October 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Mid-Continent Public Library Proves Summer Reading Programs Boost Student Achievement


The results of a pilot study of Missouri’s Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) suggest that summer reading programs actually raise student reading levels by their return to school in the fall—particularly among at-risk kids.

“Intuitively, most people understand that if children read in the summer, they don’t slide back in the fall,” says Steven V. Potter,  director and CEO of MCPL, a library system in Independence, MO. “What we discovered is that not only does summer reading guard against summer slide, it actually increases achievement.”

MCPL partnered with the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (KC-AERC) to gather assessment data from students in three school districts  in the spring of 2012 and again that following fall. While the summer reading program is open to children of all ages, the partners focused specifically on K–12 students as data from their school assessments were crucial for the study. KC-AERC and MCPL shared the results of the three pilot with the school districts in the fall of 2013.

While students experienced a bump-up in reading levels, at-risk students at Title 1 schools had a “higher bump,” says Potter. In addition, young boys who were in an at-risk category, showed more improvement on their assessments than young girls who were not at-risk, he says. Potter says that MCPL had not placed any extra emphasis on that target group—but now it will.


A decline in reading over the summer is all too common. Summer vacation can have an affect on standardized reading and math assessments, with students losing about one month of learning, according to a 1996 study conducted by Harris Cooper at the University of Missouri-Cooper.

The effort to assess MCPL’s four summer reading programs stemmed from Potter’s curiosity to see whether the program or incentives of free books made the difference. Parents and students earn free paperback books depending on how many titles are read to children or read alone. Up until now, MCPL had measured the program’s success by the number of free books given away.

“I started wondering about the completion rates,” he says. “Could we be as effective by just standing on a street corner and handing out books?”

Based on records from MCPL’s archives, Potter estimates that the library first launched its summer reading program in 1968 He might even been a participant, he adds . There are five different programs offered at each of MCPL’s 31 branches, which service 776,000 people in the area. From preschoolers and teens, to readers with learning disabilities, participants have increased at MCPL’s summer reading program, which has experienced an uptick in signups,   growing by 10 percent each year.

Potter and KC-AERC’s executive director Leigh Anne Taylor Knight hope that the study will further increase library program participation.— And hopefully school districts and other library systems will be inspired to  initiate their  own programs  or put existing ones to their best use in promoting student literacy and learning.

“[Summer reading programs] are doing a lot of great things,” says Knight. “But there hasn’t necessarily been in-depth conversations around analystics, around data with the school districts about what kind of impact this is making, and what kind of things the districts need to make happen in order to increase student achievement when they return the next year.”

-additional reporting by Karyn Peterson

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.



  1. This is a great article to use when we encourage parents to have their children participate in library summer reading clubs.
    P.S. Effect is the noun, affect is the verb.

  2. Nice to see that someone has conducted an actual research study on this. Is there a place we can access the published study?