Summertime — A Time for Reading | Inside Pennsylvania

With over 400,000 new books being published each year in the United States, the reading possibilities are staggering. But summer and your local libraries provide endless opportunities for summer reading programs—with prizes, book clubs, and lots of innovative ideas for selecting a “great summer read.”

The Susquehanna Valley boasts 14 public libraries throughout Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union Counties and all are well stocked with best sellers and classics for all ages. Librarians are the guides we need to help with tools and strategies to find just the right book.

“Summer is the perfect time to try something new,” said Kathleen McQuiston, head librarian at the Thomas Beaver Free Library in Danville. “I often encourage patterns to explore a new topic or read a different genre.” She prompts them to think about what books they like and peppers them with questions to help them know their own reading habits.

One strategy McQuiston uses to help readers in their search for a good book is to go through what has been returned to the library each day and display a selection of those next to a sign that asks, “What have your neighbors been reading lately?”

“It’s important to know your own collection well when advising readers,” said Rachael Waugh, assistant director of The Public Library for Union County. Mary Harrison, who heads children’s services, adds that the “Goodreads” website is an excellent back-up to guide recommendations.

Pamela Ross, executive director of the Snyder County Libraries, agrees.

“Our patrons talk to each other, so we have runs on books.” She noted that the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny “are so popular we own them all, in multiple copies.”

Book clubs are especially good at fostering book conversations, according to McQuiston. In Danville’s Bookworms Club, sponsored by the library, she feels “the most fun is creating a list of next books to read. Book clubs encourage members to read books they wouldn’t otherwise.”

To add still more opportunity to connect, McQuiston is starting an informal monthly Book Chat in April on the second Friday of each month at 1:00. Anyone can come to share the word about books they’ve read and liked.

Ross likes to consult the list published by the New York Public Libraries each year to see which library books were most checked out. She was pleased to see that, for 2021 “we were right in there with that list.”

Tastes vary from one community to another, though. Ben Shemory, head librarian of the Shamokin and Coal Township Public Library, finds that his patron base goes crazy for James Patterson books. Waugh, at the library in Lewisburg, said that the book that went out the most in 2021 was Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, about a woman facing the Dust Bowl of 1934.

In both Snyder and Union counties, Amish romances are extremely popular. Written by authors like Jeanette Oaks and Beverly Lewis, these stories of Amish love and lifestyle capture Amish and non-Amish readers alike. “Everybody reads them,” said Ross. “We have a huge collection in print and eBooks, too.”

McClure Public Library, said Ross, does a brisk business in DVDs, because that area lacks internet services to stream movies. “Every library is definitely different,” she added.

Getting people into the library is an important first step. Shemory holds a Preschool Storytime and Movement each Monday morning at the Shamokin library. Adult crafts programs are led by the Northumberland County Council for Arts and Humanities. The library will also offer a summer series of programs for K-6 on Wednesday mornings starting on July 6.

“These kids’ programs get people in the door, and circulation goes up,” Shemory said. “During the down time, parents and grandparents browse the shelves and sign up for a library card if they don’t have one already.”

All four libraries are offering summer programs. Many are using the theme of Oceans of Possibilities, with materials supplied by the Collaborative Summer Library Program. Speakers are now being lined up and will include a magician and a reptile specialist at Shamokin. Union County will offer Mythical Sea Creatures and a Bermuda Triangle Escape Room, among others, according to Marketing Coordinator, Jackie Dziadosz.

In Selinsgrove and Beavertown, Snyder County Libraries will offer Mother Goose on the Loose for pre-schoolers and Miss Sue’s Curiosity Club for school-age kids. They will also do Mother Goose on the Move in the community garden once a month.

“Last year our summer reading program had to be all virtual because of COVID,” said Ross, “and we will still offer virtual along with in-person programs. By live-streaming events we can reach kids who can’t come during the day because their parents work or they lack transportation.”

All the libraries are sponsoring a summer reading incentive, with prizes. This is for adults as well as children and sets a goal of 1,000 minutes of reading over the summer, starting June 6. “This sounds like a lot,” said Union County children’s librarian Mary Harrison, “but it’s really just 20 minutes a day , five days a week, for 10 weeks, if you spread it out.”

Readers keep track on the Reader Zone App, which lets them know when a goal is reached. And then they come into the library, said Harrison, to claim their Brag Tag. At Thomas Beaver in Danville, the prizes are books, from Scholastic.

“The Summer Reading Challenge is especially important this year,” said McQuiston. “Kids go into a ‘summer slide’ over vacation anyway, but COVID has put young kids behind. They are just starting to read, and we need to keep them reading.”

“It’s important to think of summer reading in terms of families and communities, not just kids,” said McQuiston. “If kids see parents and grandparents doing it, they will do it, too.”

Graphic novels have been especially effective at drawing older kids into reading, and all area libraries are stocking up on those. “Kids got creative during COVID,” said Ross, “creating more art and stories. They have become more visual.”

“They read the graphic version of novels like ‘Five Worlds’ or ‘Wings of Fire,’ and they get hooked. So, then they start reading the books themselves,” Ross said.

Books in a series are an excellent way to get kids reading, most librarians agree.

“It takes a while to find a series that draws them in,” said Ross, “but then they’re hooked.” Some popular ones are “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney, the “I Survived…” series, with terrifying and thrilling stories from history by Lauren Tarshis, the “Warrior Cats” junior fantasy series by Erin Hunter, and, of course , the Harry Potter books.

One surprising trend Ross has noticed is that during the pandemic, people in their 20s especially have been coming in and wanting to read their childhood favorites from “Harry Potter” to “Warrior Cats” and even “Nancy Drew.” “They had more time to read,” she said, “and I think they enjoyed the comfort of familiar books”

Parents and grandparents came in, too, to take out stacks of books for their kids at home. The Selinsgrove library also started delivering books to residents of Brookdale Grayson View. The Union County Library has an Educational Resources section especially for home schoolers.

How do librarians know what books to buy to keep their readers happy?

Listening to patrons is a good place to start.

“I pay close attention to what’s being checked out,” said McQuiston, “and I’m pleasantly surprised to see that classics and older titles go out, too.” She welcomes suggestions from patrons on what to order.

“When someone comes in for something we don’t have,” said Harrison, “I research the book and decide whether it’s appropriate for our library. We try to be responsive.”

“I order a lot of books,” Shemory said, “and I rely on the Pennsylvania Library Association and the American Library Association to supply peer-reviewed lists.”

All the libraries pay attention to the Best Seller lists in the New York Times Review of Books and to the Times’ periodic special editions on children’s books. Waugh and Harrison take note of the Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks for adults and young adults, because they know their patrons will be asking for those. They also read “Book Page,” a monthly magazine highlighting new books, distributed free at their library.

Harrison and Waugh also note that two subscription services: Junior Library Guild (children’s books) and Ingram Content Group (adult) hire teams of professional librarians to create updated curated lists in all genres and subjects. Libraries choose reading levels and genre categories, and select these services and ship them a box of new books each month.

“It’s a tough job running a library,” said McQuiston, “since you have only so much in resources, yet you want to do everything you can not leave anyone behind.”

Waugh finds her challenge is not so much purchasing power, but finding a place for everything she wants to buy. “Space is a challenge,” she said.


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