SUMMER READING -- 2020: Pandemic Edition

The summer reading program for Washington County libraries was very different in 2020. A pandemic had forced library buildings to close, which eliminated the possibility of traditional summer reading programs and activities. WCCLS and library staff quickly recognized the need to reprioritize, and designed a large-scale book distribution program.

We focused on kids whose families had fewer resources ... who likely faced barriers to unlimited, convenient internet access, and who were less likely to be able to purchase books for their children.

A plan was hatched to shift the resources of our summer reading program to focus on giving new books to kids whose families visited food distribution sites in Washington County.

"When we became aware of the impact COVID-19 would have on kids' access to books -- we knew our summer reading program had to change dramatically to assist families who faced additional barriers."

Lisa Tattersall, manager, WCCLS

Youth librarians created age-appropriate book lists. Funds were redirected to allow for the purchase of several thousand new books. Every library in Washington County contributed to the effort. Summer reading bounty began to fill our warehouse.

Art supplies were a much-appreciated addition for families with limited internet access who needed activities for their kids.

The WCCLS Griffin Oaks warehouse was turned into Command Central.

Age-appropriate books targeted to both English and Spanish-speaking children were curated and distributed.

To ensure our book distribution was COVID-safe, WCCLS staff prepared thousands of individual book bags with English and Spanish-language books -- labelled by age -- so every child would receive age-appropriate materials. It was important that we create a "grab and go" low-touch process.

"We were able to distribute books at 70 sites countywide ... at (USDA) Summer Food Service sites, food bank-sponsored locations, child care centers and migrant camps."

Katie Anderson, youth services librarian, WCCLS

This was a large-scale effort, involving WCCLS and library staff, lasting several weeks. Our summer reading outreach was a resounding success, allowing us to focus on our county's most vulnerable families.

Our distribution program reached almost 10,000 children and teens. This is what a group of roughly 10,000 looks like.

"One of the most delightful things that happened was hearing a van full of kids shout, 'We each get our own book?' They were so excited and happy that this was just for them."

Library staff participant