By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
While America's youth are more into gaming and the Internet than they were 10 years ago, the valley's public libraries are proving that learning and reading are still popular among them -- even during the summer.
Summer reading programs are blossoming at public libraries in Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties. In the past five years, many of the programs have seen an increase in participation, which is something that local librarians are very happy to say.
When Michal Ashby took over the youth program at Samuels Public Library in Warren County six years ago, the summer reading club averaged about 650 participants. Now, the average will be a little over 1,000 by the end of the summer, she said.
"We're already closing in on 900 sign-ups, and it's only the beginning of July," she said. Ashby said she feels confident last year's record of 1,030 participants will be broken by the end of the summer.
The program, like most others, offers incentives to children depending on the number of books they read. The groups are divided into three groups: infants through age 5, elementary-aged students, and teens.
Each week offers a different reward to readers. For instance, teens who read two books this week will receive something similar to a lava lamp, Ashby said. Readers are also entered into drawings for free books when they come to the library.
Ashby said that while she's receptive to change and the newer formats of reading, like iPads and Kindles, the youth seem to stick with the traditional book.
"To me, a piece of literature is just that, no matter what form it's in," she said. " You'd assume that teens would be the first to use a different format since they're so technologically savvy, but the kids tell me they'd rather have an actual book in their hand."
The statewide theme for summer reading programs is Dream Big: Read, and the local libraries are working that into their activities in different ways.
At the county library in Edinburg, young readers receive a wand if they come to the library and give a brief summery to a staff member about a recently read fairy tale.
Participation in the youth and teen summer reading programs in Shenandoah County has grown by around 100 participants in the past two years. Teen participants are given a packet when they sign up for the program, and if a teen reads 40 books by the end of the summer, he or she will get to choose from a selection of free books.
Additionally, teens can come to the library once a week and write down their most recent favorite book. Upon doing so, they'll be entered into a drawing for several prizes, including games, puzzles and the grand prize of a bike from Wal-Mart.
"Studies have shown that children lose so much momentum during the time when they're not in school," said Diane Cary, youth director at the library. "Summer reading programs help them not to lose ground, and they get to see all the other things that they library has to offer."
Cary said she is "very encouraged" by the turnouts this summer. David Robinson leads the teen and adult programs at the library, and he is also pleased with how things are going.
"We challenge the teens a little more," he said. Those who read 750 pages receive a general admission ticket to the county fair, and if they can complete that same amount of reading again before the end of the summer, they will be entered in a drawing for a Kindle. He added that over 400 adults are participating and are being rewarded with drawings for gift cards and coupons from local vendors.
"I think the adults want to give their kids a good example," he said of adult participation. "If it's because of the incentives that they join the program, then so be it. It's easy to lose reading as an important activity, and as a community library it's our responsibility to help that not happen."
At the Mary Jane and James L. Bowman Library in Stephens City, Donna Hughes, head of the Youth Services Division, said she found the recent storm and power outages helped bring more community members into the library.
"Children and their families came in to cool off and wound up sharing stories," Hughes said. "Public libraries can be so much to people, beyond the books."
Her summer reading program rewards individuals based on the time they spend reading. She also gives out coupons from local businesses. As for participation, Hughes said the program is "doing well in the statistical realm."
"Three cheers for establishing this habit," she said of reading. "The fact that I can stand here and see through the shelves in the youth section is a good thing. We're overwhelmed, but we're managing, and we certainly won't turn anyone away."