Literacy in the Park


During the summer months many children do not have access to the nutrition or academic resources needed to maintain the learning growth made during the school year. Literacy in the Park (LiP) and other library summer programs that “follow the food” aims to get books into the hands of youth unlikely to have many in their homes and those who often have challenges getting to library programs.

In 2013, the Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL), public libraries, and others partnered with the Idaho Foodbank to have a weekly presence during the Foodbank’s “Picnic in the Park” program. Foodbank trucks travel a ten-week circuit to Boise and Garden City parks and apartment complexes Monday through Friday to distribute over 1,000 free lunches for youth 18 years and younger. ICfL supports public librarians and community volunteers who follow the Foodbank trucks to about 25 sites with a storytime and activity as well as a Little Library bin of gently used and new books that children can read and return. The program has expanded as other communities throughout Idaho have adopted the model to varying degrees.

Project Background
The lending libraries were staffed by an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate and local public librarians. Additional assistance was provided by volunteers who were either private individuals or employees of local businesses who allowed their employees to perform community service.

ICfL’s traveling lending libraries, which are dubbed “Little Libraries,” are large plastic bins filled with a variety of books of interest to children 1-18 years old. They offer a generous read-and-return process, where kids can borrow a book for as long as they want and return it to any Literacy in the Park location and choose another one. Most of the books in the Little Libraries were donated by community members or gathered through book drives.

Resources allowed each park to be served by Literacy in the Park once each week. LiP visited parks on the same day each week so patrons knew from week-to-week when the program would be available. Along with a lending library, Literacy in the Park also provided weekly activities and a weekly storytime. Topics included such things as Libraries Rock!, Delightful Dirt, Wonderful Worms, and Healthy Food.

Please see the Summer Reading Outreach Guidebook for complete details on the project.
Program Purpose, Outcomes, and Objectives
    The project's purpose is to facilitate a collaborative pilot project between local libraries, ICfL, and the Idaho Foodbank to minimize the summer slide for low-income underserved children. The project would be documented and serve as a model for other library outreach programs statewide.

    LiP project goals:
  • To develop children’s interest in life-long learning
  • To motivate children to read over the summer
  • To enable children to maintain their reading skills during the summer
  • To promote local library services and programs to low-income families
  • To attract new users to libraries
  • To foster cooperation between community agencies
  • To serve as a model program for other libraries in the state

  • Objectives:
  • To provide literacy and STEM enrichment activities for an average of 1,000 children each week for eleven weeks
  • To recruit a minimum of five volunteers who will help reach summer outreach goals
  • To develop or strengthen partnerships with a minimum of two agencies
  • To provide information for other libraries on best practices in summer reading outreach in the fall of 2013
  • 75% of children surveyed at the end of the five weeks will indicate they read or listened to more stories during the summer as a result of the project
  • 75% of library and partner staff and volunteers surveyed will indicate a positive experience with the project and partnerships
A typical day looks like the following: A staff from ICfL, public librarian, or community volunteer arrive at the park during the time the lunch truck serves food. In an area near the lunch truck, blankets are spread on the ground or tables are used to display books. A storytime is presented and children can do an activity. All children and parents/caregivers are encouraged to browse through the Little Library books and choose a book or two to take home. No check outs are required and attendees are asked to return the books if they can the next time they attend. Each lunch site is visited one day a week. The LiP cycle takes 30-60 minutes at each site depending on the number of children who attend and how many sites staff are going to that day. Some sites have many parents/caregivers and children in attendance whereas others have fewer people. Attendance also varies considerably from one week to the next because of weather, summer school schedules, etc.

Program Overview
During the summer months many children do not have access to the nutrition or academic resources they need to maintain the learning growth they have made in school that year. Summer learning loss has been researched and found to be a concern, especially with children in low-income or poverty households. ICfL initiated the Literacy in the Park program in an effort to combat these effects.

Literacy in the Park is a partnership with the Idaho Foodbank in the Treasure Valley. In other communities in Idaho it partners with their local summer lunch program, or is an outreach program provided by public libraries. The Idaho Foodbank provides lunch five days a week at 25-26 sites across Boise and Garden City serving over 53,000 lunches each summer. Over the years the Foodbank has utilized AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates in their ‘Picnic in the Park’ program. ICfL was able to tap into this resource and use VISTAs to staff Literacy in the Park (LiP) program for the first two years. ICfL staff, VISTAs, and community volunteers worked with staff from Ada Community Library, Boise Public Library, and Garden City Public Library to plan activities and cover each of the sites one day per week for nine- ten weeks during the summer. This year Boise State’s Albertsons’ Library staff are participating in the program.

Each site visit lasts from 30-60 minutes, depending on the amount of children attending and how many sites are being visited that day. Staff read one or two books, incorporate a song or fingerplay, and focus on the week’s enrichment activity. They then encourage kids to choose books from the Little Libraries bin to take home and read. A ‘read and return policy’ is encouraged, but kids are not penalized for not returning books. There is an average 20% return on books across the program.
Books for the Little Libraries are gently used or new books obtained from various sources. They are cleaned, sorted, and stickered before being placed in plastic tubs. Gently used books have been donated by:
  • The Boise Rescue Mission
  • Book it Forward! Program
  • United Way book drive
  • AmeriCorps VISTA book drive
  • Local bookstore donations
  • Donations from community members
  • Books purchased at a discount by ICfL
Expansion of the program has included:
  • Boise Parks and Rec Day Camps
  • Boise Parks and Rec Community Centers
  • Local daycares
  • Lunch sites around the state
In the second year of the program there were AmeriCorps VISTAs supporting the program in Jerome, Lewiston, Nampa, Caldwell and Burley. Community partners and volunteers have been an integral part of the success of the program. ICfL has used to recruit volunteers to support each route. In 2013 over 500 volunteer hours were logged for the program, including the 40 hours per week the VISTA Summer Associate dedicated to the program. Activities have had a STEM or nutrition focus to complement the work being done by summer nutrition programs. Local businesses and agencies have donated soil, seeds, plastic containers, state park passes, activity books, crayons and gift cards for the activities. The Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial Organization has donated jump ropes, magnifying glasses, mini-binoculars, pencils, and other supplies.

Parents and children are surveyed at the end of the program each year to assess the impact of the program. Reading books to children is a proven tool for developing strong readers. Of the parents who were surveyed, 67% of them reported reading 20 or more books to their children over the summer. When asked if they had read more or less in the summer of 2015, 58% of the children reported reading more than previous summers. Literacy in the Park is helping to provide easy access to books for children and their families to read during the summer. Models such as this can be modified for large and small communities which will help stem summer learning loss for all children who participate.
Evaluation, Forms, and Results
    Dr. Roger Stewart, BSU Literacy Professor and Read to Me evaluator, designed surveys for youth and parents or caregivers. The last two weeks of the program, Dr. Stewart, Read to Me team members, and a public librarian went to each of the 23 sites to individually ask the survey questions to youth and parents.

    64 children ranging in age from three to 15 answered the 10 questions asked of them. When asked if they read more this summer than in previous summers, 45 of the 64 reported they read more this summer. When asked why they read more, responses ranged from finding a great book or several books they enjoyed to “I want to be smart!” Several cited having “the library” come to the park as the impetus in reading more this summer. When asked if the summer reading activities in the park were fun, all but eight said yes. When asked if they attended the public library summer reading program, 43 of 64 said no. 38 of 64 said they visited the public library this summer.

    65 parents or caregivers took time to answer surveyors’ questions. Respondents were asked if their children liked the books that they received. 50 of 51 respondents said yes and the other response was “some.” No one said no, didn’t read them, or not sure. When asked whether their children read more during the summer than in previous summers, 38 of 59 respondents said yes (64.4%). 16 said no and 5 said didn’t know. Reasons given for reading more were convenient access to books through the Literacy in the Park program, interesting books available, and their children finding a particular interest in reading (e.g., genre, author, topic) and thus reading more.

    Staff and volunteers were also asked to collect anecdotal comments throughout the program. Here are a few comments that were collected:
  • A mom told us that after seeing us last week she took her kids to the library for the first time and got them library cards. She herself hadn’t been to the library since she was a kid.”
  • As a child was picking out lots of books she said, “I’m going to be reading all summer!”
  • Kids asked for books in Spanish so their mom could read to them. And we had a nice selection to offer.
  • Mom says kids look forward to the library at each park they go to. “It’s the highlight of their day!”
  • One mother said having the library come to the parks made it easier for her. “With four kids, getting any place is difficult. I really appreciate what you are doing. Thank you.”
  • A dad found a book in the Little Libraries he liked as a child and read it to his son.

  • The full 2013 Literacy in the Park evaluation report is available.

Program and Activity Schedule-2016
This summer the program runs June 6 through August 5. Local librarians and community volunteers are conducting the summer learning efforts throughout the Treasure Valley. The Literacy in the Park schedule for Boise and Garden City is:
Owyhee Park- 11:30-12Comba Park- 11:30-12:45Cassia Park- 11:45-12:45
Pioneer Square Apts.- 12:40-1:10Davis Park Apts.- 12:45-1:30Borah Park- 1-1:30Garden City Library- 12:15-12:45
Sunset Park- 11:15-11:45Latah Village Apts.- 10:55-11:25Castle Hills Park- 1:10-1:40Oak Park Village- 11:30-1
Liberty Park- 12-12:30Elm Grove Park- 12-12:30Shannon Glen Apts.- 11:15-11:45
Mystic Cove Park- 12:30-1Fairview Crossing Apts.- 11:45-12:30Veteran’s Park- 11:30-1
Redwood Park- 11:30-1Phillipi Park- 12:30-1
Winstead Park 11:30-1Ivywild Park- 11:30-1
Manitou Park- 11:30-12:15
Mountain View Park- 11:30-12
Valley View Ele.- 12:15-12:45
Wylie Street Apts.- 11:45-12:15
LiP Resources

Literacy in the park event locations - June 12th - August 4th

  • Book It Forward!
  • Boise Rescue Mission
    Funded in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.