Kids might often perceive the library as a place that’s boring and quiet – the last place they would want to spend their summer.
However, Lisa Campbell, the summer learning program coordinator at Mid-Continent Public Library, hopes she’s helped change this mentality. She called planning the program, which ran from May 21 to July 31, “crazy fun,” summing up 10 weeks that included live zoo animals, concerts and mad science experiments.
“I think a lot of people still think, ‘I’m going to the library. I’m going to do research, or I’m going to get a book, and I’m going to read.’ If you want to create something, we have art programs. We have music programs,” Campbell said.
“You can see all these birds flying around all over the place. You can set things on fire in the library. We have the opportunity for kids to see things that they wouldn’t see other places.”
Although the summer reading program dates back decades, last year staff made the decision to shift to “summer learning,” a change that has boosted involvement. This summer, registration rose to over 1,000 kids, who spent two months cooking, coding and dancing, alongside traditional reading.
While these changes have aimed to make the program more expansive and fun, its central goal has remained the same: eliminating what staff members call a “summer slide,” during which students struggle to retain what they’ve learned during the school year. In fact, teachers often incentivize their students to complete the program with classroom points and other prizes.
Public relations coordinator Emily Brown says the 21 school districts that the library serves view library personnel as partners. They also participate in a continuous study to assess the summer learning program’s effectiveness.
In addition to evaluating the program’s educational impact, library staff regularly discuss its accessibility and outreach. Staff members feel a strong sense of pride in the library’s free planning, which offers an alternative to expensive summer entertainment.
“Read things that are interesting, do things that are fun, and learn,” Brown summarized. “For some kids, the program is a chance to see their friends, too. Libraries are a community space, and they are meant for people to come, grow and hang out with each other.”
Campbell has observed this philosophy firsthand this summer, as her 11-year-old niece frequented the library and explored its many uses. She says her niece has spent both long, quiet afternoons reading at the library as well as “giggly” days playing board games and creating elaborate Lego constructions with friends.
“She is actually asking to go to the library,” Campbell said. “To her, it’s no longer just the stuffy place where Aunt Lisa works.”