Boost Library Attendance this Summer

5 min read

| By Gale Staff |

Public libraries play a vital role in our communities over the summer months. They offer a safe, accessible place for families, host free enrichment activities for community members, and encourage children to read and grow academically. According to one study from the School Library Journal, 97% of U.S. public libraries increase youth programming options during the summer, emphasizing art, the outdoors, reading, and STEM.

With school out of session, children in your community have free time to spare as well as extra energy and curiosity—not to mention parents eager to find ways to keep them active and productive. As a public librarian, how can you capitalize on summer break to better engage your patrons?

Find ways to showcase your library’s abundant resources and valuable role as a community partner by hosting movie nights, teaming up with nonprofits, and working with volunteers to keep students engaged. We’ve compiled an exciting list of program ideas for all ages to kick off the summer season.

Summer reading programs are easily the most popular public library initiatives, and many such programs experience increased engagement year after year. Summer reading programs are effective because they require little effort but generate tremendous benefits. The American Library Association outlines numerous advantages to these programs, particularly highlighting their efficacy in developing lifelong reading habits and filling a critical academic gap for young readers.

Don’t simply tally books. Everyone loves prizes, so consider providing small rewards for each milestone to boost engagement in your summer reading program. Themed tote bags, T-shirts, bookmarks, and reusable water bottles are easy to source. You might even consider special incentives for significant reading achievements (e.g., gift cards to local restaurants).

Regardless of age or reading level, public libraries offer a fun, creative environment for all patrons to improve their reading skills and discover exciting stories throughout the summer.

Thorndike Press large print books are designed to remove common barriers to reading. Large-print titles have more space throughout the text, which helps readers slow down and improve their reading comprehension. Thorndike Press helps patrons better engage with the stories and initiates a lifelong love of reading.

Besides a summer reading program, your library can also serve as a hub for students seeking extra academic assistance or stimulation. Consider offering fun weekly drop-in programs around math, reading, or science. You might also offer special classes on advanced topics, like coding or foreign languages. Leverage college teaching programs and local schools for professionals who could provide engaging lesson plans or individualized tutoring during the summer. They can also use the opportunity to promote their services and gain potential long-term clients.

These types of free academic programming can help mitigate academic learning loss throughout the summer months, especially for families who cannot afford summer camps or supplemental tutoring.

According to the Food Research & Action Center, public libraries operating as summer meal sites experience increased use of their circulation materials and participation in their summer programming. The federal government’s Summer Food Service Program reimburses sites for all USDA-approved meals provided to kids 18 and under while school is not in session.

As trusted community partners, libraries are uniquely positioned to succeed in these efforts. Combining trips to include a free healthy picnic lunch alongside afternoon story time or checking out a book makes perfect sense. Plus, the event will be advertised across various food access platforms and may introduce your extensive resources to new patrons for use beyond the summer months.

Encourage patrons to get outside during the summer months as much as possible. While it’s tempting to stay inside the air-conditioned library space, connecting with nature and limiting screen time is essential to overall wellness. If your library has available land, build a small community garden. Facilitate story time on the lawn. Invite a local park ranger to lead a guided hike in the area. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Serve your community by partnering with a local nonprofit or school as a donation drop-off site. Shelters need clean socks and blankets. Food pantries need unexpired packaged or non-perishable food items. Schools need art supplies. Spread the word via signage and social media and connect with local media outlets for additional visibility—for the library, and your local nonprofit partner. To expand donation potential, you could offer small incentives such as reducing library fines.

What topics are your patrons interested in? From book clubs to yoga to cooking, your library can host activities for community members with shared interests. Invite local experts to lead a discussion or workshop. Many people are willing to donate their time and expertise if it’s for the library. If you don’t have a dedicated meeting space in your library, you could hold these sessions after hours—which means more working adults can attend. These workshops elevate your library’s position as a community hub and may interest new patrons who haven’t used the space before.

On a hot summer day, there’s little better than an afternoon at the movie theater. However, movies are expensive, and not everyone has the time and transportation to enjoy an air-conditioned theater. Why not host a movie once a week throughout the summer months?

First, research what kind of licensing agreement you will need. Licenses vary depending on location and the number of patrons you serve. Then, select a movie from your library’s DVD collection, pop popcorn, set up a projector, arrange the chairs, turn the lights off, and enjoy! To amplify the experience, ask local businesses to donate refreshments. After the film, host a small discussion for viewers to connect further.

Need help figuring out where to begin? Ask your patrons what programming they want to see at the library this summer. Create a survey—or simply ask folks at the circulation desk. The public library is much more than a collection of books (though we love our books). It’s a space for people to connect, regardless of background and interests. Let’s capitalize on summer and get more people involved at the library.

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