June 22, 2018

Librarians Play Pivotal Role In Keeping Students on Track, Helping Avoid the ‘Summer Slide’

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Caption: Librarian Susan Kowalski, East Syracuse Minoa United Teachers.

Students may not need a coat when they leave school today for summer break, but they will need book jackets.

And it’s librarians who are making sure they have them.

All throughout the state, stacks of books have been given to students this week to take home for summer reading. And — as the theme of diversity established by Read Across America this year continues to take root — at least some of the book jackets provided to students will depict kids who may have different faces than their own.

Susan Kowalski, a member of East Syracuse Minoa United Teachers, is a librarian at Pine Hills who spent the last week of school sending notices out to students that books can be checked out of the school library for the entire summer. Access will also be offered to kids who attend a four-week academic summer camp at the school.

Kowalski visited classrooms last week to let teens know about activities at local libraries ranging from reading challenges to cooking, robotics, recording studios, and arts & crafts. Public librarians also came to the district to meet students in person at the elementary level.

Meanwhile, at L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake, kids are sent home with a brown bag full of books for summer, which kids decorate and then fill with 10 books each from a spread in the library. The “LPQers,” a parent-teacher group, organizes the book exchange by having parents send in used books ahead of time, which are then sorted by grade level.

“In addition, the reading intervention teachers got a Donors Choose grant and purchased hundreds of books and book sacks,” said Margaret O’Leary, a reading intervention teacher at L.P. Quinn and a member of Tupper Lake United Teachers. (Photo: On the last day of school in Tupper Lake, twins Lucy (left) and Gabby Frenette visited reading intervention teacher Margaret O’Leary.)

Expanding Students Worlds

Thanks to a grant from NYSUT and American Federation of Teachers/First Book Inc., Kowalski received 400 books as part of the national “Read Across America” program. The books focused on diversity, providing an opportunity for students to learn about people with different cultures, abilities, histories, religion, and more.

“We can get used to the books we’ve taught for years,” she said. “This is what librarians are doing to open people’s eyes to diversity and to empower choice.”

Other events Kowalski coordinated this year to get students intrigued about books included taking a busload of kids to the Teen Book Festival at Nazareth College in May, which spotlighted 35 authors of young adult books and included a parade, food trucks and speakers.

“It’s like a rock concert!” Kowalski said.

Like many librarians, she will be delving into books herself this summer as part of her ongoing professional development, including a Leadership Institute sponsored by the New York State School Library Association focused on learning about the new national learning standards for librarians.

In the Capital District, summer recess won’t be enough to keep the doors to the library closed in North Colonie.

“My library is open for the majority of the summer because of summer school,” said Nicole Weimer, in the center of photo at right, North Colonie Teachers Association member and school librarian. “Students have the opportunity to use the library’s resources for their school work and to check out books for pleasure reading.”

Weimer works the first two weeks of summer in her home district, and colleague Kelly Wetherbee works the rest. Weimer then works for Capital Region BOCES as their regional summer school librarian for Schoharie County.

And, in what’s become a summer tradition, North Colonie librarians organized a day during which a librarian from the local public library comes in to promote summer reading programs. The district also hosts a summer reading program in which students choose a book to read from a list maintained by the English department.

“I email our summer reading list to the BOCES Overdrive account manager so they can do their best to obtain eBook and audio book copies of the summer reading books to help improve access,” Weimer said. “Overdrive is an amazing tool to help students who can’t physically get to a library. It’s a digital world and more students each year are choosing to read and listen to books on their mobile devices.”

Inspiring Readers Through Other Means

And don’t put it beyond librarians to offer rewards for reading.

Some students, for example, are enticed to read with the promise of a September school ice cream party and a chance to meet local authors at events set up by librarians. Other librarians collect books all year from students, parents, and the community, and then make sure each student leaves school in June with books they can own and read. Hicksville, for instance, sets up the books in the cafeteria so students can choose their summer reading.

Then, of course, there are the time-honored bookmobiles. In Buffalo and Erie County, librarians from the unionized Librarians Association drive and staff a tricked out, colorful bookmobile that provides Wi-Fi, laptops, a pop-out awning for outdoor programming and disabilities-compliant access.

And just for the record, summer reading isn’t only something students will be taking part in.

“I am an avid reader and keep up to date with my profession by reading journals such as Book Links, Book List, School Library Connections, YALSA Journal, etc.” said Weimer, who’s also in a book club that focuses on young adult books. “Being a millennial, I also follow many popular publishers/literary professionals on social media and read what they are posting.”


Summer Reading from NYS http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/summer/

NYLA-SSL https://www.nyla.org/max/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=136&MenuKey=ssl

School Library Systems (provides prof development and HUGE resource for consortium purchasing) http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/slssap/slslinks.htm

We need Diverse Books https://diversebooks.org/about-wndb/

The National Educators Association, a national affiliate of NYSUT, has compiled information on summer reading at http://www.nea.org/grants/67128.htm.

To learn about free books for the classroom, visit


American Federation of Teachers

Sign up for First Book, Inc.

One of our partners, Storyline Online, features famous actors reading stories. For instance, Karan Brar of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films reads The Kiss That Missed, and Betty White reads Harry the Dirty Dog. Which actors do your students admire? Take advantage of these performers’ appeal to demonstrate that reading is cool. Each video comes with a home activity sheet.