Summer Reading at New York Libraries logoImportance of Summer Reading

A research brief on summer reading and public library summer reading programs

The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning

Goals of Summer Reading at New York Libraries

  • Advance literacy and academic performance by engaging children and teens in reading and reading-related activities during the summer months.
  • Foster a love of reading through public library programs and services.
  • Increase successful reading experiences through librarian-supported, self-selected, voluntary reading.
  • Involve parents and all family members in the library summer reading experience.
  • Improve children’s access to library materials and activities, which will encourage them to become lifelong library users.
  • Increase the number of children and teens participating in public library summer reading programs.

The Importance of Summer Reading: Annotated bibliography

The Board of Regents and I encourage students across New York to participate in summer reading programs at their local public libraries. The Summer Reading at New York Libraries program, supported by the State Library in conjunction with our partners in the State Assembly and Senate, is an excellent resource for students. Summer reading programs put books in the hands of children and helps students build reading skills, prevent summer learning loss, and prepare for a successful school year.” -- Commissioner of the New York State Education Department MaryEllen Elia

Public libraries, through their summer reading programs, put books in the hands of children. This is the best antidote for the ‘summer slide’ in children’s reading achievement. Access to books and library programs over the summer results in more reading which, in turn, results in improved reading skills. -- Assistant Commissioner for Libraries and New York's State Librarian Bernard A. Margolis

picture from the 2006 Summer Reading Program in Suffolk County, NY.

Legislators support Summer Reading

The document below, including the bibliography, in .pdf formatpdf icon [305k; last updated November 2011]

The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning

In a 2009 government web cast, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described summer learning loss as “devastating.”  This is what researchers have often referred to as the “summer slide.”  It is estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being disproportionately affected (Cooper, 1996).  Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present when children begin school (Alexander, Entwistle & Olsen, 2007).  The body of existing research demonstrates the critical importance that the early development of summer reading habits can play in providing the foundation for later success.  Summer learning research can be broadly categorized under the following themes:

  1. The impact of summer learning loss on disadvantaged youth
  2. Access to books and time devoted to reading
  3. The importance of successful reading experiences
  4. The impact of innovative summer reading programs

This synopsis of research on summer reading and learning provides a brief overview of these themes.  A bibliography follows.

The Impact of Summer  Learning Loss on Disadvantaged Youth

An in-depth study of Baltimore area students, Alexander et al. (2007), concluded that students from both better-off and disadvantaged backgrounds made similar achievement gains during the school year. However, during the summer the disadvantaged youth fell significantly behind in reading.  This finding validates the importance of education but also indicates the disparities evident between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.  Dr. Beth Miller (2007) posits, “Other factors, nearly all of them related to the opportunities and experiences children have outside of the school, in the community and their families, result in gaps in achievement scores.” Preeminent reading and education researchers, Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich (1998), note the “Matthew effects,” in academic achievement; a reference to the Biblical passage of the rich-get-richer and the poor-get-poorer phenomenon.  Differences in out-of-school access to books, positive reading practices, and connections with institutions supportive of self-discovery and reading, account for much of the disparity in student academic success.  This has a cascading effect as children grow and develop.    

Access to Books

According to Mc-Gill Franzen and Allington (2004), “Too many children spend their summer with no books to read.”  Their research cites the necessity of finding novel ways to get books into the hands of children during summer breaks.  This idea is supported by research from Barbara Heyn (1978), who found that reading was the most influential factor related to summer learning.  Further studies by Krashen (2004) simply state, “More access to books results in more reading.”  These and other studies find that when schools close their doors, the opportunity to read is often closed with them, especially for those children without access to books.  McQuillan (1998) found that, “There is now considerable evidence that the amount and quality of student’s access to reading materials is substantively related to the amount of reading they engage in, which in turn is the most important determinant of reading achievement.”  The studies show that students’ who read more, read better; they also write better, spell better, have larger vocabularies, and have better control of complex grammatical constructions (Krashen, 2009).

The Importance of Successful Reading Experiences

In their studies of children’s reading development, McGill-Franzen and Allington (2003), cite the importance of extensive, successful reading experiences in the development of reading proficiency.  If children have the opportunity to listen to, discuss, and read books on topics that they select, they will develop extensive background information which can serve as a platform from which to engage in their own independent reading.  Additional studies by Guthrie and Anderson (1999), found that “A history of less-successful reading experiences produces a lessened interest in voluntary reading than a history of successful reading experiences.”  According to Cunningham and Stanovich (1998), the key predictors of positive reading development are success when learning to read and numerous opportunities and experiences with reading.  Children who enjoy reading will read more and become proficient at the same time.  A report from the National Institute of Education (1988) concluded that, “…the amount of reading done out of school is consistently related to gains in reading achievement.”

The Impact of Innovative Summer Reading Programs

Public library summer reading programs are one solution to the “summer slide.” In an analysis of summer learning programs by Miller (2007), it was found that children can benefit from “hybrid” programs which combine elements of youth development principles with academic enrichment.  Summer reading programs in libraries exemplify this kind of hybrid program.  Barbara Heyn (1978) found that “More than any other public institution, including the schools, the public library contributed to the intellectual growth of children during the summer.”  Drs. Celano and Neumann  (2001), in a study prepared for the Pennsylvania Library Association, monitored differences between children participating in public library summer reading programs and those involved in local recreational summer programs.  They concluded that, in addition to literacy related activities, children in library programs benefited academically from story hours, arts and crafts, and other special events designed to enhance the reading experience.

Current research points out that increased summer reading reduces summer learning loss.  Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has stated “A key step toward stopping the summer slide, is the development and launch of high quality programs that take advantage of time outside the school day and year to help children learn, grow, and develop” (Elling, 2009).

Summer Reading at New York Libraries

Summer Reading at New York Libraries is an annual program that brings children and families into local public libraries for reading and activities. Over 1.6 million of New York’s children and teens participated in the State Library-sponsored program in 2011.  Some 1,100 local libraries throughout New York State offer a summer reading program geared towards the needs of children in their communities.  Public libraries partner with school and local organizations to help promote and create the program.  Children are encouraged to discuss, write about, and report on the books they read. Library staff help children select reading materials and provide literacy-enhancing programs such as storytelling, music, creative arts, and performances. 

…we should provide all children, regardless of their achievement levels, with as many reading experiences as possible. Indeed, this becomes doubly imperative for precisely those children whose verbal abilities are most in need of bolstering, for it is the very act of reading that can build these capabilities…we often despair of changing our students’ abilities, but there is one partially malleable habit that will itself develop abilities – reading! -- Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich (1998)

Annotated Bibliography

(Updated August 2014) NOTE: Links below will open in a new window.

Allington, R. L., McGill-Frazen A., Camilli G., Williams L., Graff J.,  Zeig J., Zmach C., & Nowak R. (2010). "Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students." Reading Psychology, (31) 5, 411-427

Research has established the contribution of summer reading set-back to the reading achievement gap that is present between children from more and less economically advantaged families. Family socioeconomic status has been linked to the access children have to books in their homes and neighborhoods. This longitudinal experimental study tested the hypothesis that providing elementary school students from low-income families with a supply of self-selected trade books ameliorates the summer reading setback. The study provides the best evidence to date that ensuring easy and continuous access to self-selected books for summer reading is a good strategy for addressing summer reading set-back and the achievement gap that exists between students from more and less economically advantaged families.

Alexander, K., Entwistle D., & Olsen L (2007). "Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap." American Sociological Review. no. 72, 167-180.

Researchers from John Hopkins University used data from the Baltimore Beginning School Study to examine the long-term educational consequences of summer learning differences by family socio-economic level.  The authors examine achievement scores to trace their development from 9th grade back to first grade.  The study concluded that the achievement gap between high-low socioeconomic statuses is mainly traced to differential summer learning over the elementary school years.  The consequence of this achievement gap substantially accounts for major differences in high school completion and four year college attendance.

Anderson, R. C., Hiebert E. H., Scott  J. A., & Wilkinson I. A. G. (1985). Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading [ERIC]. Washington D.C.: US Department of Education, National Institute on Education.

A report written for the US Department of Education examines independent reading.  Researchers found that the amount of reading done outside of school was consistently related to gains in reading achievement.  Children will engage in more independent reading when they have greater access to books.  The study concluded that libraries play a crucial role for families that cannot afford to buy books. 

Anderson, R. C., Wilson P. T., & Fielding L. G. (1988). "Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside of School [ERIC]." Reading Research Quarterly. no. 23, 285-303.

A study of 155 fifth grade students demonstrated that the amount of time children spent in independent reading was the best predictor of the amount of gain in reading achievement. 

Borman, G. D., & Boulay, M. (Ed.). (2004). Summer Learning: Research, Policies, and Programs. Mahweh, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

An anthology of the most current research-based evidence concerning summer learning and a range of summer school programs.

Celano, D., & Neuman S. B. (2001, February). The Role of Public Libraries in Children's Literacy Development: An Evaluation Report. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Library Association.

Groups of children from the Philadelphia area were monitored for achievement differences between those enrolled in a public library summer reading program and those in a local recreation program.  The study demonstrated a positive correlation in reading scores for those children who attended the library summer reading program. In additional findings it was reported that children in the library program spent more time with books, benefited from literacy related activities, and had increased parental involvement with reading.     

Cooper, H., Nye B., Linsey J., et al. (1996). "The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review [ERIC]." Review of Educational Research, no. 66, 227-268.

Researchers from the University of Missouri performed a meta-analysis of 39 existing research studies that measured summer learning and school achievement.  The study found that most students lost an average of one month of school learning over summer vacation. Some students, particularly those from disadvantaged households, lost up to three months of learning.  Summer learning loss was greatest in math computation, reading, and spelling.

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich K. E. (1998). "What Reading Does for the Mind [ERIC]." American Educator/American Federation of Teachers. Spring/Summer, 1-8.

The authors study the so-called “Matthew effects” in relation to the phenomena in which reader exposure to print can create a rich-get-richer, poor-get-poorer pattern of reading development.  They conclude that successful early reading experiences can have a cascading effect on the mind that can benefit readers regardless of innate ability.  The study also found that an increased volume of reading was an important factor in building language and vocabulary skills.

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.

An important finding of this review of hundreds of related studies revealed that "the more children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension."

Dominican University. (2010, June 22). The Dominican study: public library summer reading programs close the reading gap. Retrieved from

The Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University received a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for a three-year research study to determine the effects that public library summer reading programs had on student achievement.  The study reported that students who participated in public library summer reading programs scored higher on reading achievement tests at the beginning of the next school year.  Students who participated in public library summer reading programs also demonstrated higher reading achievement than those students who did not participate.  The study concludes by observing that children who participate in public library summer reading programs returned to school ready to learn, improved their reading achievement and skills, increased their enjoyment of reading, were more motivated to read, were more confident in their reading, read beyond what was required in their free time, and perceived reading to be more important., Pressroom (2009, June). Retrieved August 21, 2009, from web site

The United States Education Department posted an interview with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in which he addresses the need for more time to properly educate students.  Duncan stresses that summer learning loss is a giant step backward for disadvantaged children.

Elling, D. M. (2009, July) "Department of Ed encourages summer learning programs." Retrieved August 21, 2009, from Mott News web site

The Mott Educational Foundation summarizes the Department of Education’s focus on the development and launch of high quality summer programs that take advantage of time outside of school to help children learn, grow, and develop.

Heyns, B. (1978). Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling. New York: Academic Press Inc.

In her foundational study, Heyn published a book length survey of 6th and 7th grade students from Atlanta who were studied over a period of two years.  The work concluded that students from different socioeconomic backgrounds achieved similar rates of academic progress during the school year.  However, when the summer break was studied it was determined that students from the lower socioeconomic strata fell behind academically at a faster rate than their more advantaged peers.  The book concluded that factors outside of the school environment were affecting academic achievement.  The book also studied public libraries and found them to be an important source for children’s reading during the summer break.

Krashen, S., (2009). Anything but Reading [ERIC]. Knowledge Quest, 37 (No. 5), 19-25.

Krashen, S. (2004) The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, 2nd edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Stephen Krashen, a linguist and leading researcher in voluntary reading, suggests that an often overlooked method to improve reading is providing readers with a supply of interesting and accessible books.  Research demonstrates that self-selected voluntary reading leads to the greatest gains in reading achievement and other aspects of literacy. Krashen also suggests that libraries can alleviate some of the literacy problems created by impoverished family conditions.

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.  

Research shows that there is very little difference in reading gains between children from high and low-income families during the school year.  Over the summer, children from high-income families make better progress in reading and the difference is cumulative over time.  Children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from increased access to books and attendance at public library programs.

Lu, Ya-Ling, Gordon, Carol. 2009. Reading Takes You Places: A Study of a Web-based Summer Reading Program. American Association of School Librarians, American Library Association.

This study looks at the effects of a Web-based summer reading program on the reading behaviors and attitudes of high school students.

McGill-Franzen, A., & Allington R. (2003 May/June) "Bridging the Summer Reading Gap." Instructor, 112 no. 8.

Educational researchers from the University of Florida show that educators and parents can help their children avoid summer learning loss.  The authors cite research suggesting that children who read as few as six books over the summer break can maintain their reading skills at a level achieved in the preceding school year.  The article also notes that public libraries in the poorest neighborhoods often suffer from shorter hours and restrictive lending policies.

McGill-Franzen, A., & Allington R. (2004) "Lost Summers: Few Books and Few Opportunities to Read." Retrieved August 21, 2009, from Reading Rockets

The article reviews the problems associated with children who fall behind in reading skills due to lack of access to books over the summer vacation. The authors provide an overview of existing research and conclude that reading over the summer is a strong experience that contributes to learning retention.

McLaughlin, B., & Smink J. (2009, June) "Summer Learning: Moving from the Periphery to the Core." The Progress of Education Reform, no. 3.

A publication from the Education Commission of the States stresses that summer learning has become a centerpiece in educational reform strategies.  The authors suggest the need for a blended approach to summer programs that address the academic and creative needs of children.

McQuillan, J. (1998). The Literary Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.  In J. T. Guthrie & E. Anderson (Eds.) Engaged reading: Processes, practices, and policy implications (pp. 17-45). New York: Teachers College.

The author studies the recent history of literacy achievement among children in the United States and seeks to debunk common myths and misunderstandings about reading.  McQuillan suggests that exposure to comprehensible, interesting reading material is the simplest and best way to improve reading achievement.

Miller, B. M.  (2007) "The Learning Season: The Untapped Power of Summer to Advance Student Achievement." Nellie Mae Education Foundation, 1-70.

Dr. Beth Miller, sponsored by the Nellie Mae Foundation, provides an in- depth overview of the existing educational research on summer learning.  Summer learning loss is described as the major factor in explaining the achievement gap between middle-class and disadvantaged students by the end of elementary school.  The study advocates for increased summer opportunities for children and makes suggestions for further research.

Roman, Susan, Carran, Deborah T., Fiore, Carole D. The Dominican Study: Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Reading Gap. Dominican University Graduate School of Library & Information Science, June 2010.

A study conducted from October 2006 through September 2009 examined the impact of pubic library summer reading program on student achievement among 3rd and 4th grade students.

Stanovich, K. E. (2000). Progress in Understanding Reading: Scientific Foundations and New Frontiers. New York: The Guilford Press.

Stanovich synthesizes his own and others’ research on reading acquisition and literacy development.  The author is widely recognized as a premiere, often- cited educational researcher.

The document above, including the bibliography, in .pdf formatpdf icon [305k; last updated November 2011]

Other New York State Library Literacy and Related Initiatives

Additional Resources

Summer Reading at New York Libraries is funded through the Federal Library Services and Technology Act, with funds awarded to the New York State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. The New York State Library is a program of the Office of Cultural Education in the New York State Education Department.

Last Updated: August 11, 2017 -- asm