded a feminist book club on GoodReads , in her capacity as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. It has over 140000 members, which I think says something about the way celebrity can raise the profile of a misunderstood, controversial term like “feminism”.  (I really want to read this month’s book by Carrie Brownstein, “Hunger makes me a modern girl”).

So, back to my review of the Silver Wattle Book Club.  The book club conforms to the above description of book clubs provided by Alvarez-Alvarez, and the way the group was run was similar to that recommended by the American Library Association (ALA)  ; so it would appear that it is a fairly conventional book club.  I would also rate highly the valuable social function the Silver Wattle book club performs, by enabling library members to participate in community life, and form social relationships.  This function also aligns with Council’s Community and Cultural Development goal of providing services across the region “to build a strong, inclusive and proud community” (p 12).   Finally, I was welcomed to the group, felt comfortable enough to participate and contribute my opinions, and was happy to share my love of books and reading with a group of like-minded people.

I would go again.