The Berks County Public Library System prepares to launch ‘Summer Quest’

Written by Emily Fitzpatrick Kenniston.

Photo courtesy of Berks County Library Systems.

Chances are, everyone reading this article can conjure up their favorite childhood memory of one of the most wonderful times of the year–summer vacation. From reminiscing about beach vacations and pool parties, to the memory of the exciting tinkle of the ice cream truck rumbling through your neighborhood, childhood summers are full of unprecedented magic.

As thrilling as summer is, however, it can come with an unfortunate side effect for kids: the “Summer Slide”. According to Scholastic, “The concept of the summer slide has been on researchers’ radar since at least 1996, when one of the first comprehensive studies on the phenomenon was published. The study showed that kids lose significant knowledge in reading and math over summer break, which tends to have a snowball effect as they experience subsequent skill loss each year. A more recent study of children in 3rd to 5th grades also showed that students lost, on average, about 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math during summer break (source).”

Fortunately for Berks County parents, they can put their minds at ease about this phenomenon–their local library is a powerful ally to help them combat the Summer Slide.

An integrated network of 19 member libraries in 23 locations, Berks County Public Libraries (BCPL) has provided a county-wide summer reading program for Berks County children since 1987. Originally known simply as the Summer Reading Program, BCPL rebranded the program as Summer Quest in 2018.

“We wanted this [rebranding] to focus on more than just reading,” shared Emily Orischak, the Community Relations Coordinator for the BCPL. “We chose the name ‘Summer Quest’ because we didn’t want people to think of the program as summer school–it’s an adventure! We want kids to play and discover…with the added attraction of learning.”

Each library location sets their own schedule of events for the program, which can include everything from partnering with local businesses (such as farms) for on-location storytime and exploration activities, to virtual and grab-and-go events and activities, to special guest performers and speakers.

​Marissa Guidara, the Youth Services District Consultant for the Reading Library District, shared that Summer Quest programs involve much more than just reading for children of all ages. “STEM activities are as ubiquitous [to the program] as storytime,” she said.

“One thing that has been a focus of Summer Quest has been giving children the opportunity to try new things to see if it sparks an interest…and if it does, letting them know that they can find out more at the library! Our librarians do a good job of tapping into kids’ interests, and validating those interests as well.”

She added that libraries can provide a safe space for teens in particular. “We call the library a ‘third space’,” she said. “It’s not home, it’s not school–it’s a third place for teens to come and just be a teen.”

She shared that prior to the pandemic, 45,000 students across Berks County participated in Summer Quest. In 2020, when the program was entirely virtual, 65,000 students joined in on the fun. “Last year was right as things were starting to open up–people were really interested in connecting to the library,” she said, noting that 21,000 students participated in 2021, and she expects far more learners to participate in 2022.

​Ms. Guidara emphasized the fact that the Summer Slide has statistically shown that students can lose up to two months of previously learned material over the summer, and that participating in a program such as Summer Quest can help learners of all ages avoid that slide.

Photo courtesy of Berks County Library Systems.

“We provide an informal learning environment,” she said. “This is so appealing to kids–and adults–for whom the traditional format of schooling isn’t helpful. There are no tests; no repercussions if your project fails…[Summer Quest] offers comfort due to a no-stakes learning environment and encourages children to explore their own interests.”

Ms. Guidara also added that a cornerstone of Summer Quest is a traditional “Learning Log”, where students keep track of their reading and learning activities throughout the summer for a chance to win special incentives and prizes.

​Ms. Orischak emphasized that the majority Summer Quest programs across the BCPL locations are completely free of charge. “Summer camp can be expensive,” she said. “Library Summer Quest programs are free for people to come and participate. There is no financial blocker.”

She also added that students are not limited to only participating in programs at their local library; they are welcome and encouraged to register for any program that interests them across the entire BCPL system. Added Ms. Guidara, “The libraries have wonderful, free programs year-round, but summer is really our time to shine since kids are out of school. We have programs and engagements for all ages, from babies all the way up to teens.”

​Summer Quest is scheduled to kick off in early June. For more information, visit, or search for more details via each library’s website:

Bernville Area Community Library, Bethel-Tulpehocken Public LibraryBoone Area LibraryBoyertown Community Library, Brandywine Community Library, Exeter Community Library, Fleetwood Area Public Library, Hamburg Public Library, Kutztown Community Library, Mifflin Community Library, Muhlenberg Community Library, Reading Public Library, Robesonia Community Library, Schuylkill Valley Community Library, Sinking Spring Public Library, Spring Township Library, Village Library of Morgantown, Wernersville Public Library, West Lawn-Wyomissing Hills Library, Womelsdorf Community Library.

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The Berks County Public Library System is a department of the County of Berks, serving 411,442 county residents across 866 square miles and 72 municipalities since 1986. Through the support of the Berks County commissioners, BCPL staff aids in strengthening the Berks County community by providing centralized support for the 19 full-service member libraries and four branches.