Every Library Should Have a Summer Reading Program for Adults

Each year, practically every public library across the United States runs a summer reading program for children. Age ranges vary, but the typical audience is school age children. The reason is that summer reading programs are generally designed to fight the summer slide–a term used to describe the loss of academic gains by students who do not read over the summer and who do not participate in learning activities such as going to museums. Children who do not read over the summer can lose an average of two monthsโ€™ of reading skillsโ€“and this loss is cumulative. So libraries have stepped in during the summer months to encourage students to keep reading while school is out.

Over the years, however, some libraries have started offering adult summer reading programs, as well. While these programs are typically smaller and receive less attention than the children’s programs, I believe they are valuable for the community. Adult summer programs encourage parents to sign up along with their children and model the practice of daily reading. They send the message that reading is a lifelong habit, something that can be done for pleasure and entertainment, not just something that is done to complete a homework assignment. They let children and teens know that the adults in their lives actually value reading because they do it, too–it’s not just something they force kids to do because “it’s good for them.”

Despite the benefits of incentivizing adults to read and model reading for children and teens, however, many libraries still limit their summer reading programs to younger age ranges. They may, understandably, fear the financial cost of running another large-scale reading program. But most adult programs are not as complicated as the children’s programs and they usually involve far fewer prizes. For instance, while children and teens may have the opportunity to earn a prize for every set amount of hours read, adults may simply go into a raffle for a prize–either a weekly one or one for the end of the summer. These raffle prizes can be donated by local companies, meaning that there does not have to be a large financial cost to offering an adult reading program.

Running adult reading programs shows children and teens that libraries and adults envision reading as a habit for life. Children cannot be convinced that reading is truly valuable if the adults they look up to will not read themselves. Every library should strive to offer the opportunity for adults to model the behavior they want their children to practice. Every library should have an adult summer reading program.

Does your library have an adult summer reading program? Do you participate?

31 thoughts on “Every Library Should Have a Summer Reading Program for Adults

  1. cryptomathecian says:

    I believe that a reading program for adults makes only sense when it goes against a prevailing trend since the trendy subjects anyway get enough attention in thee media: the winners of literary prizes, the #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, etc..So if a subject becomes trendy, just go against the stream. I know this is a kind of looking for the controversy and librarians are civil servants with political masters, but if a librarian wants to make people THINK, you can’t shy the controversy and just offer what’s the mainstream is recommending people to think about a certain subject.

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    • Krysta says:

      I don’t know if librarians particularly want the public to think anything about the summer reading program. In my experience, when you walk in, they usually just go, “Hey, if you read books, you can win prizes!” and let the lure of possible gift cards work its magic upon you. You can read whatever you want, so, if you’re in the library, and reading anyway, you just now have the bonus of maybe also winning something. It’s a pretty attractive prospect, in my opinion.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I see it as making sense for encouraging reading in general because 1) a large percentage of adults actually don’t read and 2) I agree with Krysta that having a program only for kids gives the impression that reading is for kids or that it’s just some educational thing that’s good for them, not something that’s fun.

      My former library did have an adult summer reading program, and it was fascinating/awkward to watch people come in, sign up their kids, and then refuse to join the adult program because “Oh, I don’t read.” I watched one librarian try really hard to be encouraging and say you can read anything, magazines, newspapers, whatever, and it didn’t have to be books, and the mother just kept saying she didn’t read. What message were her kids getting?

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  2. Never Not Reading says:

    I love your point about the parents modeling reading. It’s something we don’t talk about enough in children’s literacy.

    At my summer reading program the adult rewards are always coupons and cheap library swag. The coupons in particular are great for an adult program because they’re FREE, it’s not another piece of junk to find a spot for in my house, and it gives the library an opportunity to build relationships with businesses in the community.

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    • Krysta says:

      I’ve talked to library staff who have had mixed success with teaching parental modeling. Some said they participated basically in experiments where they tried explaining the importance of modeling throughout or at the beginning of story time, and parents largely tuned out. So I think many are now just hoping parents will somehow intuit that they can do at home what library staff are doing in the library.

      Yes! I love when they partner with local businesses because it gives those businesses some free advertising. And, of course, when you go in with a gift card, you very often end up spending more than the gift card, so the businesses benefit financially that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Never Not Reading says:

        Americans just don’t like to read (imo). We notice the same thing with teachers, that no matter how much we talk about the importance of them modeling a love of reading, we just can’t get them to read for pleasure. And that’s *teachers*. If they won’t do it, there’s no hope for the general masses.

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  3. Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner says:

    Well said. Where I lived summer reading was required for 1st through 12. Alongside that the library always had a summer reading program for kids and teens. I would always wish I could join in the fun but there’s nothing for adults, which would always make me sad. To have an adult program would be great and I think as well would encourage lifelong readers.

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    • Krysta says:

      That is sad! Maybe you could suggest the program to your library or library board? Who wouldn’t want to get adults excited about reading? ๐Ÿ˜€

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  4. Grab the Lapels says:

    As an adult woman with no children, I loathe when cool public venues leave us out. The zoo will have membership discounts for students, seniors, and people with children, but not adults without children. If a library has a summer reading program that isn’t for adults just because adults want to read, I’d be miffed. Both the library I work at and the one I patronize have adult summer reading. There should be adult summer reading programs because we want to celebrate reading too, not because we’re setting an example for anyone else.

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    • Krysta says:

      Oh, I agree adults don’t NEED to read to be an example to anyone. I sure don’t. I do think it’s helpful, though, if someone is requesting the library start an adult summer reading program, that they phrase the suggestion to indicate the program will further the library’s mission. I think saying, “This will promote literacy rates and a love of reading, and uplift the community!” is a more convincing sales pitch to libraries with limited staff and limited funds, who aren’t sure why they would bother.

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      • Grab the Lapels says:

        Ah, I see what you’re saying. I know that at my library it’s difficult to become a volunteer because we want everyone to have background checks first, and that can be cost prohibitive, but I always imagine communities in which adults become the “leader” of 4-5 children who meet every week at a time that fits with the children’s schedule and then they all talk about what they’ve been reading. Sort of like a real-life Reading Rainbow.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Ah, I see these as kind of different things. Kid discounts at museums and such are because people with multiple kids might have a hard time going at all if there weren’t discounts. If I go to a museum myself, it’s $20. If I were going with a partner and three kids, suddenly it’s $100 and starts looking attractive to just…not go to the museum.

      I also think adult summer reading would, of course, be about encouraging adults to enjoy and celebrate reading, but if people DO have kids, they get the extra benefit of modelling reading for their kids instead of having a “Do as I do, not as I say” thing. I think it can be a tough sell to tell your kid they have to read 10 books over the summer because “it’s good for them” but you the parent aren’t going to read anything, you know? So while many people won’t care about encouraging kids to read and obviously have no obligation to do so, some people will; that’s why a lot of them are signing their kids up for the kid program in the first place.

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          • Grab the Lapels says:

            Oh, jeez. That suggests, to me, that they may need more community engagement with adults. My manager was saying that libraries often target all sorts of groups through programming and community outreach EXCEPT adults without children who are not senior citizens.

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            • Krysta says:

              I honestly don’t know whom they were targeting because it was all chess club and niche foreign film showings. Adults also like pop culture. I’m sure they’d get more people in with something like Marvel Trivia, but, hey, no one asked me. I mean, they did in a community survey, but they clearly didn’t take my advice. ๐Ÿ˜‰

              I have noticed, though, that a lot of programs are scheduled for like 2 PM, so clearly those programs are not aimed at working adults.

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            • Grab the Lapels says:

              Yes! My new pandemic book club, which is virtual, is at 8:00PM, and you won’t believe how many people come who say they would never come otherwise. It’s especially great for working moms, who have a job all day and then have kids at night and don’t want to leave their children with a babysitter.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Samantha D. says:

    This is awesome, thank you! I just took over my library’s entire Summer Reading program. Up until now it seems that they have really focused heavily on those school aged kids as you mentioned before, and neglected the adults and to some extent the teens too. I’m really excited (and hopeful) for next year’s SRP. I want to make it a whole building event, and not just focused on children ESPECIALLY for the reasons you mentioned. Adults modeling that reading is a lifelong habit and not just for school projects is a huge push to get them to join, as well as just acknowledging our avid readers who may not have children to model for, it makes sense to me.

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  6. Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical says:

    Where I live, the libraries don’t even have a reading program for children. ๐Ÿ˜… But I definitely agree with everything you wrote in this post! I’ve been a reader since I learnt how to read, and it helped me to look at reading as something valuable or good that my mom is also a reader. It can make a big difference for children to see their parents also read, in my opinion, and these kind of programs are a good way for adults to feel encouraged to read. Great post! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Krysta says:

      Wow! That seems unusual! I know some libraries have smaller budgets, but some just do raffles instead of tons of prizes. And some are into beads now. You can collect them to make a necklace or something.

      Yes as well to encouraging adults! People tend to read less as they get older. It’s nice to remind adults that reading can be fun and relaxing!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

    Some really great points in this post! I know we do summer reading for the kids and winter for the adults, for several reasons. One, they’re both expensive. Two, we only have one program coordinator, and it takes A LOT of time to plan and coordinate both, so it would probably overwhelm her to try to do both side by side.

    I really do love the idea of having something small for the parents in the summer, too, though, just to model the behavior for the kids. Plus, it’s also fun to be able to read books together and count them jointly and such, and most kids would love participating WITH their parents.

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    • Krysta says:

      I definitely think an adult program could be small! I’ve seen libraries do weekly raffles or even just one raffle at the end. So you basically just have to collect entries and you can then raffle off some gift cards, which could be donated. I think, done right, it could be (relatively) easy!

      Liked by 1 person

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