October 2018 | Volume XXXVI. Issue 5 »

Summer Reading, Summer Collaborating

September 20, 2018
Lorrie Hansen and Mary Michell, Skokie Public Library and Jessica Augustson, Danville Public Library

Collaborative partnerships between libraries and community organizations offer multiple benefits to both the partners themselves and the community members they serve, including the sharing limited resources and supporting one another to meet common goals. The result can be to encourage more community members to visit the library, to bring the library’s programs or collections to the patrons where they are, or accomplishing something neither partner could do alone.


One successful initiative began in 2012 when librarians in the youth services department at the Skokie Public Library recognized that pleasure reading was plummeting when students began middle school, and they decided to take action to find a way to keep students engaged when they had more leisure time over the summer.

An enthusiastic group of YA-reading librarians formed a committee to consider the options, and “Hot Summer Reads” was launched. The purpose was to craft an exciting list of books that appealed to students in sixth through eighth grade. The library would promote the list through an in-library display in close proximity to the youth services desk and call on librarians and teachers at local junior high and middle schools to help schedule booktalks from mid-April through May as the school year began to wind down. Booktalks ranged from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the school schedule, and were offered to individual classrooms, in grade-level groups, or as a large, assembly-style program based on each school’s request.

It wasn’t long before team members were attempting to plow through every new and potentially interesting YA book they could get their hands on to come up with the list. To narrow the field, a set of criteria was developed which included attention-grabbing subjects, fast-moving plots, tween or teen protagonists, and mostly contemporary settings. Monthly meetings included compelling conversations and requests for additional readers to consider books of interest. After the final list of 10 titles was curated, a double-sided bookmark was produced which featured the cover of each book and a short annotation.

From its inception, Hot Summer Reads was a phenomenal success in large part due to the partnership with local schools. After each booktalk an influx of students visited the public library’s youth services department to select a book or two, and books on the featured list had high checkout rates and long wait lists all summer. In 2016, a second committee was formed to develop a similar program called “Cool Summer Reads” to extend the age range served. Its mission is to highlight and promote excellent books in a wide variety of genres for children in grades three to five with a range of reading abilities and interests.

Both programs have continued to evolve over time, which has led to their continued popularity. The library-school partnership has been critical every step of the way. The most recent change was to invite students to participate in the book selection process. Toward the beginning of the school year, nomination forms and boxes were dropped off with the librarians at each of the local schools, students were encouraged to nominate books they thought should be considered, and library staff collected and reviewed their submissions to determine if they merited inclusion on the final lists.

School partners also use the final Hot and Cool Summer Reads lists, as a whole or in part, as recommended summer reading for students or to supplement lists created by their librarians and teachers. 2018 Hot Summer Reads can be found at https://skokielibrary.info/lists/1133/hot-summer-reads-2018/ and 2018 Cool Summer Reads are here: https://skokielibrary.info/lists/1134/cool-summer-reads-2018/.


Another way to work with community partners over the summer is to develop a mutually beneficial program to bring library services and collections to outside organizations so that community members who aren’t able to get to the library still have access. As part of their mission to connect the community with knowledge, information, and culture, the outreach services department at Danville Public Library in East Central Illinois has taken summer reading on the road by visiting the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, and a couple of housing projects in cooperation with Danville Housing Authority.

The children they visit often don’t have transportation to the library, are uncomfortable coming to a public space like the library, or are unable to obtain a library card. For these reasons— and because they believe that access to literacy programs should extend beyond the building’s walls—Danville librarians bring the summer reading program out into the community.

The Danville Public Library uses ILA’s iREAD summer reading program, and uses storytimes, crafts, and games to engender a love of reading and education. At the conclusion of the program, each student receives a summer reading bag, a book, and a set of school supplies to reward them for their participation and to help them apply what they have learned over the summer in the upcoming school year.

Organizing the program involves contacting the locations to ask if they would like to participate and creating a schedule that suits everyone. They also solicit feedback so that they know what worked and what didn’t in order to improve the program the following year. The program lasts through June and July with library personnel going to each location as guest presenters. Staff members from the community partner organization remain on hand to assist with crafts and discipline as needed.

Each week a theme is spotlighted and the content is adjusted to suit the age group of the participants. For instance, since iRead’s summer reading theme this year was “Reading Takes You Everywhere,” space travel and science fiction were the focus during one week: younger kids made toilet-paper roll rocket ships while the older kids made models of nebulas in mason jars. Another week, the kids explored an ancient Egyptian pyramid through the use of a Choose Your Own Adventure book and then wrote their names in hieroglyphs. The important thing is to make reading fun and engage the children. This year Danville librarians worked with 180 children from the ages of five to seventeen.

iREAD Summer Reading Programs

Since 1981, iREAD provides high quality, low-cost resources and products that enable local library staff to motivate children, young adults, and adults to read.

Visit the iREAD website »