Montgomery County libraries see summer reading surge

Montgomery County, Maryland, libraries have seen a seven-year high for participation in the system’s summer reading challenge.

This summer, nearly 13,000 children and teenagers signed up to take part in the Montgomery County Public Library system’s annual program designed to keep kids excited about reading over their summer break.

More than 3,000 of the participants were five and under, said Cassandra Malik, who manages early literacy and children’s services for the library system.

“The vast majority of our participants actually fell within the six- to 12-year-old range,” Malik said.

And it’s not just the younger kids taking part. More than 1,200 teenagers signed up for the reading challenge.

By comparison, only some 500 teens participated last summer, Malik said, adding that this year’s increase is something of which the libraries are really proud.

On whether parents’ concern about possible learning loss may have motivated them to urge their children to participate, Malik said there were a number of other reasons that may have kindled the enthusiasm.

How libraries get kids to keep reading over the summer

Librarians get the word out that there’s a fun-and free-activity available to all Montgomery County families. Every year, librarians do outreach in local schools to talk about the summer reading challenge.

“So we’re able to have that direct connection with kids who see a librarian come and talk about the program and the great books they can get at the library over the summer and the fun activities they can participate in,” Malik said.

This year, the library system did something different. They partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to help support the going green initiative.

Instead of offering “little plastic prizes like we did in the past,” Malik said the library system created a series of reading missions, and when each mission was completed, a different action to help the Chesapeake Bay Foundation restore the bay was carried out.

For example, after children read four books and complete four related activities, trees would be planted along rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Other completed missions would result in Chesapeake Bay Foundation volunteers going out to clean up habitats, and plant oysters in the bay.

“Children and teens felt like they were actually making an important contribution to help save the bay, so they were working toward a communal goal all together to make a difference,” Malik said.

The Washington Nationals are also partners in the effort.

“When our participants got to the halfway point of the program, they received a voucher to receive two free tickets to a Nationals game,” Malik said.

Another draw was the fact that all children got a free book appropriate to their reading level at the start of the program, Malik said. In past years, kids got a free book at the end of the program, but the switch meant kids kicked off the summer with a book of their very own.

Malik said

One parent sent a message thanking the library system saying that her daughter got a book she normally wouldn’t choose, Malik said.

Malik said the library has a variety of programs and activities to help parents make reading fun for kids, so that it becomes a lifelong and enjoyable habit. And some of those materials, such as the game boards that are part of the summer reading challenge, are translated into Amharic, Spanish, Chinese, French and Korean.

“We’re doing whatever we can to reach different communities and different language speakers in Montgomery County,” Malik said.

Malik added that there are events and programs available year-round to keep residents connected to their libraries.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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