Public library summer reading programs build communities of readers and library users, and help prevent summer learning loss in children and teens.

Furthermore, now that schools are implementing the Common Core Curriculum, which embeds literacy in all parts of the curriculum, reading is an even more essential skill for our children and teens.

Below you will find information on the importance summer reading programs and the value of reading, resources relating to summer learning loss, and information on generating results that will demonstrate the impact of your summer reading program.

Why Summer Reading Programs Matter: Information Sheet

Download our information sheet on Why Summer Reading Programs Matter and use it to promote the value of summer reading to community members and stakeholders. Select the statements that will resonate most strongly with your community, add your library’s branding and summer reading graphics, and let everyone know why the work you do is so important.

Preventing Summer Learning Loss

  • Summer learning loss erases gains made during the school year, but summer learning programs keep kids growing! Infographic from the Summer Matters Campaign!
  • In 2007, Alexander et al reported that the high SES-low SES achievement gap at ninth grade mainly traces to differential summer learning during the elementary years.16
  • In a study of summer learning slide among elementary school children in Baltimore, Stephanie L. Slates et al found that low-socioeconomic status (SES) students who gained as much as their higher-SES peers in reading or math during at least three of the four summers of elementary school had parents who took them to the library during the summer months, checked out books while there, and read to their children for longer periods of time than other low-SES parents. (2012)8
  • A pilot study at Missouri’s Mid-Continent Public Library suggests that summer reading programs raise student reading levels during the summer, particularly among at-risk youth. (2014)11
  • In 2010, a study carried out at Dominican University3 found that:
    • “Students who participated in the public library summer reading program scored higher on reading achievement tests at the beginning of the next school year than those students who did not participated and they gained in other ways as well.”
    • “While students who reported that they did not participate in the public library summer reading program also improved reading scores, they did not reach the reading level of the students who did participate.”
    • “Students who participated in the public library summer reading program had better reading skills at the end of third grade and scored higher on the standards test than the students who did not participate.”
  • A 2001 survey of summer reading programs in southern California4 notes that:
    • “Teachers reported on over 900 participating and non-participating students. Differences between students who participated in the Summer Reading Program and their non-participating peers were readily apparent. The most dramatic difference between students who participated in the program and their classmates was in their enthusiasm for reading.”
    • With respect to reading skills, teachers categorized a higher percentage of participating students than non-participating students as at grade level or above grade level.
  • A survey of summer reading programs in Pennsylvania in 20015 reported that:
    • “Observations at various libraries and interviews with parents, children, and library staff reveal that preschool and summer reading programs encourage children to spend significant amounts of time with books, a first step towards reading achievement.”
    • “Observations and interviews also show that library programs encourage parents to play great roles in their children’s literacy development—another factor leading to reaching achievement.”
    • “Finally, experimental methods showed that children who attend library summer reading programs read significantly better than those children who attend a camp program, suggesting that the time children spend in the library significantly enhances their reading achievement compared to other recreational activities.”

Providing Students with the Books and Guidance they Need to Keep Reading During the Summer

  • In “Eliminating Summer Reading Setback: How We Can Close the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap,” Allington and McGill-Franzen state that “Summer reading setback has been well established as a major contributor to the rich/poor reading achievement gap. Although well established, the reseach has been largely ignored by schools as well as by state and federal agencies. The evidence available suggests that the limited access that children from low-income families have to books lies at the base of the summer reading setback. The evidence also suggests that providing children from low-income families with self-selected books to read during the summer is an effective strategy for addressing the problems of summer reading loss.” (2013)7
  • A 2010 study of summer setback among economically disadvantaged elementary school students by Allington et al 6 concludes that “This study provides the best evidence to date that ensuring easy and continuing access to self-selected books for summer reading is one potential strategy for addressing summer reading setback and, therefore, addressing the reading achievement gap that exists between students from more and less economically advantaged families.” (pp. 423-424)
  • Krashen and Shin assert in a Public Library Quarterly article that children from high-income families make better progress in reading over the summer because they read more during the summer months, and high-income children read more during the summer because they have more access to books both within and outside the home. (2004)13
  • Mraz and Rasinski state in an article on the Reading Rockets website that “Access to reading materials has been consistently identified as a vital element in enhancing the reading development of children. Of all the activities in which children engage outside of school, time spent actually reading is the best predictor of reading achievement.” (2007)15
  • In an article on the National Summer Learning Association’s website, James Kim states that: “[Voluntary summer reading programs] work best when adults and teachers get involved by helping students to choose appropriate books and employ simple techniques to improve skill and understanding. Providing books with no guidance may not help much at all. But when children get help choosing skill-appropriate books and read those books over the summer break, both independently and with guidance from family members, reading achievement scores can improve significantly.”
  • McGill and Allington reported in 2003 that “the best predictor of summer loss or summer gain is whether or not a child reads during the summer.” Their work also highlights the importance of conducting outreach to children in poor neighborhoods, as they report the challenges that low-income children face in visiting the library. They say: “Research shows that public library use among poor children drops off when a library is more than six blocks from their home, compared with more than two miles for middle-class children.”12
  • In their review of 39 studies of summer learning loss and achievement, Cooper et al state that “low-income students showed an average loss in reading achievement over the summer… while middle-income students showed an average gain.” (1996)14
  • For more research, public policy, news and much more about summer learning loss, see the National Summer Learning Association’s website.

The Value of Reading Five or More Books During the Summer

  • The White House has reported that reading just five books over the summer prevents learning loss.
  • This statement is backed up by research by Harvard professor Jimmy Kim. With the caveat that his research shows “promising yet preliminary findings,” Kim states: “Similar to prior research on summer learning… I found that the volume of summer book reading was positively related to fall reading achievement independent of prior reading and writing skills and student background characteristics…. The benefits of reading books during summer vacation were also consistent for all ethnic groups. In particular, reading four to five books had significantly larger effects than reading three or fewer books.” (2004)1
  • In her landmark study of public library summer reading programs, Barbara Heyns found that children who read at least six books during the summer main or improve their reading skills, while children who didn’t read any books saw their reading skills decline by as much as one grade level.2
  • To see how many California children and teens read five or more books as part of public library summer reading programs, see our results page.

The Importance of Reading

  • A 2013 study from the University College, London, Institute of Education found that children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers.
  • A 2001 Report of the National Reading Panel which reviewed hundreds of studies states that “the more children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comphrehension”9
    Cunningham and Stanovich, authors of a 1998 study, found that the more kids read the more they build their language and vocabulary skills.10
  • For further research and information on the value of free voluntary reading, see Stephen Krashen’s website.

Collected Research

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has compiled a flyer on summer learning loss issues, the value of summer reading programs, the importance of self-selection of reading materials, and the importance of safe, supervised activities in the summer.


  1. Kim, Jimmy (2004) ‘Summer Reading and the Ethnic Achievement Gap’, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 9: 2, 169-188
  2. Barbara Heyns, Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling (New York, NY: Academic Press, 1978).
  3. Susan Roman, Deborah T. Carran, and Carole D. Fiore, The Dominican Study: Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Reading Gap (River Forest, IL: Dominican University Graduate School of Library & Information Science, 2010), 1, accessed August 16, 2010
  4. Evaluation and Training Institute, Evaluation of the Public Library Summer Reading Program: Books and Beyond… Take Me To Your Reader! Final Report (December 2001), 13-14
  5. Donna Celano and Susan B. Neuman, The Role of Public Libraries in Children’s Literacy Development: An Evaluation Report (Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Library Association, 2001), 4.
  6. Richard L. Allington, Anne McGill-Franzen, Gregory Camilli, Lunetta Williams, Jennifer Graff, Jacqueline Zeig, Courtney Zmach & Rhonda Nowak (2010): Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students, Reading Psychology, 31:5, 411-427
  7. Richard L. Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen (2013): Eliminating Summer Reading Setback: How We Can Close the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap, Reading Today, April/May 2013, 10-11
  8. Stephanie L. Slates, Karl L. Alexander, Doris R. Entwistle & Linda S. Olsen (2012) Counteracting Summer Slide: Social Capital Resources Within Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Families, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 17:3, 165-185.
  9. Cunningham, J. W. (2001). “Report of the National Reading Panel: teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction.” Reading Research Quarterly, 36(3), 326-335.
  10. Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich K. E. (1988). “What Reading Does for the Mind.” American Educator/American Federation of Teachers. Spring/Summer, 108.
  11. Barack, Lauren, Mid-Continent Library Proves Summer Reading Programs Boost Student Achievement. (Accessed 2/17/14).
  12. McGill-Franzen, A., & Allington R. (2003 May/June) “Bridging the Summer Reading Gap.” Instructor, 112 no. 8.
  13. Krashen, S., & Shin F. (2004). Summer Reading and the Potential Contribution of the Public Library in Improving Reading for Children of Poverty. Public Library Quarterly, 23 (3/4), 99-109.
  14. Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227-268.
  15. Marz, M. and Rasinski, T. Summer Reading Loss: Reading Rockets Accessed February 28, 2014.
  16. Alexander, K.L., Entwistle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2007) Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap. American Sociological Reviews, 72 (April), 167-180.