Summer reading has long been a staple of public libraries across the country. At Salina Public Library, one of our most frequent fond recollections from adult patrons is participating in summer reading as a child. Efforts to promote reading, especially during the summer, are central to the library’s calendar with our first inter-departmental planning meeting held in the fall the year before. 

There is a reason we put staff time and resources into the summer. The “summer slide” refers to children’s risk of losing reading and math skills gained over the course of the school year during summer break. This is especially true for younger children and disproportionally affects children from low-income families.

The good news is that helping children retain what they learned over the school year doesn’t have to involve long days in a classroom or expensive learning tools. Simple things like encouraging reading and making time for educational play can make a big difference. That’s why the library sets a summer reading goal with prize incentives and offers about 100 free educational youth programs over the summer. 

A traditional summer reading program has evolved at the library to include STEM programs, Moby Max and book club sessions with a certified teacher and learning packets that include math and reading worksheets. It started when we were planning for summer 2017. Our prior approach had different programs with different ways to participate depending on your age group. It was hard for patrons, especially parents who might be trying to track a checklist of activities for child A, the number of days spent reading for child B and a reading log for themselves. We knew we needed to simplify and put the emphasis on reading and learning over the summer. That’s why we decided to set a community reading goal for the summer.

The first year, we didn’t know what to expect and set a low goal and blew right past it. So we aimed a little higher every year. We repeated the message that reading is important in programs and presentations. We found new partners in the community to help us encourage reading. In 2019 when we topped 25,000 books read by reading a total of 27,728 books!

Then COVID hit.

Summer at the Library in 2020 was entirely online. The pandemic limited our ability to reach out to the community, to offer programs to large groups and changed everyone’s habits. While summer 2022 was about 80 percent of pre-pandemic traffic levels, participation in meeting the reading goal still lagged. We are working each year to spread the message that reading and learning over the summer increases children’s ability to be prepared for the next school year. In 2023 we hope to grow our reach.

The goal is for the community to read 15,000 books over the course of nine weeks. Participation for every age group is the same and no registration is required. Each week beginning May 19 through July 20, readers of all ages can submit the number of books they have read online at or by completing a paper form at the library. We encourage adults to participate in the reading goal as well because children who have adults who read in their lives are more likely to be readers themselves. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be drawn from the submissions. Prizes will include gift certificates, toys and books. 

Summer at the Library will start with a kickoff celebration from 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 19, in Caldwell Plaza. There will be games, prize drawing and hot dogs. The summer will wrap up with a pool party for youth on July 23 and a gathering for adults at Ad Astra Books & Coffee on Aug. 4. The Friends of the Salina Public Library have provided support for summer prizes and parties. A full listing of events can be found at or by picking up a library calendar at the library or around town.