Summer reading programs at public libraries throughout Louisiana are wrapping up, an initiative promoted statewide this year with the slogan, “Build A Better World.”
We’re not quite sure about that motto, which seems to cast summer reading, one of life’s great pleasures, as an earnest civic obligation. Maybe the real promise of summer reading is escape — not so much about improving this world, but creating a new one. In June, July and August, we usually read to get away from it all, finding some alternative universe, if only for a few hours, within the pages of a potboiler novel, history best-seller, or travelogue.
But we’re sure that lots of youngsters have had fun at Louisiana’s libraries this summer, anyway. And as we know, fun and learning aren’t mutually exclusive. Whatever their entertainment value, Louisiana’s summer reading programs bring practical benefits, too. They keep kids engaged in the written word during school sessions, an especially important advantage in a state that has much work to do in boosting student achievement. Studies have shown that children can lose academic momentum during the summer. But continued engagement with reading, even reading for pleasure, can help children retain and grown key skills. Research shows that children who read during the summer return to school in the fall at or above their spring reading levels.
In Louisiana, which lags behind the national average in literacy, anything that widens the state’s community of readers deserves support. Better readers have a better chance to become better employees, citizens and parents.
The State Library of Louisiana has offered a statewide summer reading program in partnership with the Louisiana public libraries for more than 30 years. In the past decade and a half, more than 1.7 million Louisiana youngsters have participated in local libraries’ summer reading programs.
In 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, more than 89,000 children and teens participated in summer reading programs across the state, and Louisiana libraries offered 11,666 free programs with more than 331,265 attendees.
We’re heartened that each summer, Louisiana’s libraries offer separate reading programs for teens and adults. It’s a good way to affirm reading as a lifelong pursuit — something to do throughout the year, and for years to come.
With any luck, some of Louisiana’s youngsters who made their first visits to neighborhood libraries this summer will become yearlong patrons.
That would, in fact, be a good step toward building a better world.