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West Linn Public Library's summer reading program earns top 1% national completion rate

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Jack and Lily Merrill are avid readers who enjoy the West Linn library's summer reading program In just 25 days this summer, kids participating in West Linn's summer reading program together spent approximately the equivalent of one year reading. The program, which requires kids to read 20 minutes a day for 25 days, had 1,615 children join the program this year and 1,012 complete the required reading.

"This puts West Linn in the (top) 1% for completion rate nationally," said West Linn Library Youth Services Manager Sarah Flathman.

According to Flatham, the average national completion rate for summer reading programs is about 30%. Last year, West Linn's was about 48%, so the library was thrilled this year when so many participants turned in finished reading logs.

"Summer reading programs are a longstanding tradition in public libraries that began in the 1890s as a way to encourage school children to read during their school vacation, use the library and develop a habit of reading," Flatham said.

Flatham said the summer reading program can help students avoid the "summer slide," which is when the average student loses about a month's worth of instruction time over summer break.

This is one of the reasons Amy Merrill wants her children, Jack Merrill, age 11, and Lily Merrill, 6, to participate in the program.

Though the Merrill kids said they don't need the summer reading program to motivate them to read, they appreciate the opportunity to win prizes that the library offers. Jack has participated every year since they moved to West Linn from Virginia and Lily has participated every year since she was old enough. Before starting the summer program, Lily completed the library's 1,000 books before kindergarten program as well, Amy Merill said.

Jack, who said he reads constantly and would live at the library if he could, said he also likes the reading program because it incentivizes him to pick books from genres he doesn't typically read.

Lily, who read about 11 books for the summer reading program this year, says she likes reading because it's fun and she likes the pictures.

"They do both like to read a lot," Amy Merrill said. "For them, it's just excitement to complete something so they have incentive to win a prize, but they don't ever win a prize. They just get the free book and they still want to do it."

Each participant who turns in a completed reading log can enter a raffle to win things like giant stuffed animals, a telescope, a one-year OMSI family membership, a $50 Powell's bookstore gift card, and more.

Both Merrill children would recommend the summer reading program to other kids.

"It gives kids something fun to do in the summer," Jack said. He added that it's nice to go inside and read on especially hot summer days.

For kids who don't love reading as much as the Merrills, the program might be a good way to generate interest in books.

"The summer reading program fosters a love of books and reading," Flatham said. "Participants are able to select their own materials to read and are encouraged to explore books and topics that particularly excite them."

The library's summer reading program is not just for kids. Over 1,300 adults signed up for the program this year and 434 finished their required reading.

"(Adults) complete a bingo challenge that encourages trying a variety of genres along with learning more about library offerings and resources," Flatham said.

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