By Jenna Kessler, Staff Writer
// As soon as summer began, children, teens, and adults rush to their local library to collect a Reading Passport for this year’s Contra Costa Country (CCC) Summer Reading Challenge, returning later to collect their prizes.
Every summer, the CCC Library system hosts a reading program for all ages. This year’s theme, “Read Beyond the Beaten Path,” kicked off on June 1 and continues until July 30.
Public library reading challenges hosted during the summer are a long-time concept. Over the years, public library summer reading programs have changed, expanded, and improved.
“Summer reading is a public library tradition dating back to the 1890s, according to the American Library Association. CCC hasn’t offered it that long, but it is a library service with a very long history,” Librarian III for Youth Services Amy Mockoski said.
The program’s budget comes from general library funding supplied by the county. The Friends of the Library volunteer groups grant additional funding to the Lafayette Library and Learning Center (LLLC) and other libraries in the system.
“Funding for summer reading comes out of the general library budget provided by CCC. Many of our Friends of the Library groups also raise funds to support additional prizes and events for their communities,” Mockoski said.
Reading Passports are available at all CCC libraries from June 1 to July 30. The Passport tracks reading progress and activities. Participants can turn it in for prizes and enter into raffles starting on June 22.
“Anybody can get what is called the Reading Passport… Inside the passport, we have an image of a trail with paw prints on it. The reader will mark off a paw print for every 20 or 40 minutes that they read. When they finish all those, they bring it to the library, show us, and we’ll take it with the contact info,” LLLC Adult Services Librarian Chris Gray said.
During the pandemic, the CCC library system created an online version of the Reading Challenge that is still available as an alternative.
“For the last few years, we’ve done summer reading completely virtually or through service at the front door of the libraries, but this year we can invite people back in the doors to see the friendly library staff, pick up their Passports, and get the chance to pick their own prize book when they’ve finished,” Mockoski said.
There is a county-wide and local raffle for participants who turn in their Reading Passports to their local library. The raffles contain many prizes, many going along with this year’s theme, “Read Beyond the Beaten Path”, which includes camping supplies.
“We have many great prizes, including backpacks, camping mugs, games, microscopes, telescopes, headphones, adorable baby toys for our little participants, and more,” Mockoski said.
These rewards often motivate participants to keep up with their reading over the summer with prizes such as a free book.
“A few years back, I remember getting a free book. Little me was so happy about that. [It is a] perfect prize for someone who loves reading,” sophomore Sparrow Springfield said.
The Reading Challenge also offers a relaxing excuse to decompress through reading throughout summer free time.
“For students, it can be a good way to combat what some people call ‘brain drain’ when people are not working on anything or reading anything during the summer. Especially for younger readers, it gives them a chance during the summer to read whatever they want…And that is important because it helps instill the idea that reading is fun and that it is not work, it is not a job,” Gray said.
In addition to completing the Reading Challenge, the program also offers frequent free events and activities throughout the summer.
“The Summer Reading Committee for all of CCC has put together a different craft activity each week. Right now, there’s one where you can make a little hand butterfly. There are also a variety of virtual programs and events…We had a ventriloquist artist with his crow puppet,” Gray said.
People welcomed this year’s reading challenge with open arms as libraries recover from the pandemic and reopen to the public again. The libraries are surprised and happy to have a record number of participants.
“We’ve got over 200 Passports turned in already. Last year we only had 280 or so returned. We are already doing really well. We have given out over 1700 Passports just to Lafayette. We had to start printing them ourselves. I’d say it’s been pretty popular,” Gray said.
With the Summer Reading Challenge, the CCC libraries provide free learning resources and promote reading and learning throughout our community.
“Summer Reading is a chance to read for pleasure and to visit the library to learn about all the other amazing resources we provide for free. Many kids and teens are able to attend classes, camps, or cultural events over the summer, but if you can’t afford these things then you are at a disadvantage. The public library and Summer Reading is available to everyone with no cost to participate,” Mockoski said.