Reading doesn't stop for COVID: Libraries a sanctuary for young people

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

Ashlynn Godfrey, 17, has participated in the York County Libraries' SummerQuest programs for as long as she can remember.

This summer was her first time leading a program herself.

"I've always really liked reading," Ashlynn said. 

Ashlynn led three meetings of a summer book club for children ages 9-12, hosted at Clayton Eli Emig Park in Hallam. It was one of the few in-person programs the library offered as part of this year's SummerQuest series. 

The series was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and participation hasn't returned to its normal levels yet. But library officials made adjustments to the programs this summer to make them more accessible. 

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SummerQuest originated in 1986 and features hundreds of events each summer across York County Libraries' 13 locations, according to contract manager Paula Gilbert. Participants are encouraged to log their reading minutes and visit a variety of parks in the county to earn prizes throughout the summer, she said. In addition, SummerQuest features specific events, like virtual escape rooms and meetings with local authors. 

Kreutz Creek Library's Tween Book Club is led by teen volunteer Ashlynn Godfrey, 17, left, of Springettsbury Township, at Clayton Eli Emig Park in Hallam, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Before the pandemic, Gilbert said the series garnered about 9,000 registered participants in 2019. In 2020, participation dropped to about 3,200, and this summer the number rebounded to nearly 6,000 participants. Participants can register for programs online through the York County Libraries website at yorklibraries.org. 

Kreutz Creek Library teen volunteer Ashlynn Godfrey, 17, right, asks trivia questions during Tween Book Club with  at Clayton Eli Emig Park in Hallam, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. The book club originated at the library in Hellam Township. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The series encourages reading and physical activity through the months of June, July and August. The programs are crucial in preventing learning loss, which is a growing concern among education officials during the pandemic. Gilbert said national research shows that when students read regularly during the summer, they can prevent backsliding of up to two reading levels. 

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Last summer, Gilbert said all SummerQuest programs were held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns. Officials had to decide last February what events the series would feature this year. With pandemic conditions hard to predict, Gilbert said they stuck with a majority of virtual events but found some opportunities to hold in-person events outdoors. 

"We're still erring on the side of caution," Gilbert said. 

As a Central York High School student, Ashlynn spent the last school year attending her classes through Zoom from her home. Though she had some face-to-face interaction with classmates through her extracurricular activities, she said she was happy to have the opportunity to mentor younger students in person this summer. 

Ashlynn's sister Abby participated in one of last summer's virtual programs, a remote book club, which gave Ashlynn the idea to lead her own book club this summer.

Community Relations Director Deb Sullivan said most of the summer programs are led by adults, but the library does offer some opportunities for teen leadership during the summer and throughout the year. 

Ashlynn selected the book "Pie" by Sarah Weeks for participants to read because she read it when she was younger and enjoyed it so much she finished the book in two days.

Katrina Rhinehart, 16, of Springettsbury Township, refers to the book "Pie" by Sarah Weeks during Tween Book Club at Clayton Eli Emig Park in Hallam, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

During the final book club meeting this summer, Ashlynn and other book club members brought homemade pies for members to enjoy while they discussed the ending of the book. Ashlynn led the discussion and several games — all related to the content of the book — keeping all the members engaged through the hour.

Before the end of the meeting, one of the participants asked Ashlynn if she would lead another book club in the future.

Ashlynn said she was planning to host another book club in the fall if her schedule allowed it. 

While Gilbert said she hopes conditions allow the library to host more in-person events next summer, the pandemic has left a permanent mark on SummerQuest. Through the virtual events, she said the program gathered new participants who couldn't normally access the library's services through in-person programs. Because of this, Gilbert said virtual programs are likely to continue in the series. 

From left, Emmie Strautin, 10, Eloise Rhinehart, 10, and Katrina Rhinehart, 16, enjoy pie during York County Libraries' Tween Book Club at Clayton Eli Emig Park in Hallam, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. It would be the final club meeting held to discuss the book "Pie" by Sarah Weeks. Dawn J. Sagert photo