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Libraries push summer reading programs despite outbreak

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Alcona Community Library’s Children Specialist Shay Gray on Thursday shelves books in the children’s section of the library’s Harrisville branch.

ALPENA — As libraries in Northeast Michigan transition to more virtual programming for summer reading programs, many are seeing fewer children enroll.

Enrollment is down slightly from previous years at Alpena County and Presque Isle District libraries, officials said, while enrollment increased at Montmorency County Public Libraries.

Alcona County Library officials are not yet sure of enrollment, as their summer reading program did not require registration and officials have yet to see how many children will bring back a reading log.

Libraries throughout the state have had to revamp summer reading programs because of public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. While most libraries have reopened after a months-long shutdown meant to prevent the virus’ spread, many people are still leery about hanging out in public buildings.

But Northeast Michigan library officials said it’s still important to offer summer reading programs.

Sarah Grochowski, who oversees the summer reading program at the Alpena County Library, said it’s important to keep books in kids’ hands, especially because the pandemic caused inconsistent schooling toward the end of the year.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed schools in March to prevent the spread of the virus, so many kids finished out the school year either online or through correspondence courses. But many children in rural areas such as Northeast Michigan struggle to access the internet, and many schools saw low enrollment in online programs.

Children introduced to reading early tend to read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to books at a young age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

All children can experience “summer slide,” according to Scholastic.com. That’s a term for research showing kids lose significant knowledge in math and reading while out of class on summer break. Educators nationwide are worried about an even worse slide this year because kids will have been out of class twice as long as typical — assuming class resumes on-schedule in the fall.

Scholastic says children from low-income families are also disproportionately affected by summer slide.

Preventing such loss is why libraries offer summer reading programs.

“We try to be conscious of the fact that as little as having just five books in the home that belong to the child is shown to drastically increase literacy and a love of reading, as well,” Grochowski said.

Because kids did not have in-person instruction toward the end of the school year, it’s important for parents to do all they can throughout the summer to help their children retain their reading skills, said Tina Mulka, librarian with the Montmorency County Public Libraries’ Hillman branch.

Shay Gray, childrens specialist with the Alcona County Library, said reading can also give kids tools to use their imagination and stay occupied.

Each library has a different way of implementing their summer reading program because of coronavirus.

Even after Whitmer allowed most businesses to reopen, the Alpena library remains closed for renovations, Grochowski said, so children are unable to check out books at this time.

But she said the library’s online services offer e-books and audio books for kids.

Grochowski said participants in the Alpena library’s book club for teens will get to meet authors virtually. The library also offers summer story walks and virtual story times.

The Presque Isle County and Alcona County libraries are open to the public. The Montmorency County libraries are open by appointment only.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

For more information

Alpena County Library, 989-356-6188, alpenalibrary.org

Alcona County Library, 989-724-6796, alcona.lib.mi.us

Montmorency County Public Libraries, 989-785-3941, montmorencylibrary.com

Presque Isle District Library, 989-734-2477, pidl.org

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