What’s the Difference Between Summer Reading and Summer Learning?

Children playing with parachute in the park.Since the concept of summer learning first became part of the public library discourse, the most critical questions include how it differs from summer reading, and how to implement summer learning in your program.

Traditional summer reading programs focus on boosting literacy and inspiring more patrons to read for pleasure. However, these programs often appeal most to patrons who already enjoy reading. Summer learning programs don’t eliminate reading, but rather encourage participation in other learning activities as well. Adding new learning opportunities can help you reach beyond your strong readers to have a broader impact on your community.

The core differences between summer reading and summer learning programs lie in how they are presented and their overall goal. Summer learning aims to engage participants in learning in a variety of ways. These may include STEAM programming, partnerships with outside organizations, or enhanced outreach. A summer learning program should be strategically designed around the needs of the community and patrons and be constructed to better meet those needs. The pathway to an effective program starts with research into community needs and a clear vision statement.

Your program structure will be unique to the needs of your community, but here are a few ways other libraries have been evolving their programs:

  • Houston Public Library’s Camp STREAM (Science Technology Reading Engineering Art Math) is a series of mini camps run at various library branches and a few nonlibrary sites in underserved neighborhoods.
  • Summer of Adventure at Denver Public Library was developed based on a study done by a committee of librarians. The program offers three pathways: Read, Make, and Explore. Participants choose the pathway(s) they want to focus on.

You might be thinking that these libraries can create these programs because they’re big and well-resourced, but they’re not the only ones.

  • Milton Public Library in Wisconsin serves a community of just over 5,500 people and has redesigned their summer program to include a strong emphasis on STEAM activities, programs, and camps based on input from their patrons, school district, and municipal government.
  • Kendallville Public Library in Indiana (population 9,862) has eliminated individual tracking in favor of a community reading goal that is monitored using circulation reports. This allows them to focus their energy and resources on learning-based passive and active programs, activities, and challenges.

Many libraries have begun moving toward a summer learning approach. Some have made large, sweeping changes to the way they approach summer, others have started with small steps as they work toward a new vision, and still others are just starting to think about what might be possible in the future. Has your library started this journey? Connect with us on Twitter and share your insights.

Make a Bigger Impact with Your Summer Programming

Learn how your library can boost excitement and reach a wider audience by making the switch to a summer learning program.


Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag is the Learning Content Manager at Demco. She has a master’s in library and information studies with a focus on child and youth services. For over 10 years, she has worked in informal education, developing and running programs in museums, libraries, and community centers.