The West Feliciana Parish Library, like libraries across the country, operate summer reading programs to encourage literacy and combat the “summer slide,” but this summer the library adds the challenge of operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

Children’s librarian Jennifer Goudeau said a virtual reading program will use technology and operation adjustments to serve the children of the parish. “We are really excited to be able to offer something because I know everybody is just at home right now,” she said. “I know everyone is just as tired of looking at their living room walls as I am.”

Goudeau said the summer slide may have a great impact after the shortened school year. As summer approaches, students lose academic ground, a phenomenon also referred to as “summer learning loss.”

This lack of reading practice is often tied to a lack of access to books. Students who lack books to read at home during the summer can fall months, and eventually years, behind their peers. These new and existing challenges makes public library access more important than ever this summer.

The library is receiving a grant from the state library to help increase accessibility for people who can’t come in the library during the pandemic. The grant will be used to fund added features that impact library patrons still spending more time at home to limit exposure to the virus.

Every year, the American Library Association assigns a theme for summer reading programs. This year’s theme is Imagine Your Story. “Mythology, folklore, fairytales, anything imaginary,” Goudeau said.

The eight or nine-week program will mix virtual and non-virtual features and run to the last week in July or the first week in August. The library will move its Thursday Storytime to a YouTube channel. The staff will prepare grab-and-go bags every week that can be picked up at the library.

Goudeau said two sets of grab-and-go bags, one for teenagers and one for younger children, will be prepared. “We are going to let the parents know that not every activity will be ‘just right’ for their kids,” she said. “We are going to put the word out there that they are going to have to use their best judgement.”

Each week will have a special theme and the library will provide crafts and other activities for the kids to give them some alternatives at home this summer.

“One week is going to be dragons and we are going to send home a science experiment and some instructions for it,” Goudeau explained. “We are going to send home recipes and things to do as a family revolving around that week’s theme.”

Traditional summer reading programs offer prizes to children who reach certain milestones. The virtual program will use a choice board with lists of activities on a board like bingo. Prizes will be awarded based on completing a set number of choice board activities.

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West Feliciana Parish children’s librarian Jennifer Goudeau explains the features of the summer reading program Thursday, May 28.

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West Feliciana Parish children’s librarian Jennifer Goudeau stands in front of the Storytime backdrop Thursday, May 28 as she details plans to move Storytime to the library’s YouTube channel.