‘We are slowly coming back’: Library revives summer reading

The numbers kept dropping. Charlotte County’s summer reading programs, like a number of other activities, took time to recover from the pandemic. Even after restrictions were lifted, people stayed away.

“At one point several years ago, there were over 100 participants – all children, I believe,” said Maggie Allbee. She works as executive director of the Charlotte County library system. “I do know that the participation rates had been declining in Charlotte County every year before ceasing altogether in 2023.”

Allbee took over in August of 2023 and looked to revive the practice. When she took over, Allbee said a main goal was to raise awareness of the system. Too many people, she said, don’t realize the county has four libraries, let alone what programs are taking place. And in this case, people came out to help in droves.

“One of the best things about Charlotte County is our sense of community. This is a really special place to live, because the people here help each other and know each other,” Allbee said.

And the community did just that. The Friends of the Charlotte County Library helped find volunteers, both for storytimes and kids’ crafts. The group also had a big book sale for the library in June. Volunteers talked up the summer reading program, along with other events, on their respective social media accounts. The Extension Office worked with the library system on some cross-promotion. Musician Jeremy Elder also performed live at the Summer Reading Kick-Off event, promoting it beforehand.

“We also received support from the elementary schools, who helped to get the word out about Summer Reading before classes ended,” Allbee said.

A NEED FOR READING

The summer reading program is a need, school officials say, both here in Charlotte County and around the state.

“Having an organized summer reading program is extremely valuable to help with student academic engagement over summer break,” said Robbie Mason. He works as superintendent of Charlotte County Public Schools. “When students read and engage with others about what they are reading over break, it could result in sustained or improved reading levels and it certainly eases the academic losses that we sometimes see in students when they return to school in August. I hope many of our students will take advantage of this program.”

To date, the numbers are encouraging, as parents are bringing in their children.

“We are slowly coming back to pre- pandemic library visits and circulation numbers,” Allbee said. “Thanks to my very hard-working staff, my amazing volunteers, the support of the Library Board, the generosity of the Board of Supervisors, and the professional services of Zack McKinney Technology, I think we should be back to pre-pandemic numbers within the year.”

‘A BIGGER ROLE’

While this growth has been great, Allbee and her staff want to keep building.

“Of course, I would like to see bigger participation next year from all age groups, especially from middle school and high school aged students, who traditionally do not use the public library as much as other age groups,” Allbee said. “I’d also like to offer bigger and better programs and prizes next year. The Friends of Charlotte County Library will be a huge help with that. They are my cheerleaders and fundraisers for special programs.”

For anyone who wants to know more about the Summer Reading program, the next edition at the Charlotte Court House branch will be on Tuesday, July 9, beginning at 11 a.m. The Keysville branch will hold Summer Reading on July 15 and the Phenix branch will take part on July 25, both at 11 a.m. The final edition of the month will be at the Wylliesburg library on July 31, at 11 a.m.

And as Allbee points out, there’s more than just summer reading programs available at each location. They all provide books, DVDs, computers, printers, and photocopiers, along with free wifi. Plus, anyone who lives in Charlotte County or a county that borders Charlotte County can get a library card for free. As for other activities, you can either follow along here at the Gazette through our calendar of events or find the Library on Facebook. Of course, if you’ve got any questions, call the Charlotte Court House branch at 434-542-5247.

“We are gearing up to play a bigger role in the daily lives of Charlotte County residents, with more programs and expanded services,” Allbee said. “We love books, we love helping people, and we love our patrons.”

Editor’s note: Christian Simmons wrote this piece for the Charlotte Gazette