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SLO County libraries offer free vacation 

click to enlarge TALES FOR TOTS:  Summertime reading is a good way to prevent kids from forgetting what they learned during the school year. - PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
  • TALES FOR TOTS: Summertime reading is a good way to prevent kids from forgetting what they learned during the school year.

This summer, kids can get a free trip to London! Or New York! Or Tokyo, a deserted island, the past, the future, a pirate ship, space, the middle of the Earth, Middle Earth, the fairy realm, or pretty much anywhere else they can imagine. Yep, that’s right. San Luis Obispo County libraries are giving away free trips to anywhere in the universe. Sure, they’re not physical trips, but who doesn’t want to hang out with dinosaurs for an afternoon—even if it is just in a book?

On top of countless free adventures, the libraries are also rewarding dedicated summer readers with free prizes like books, book bags designed by local artists, gift certificates from local businesses, and even a raffle for a free iPod Touch.

It’s not just a good time though; getting in the habit of reading will help kids succeed in school and in life, according to children’s librarian Kristen Barnhart. “All of the studies show that, during the summer, kids lose an awful lot of what they’ve learned,” she said. “Kids who keep up the habit of reading during the summer don’t lose as much.”

Interested adventurers can sign up at their local libraries any time between June 14 and Aug. 18. The county libraries expect to have around 2,000 participants for this year’s programs. Each child or teen will be given a reading log where they will keep track of their progress. Once they’ve completed their requisite number of books, readers can bring in their completed logs for their prizes.

Summer at the library is a lot more than just reading logs. There are specially designed programs and events for each target age group. Fizz Boom Read is designed for elementary school students and will feature live music, puppets, a magic show, and even a visit from the “library fairy.” The tweens and teens program is Spark a Reaction and will include a manga drawing workshop, interactive fused glass art, and a raffle for a free iPod Touch.

The library invests in these events in an effort to bring kids to their local libraries week after week, according to Barnhart. “To keep the habit or to get the habit,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons for the big programs.”

The county’s summer program has been around for more than 60 years. Though the central idea of keeping minds active during the off months has endured, the program itself has seen a lot of growth over that time.

“You used to just get a little certificate,” Barnhart said. “And we’d have like, a couple little programs. The programs have gotten very elaborate and professional. We would do them ourselves, or just bring in a couple local people, then more and more local people. Now we bring people in from L.A. and the Bay Area.”

It’s not only the programs and events that have evolved, the actual scope of the library’s target summer audience has widened considerably over the years. “Within the last few years, we’ve started focusing on the teens,” Barnhart said. “That has been a big change that just started within the last four or five years.”

The libraries are making an effort to serve the needs of future readers in their summer reading program as well. This is the first year that the library is offering a special summer program for babies.

Through all of the changes, the heart of the summer reading program remains the children.

“We still try to make it a celebration,” Barnhart said. “We want to celebrate kids reading. I mean, kids who started in toddler time, and then they’re reading their own books, and their own chapter books. We’re so emotionally invested in the kids; I think we get as excited as they do sometimes.”

But it’s not just children who can take part in the adventure. The library is offering a program for adults who want to take imagination vacations over the summer, too. The adult program is called Literary Elements and is running from June 3 to Aug. 30. Adult readers can win practical prizes like mugs, lunch bags, and gift certificates.

“Libraries are alive,” Barnhart said. “It’s a living, growing entity that everyone is a part of.”


Fast fact

Calling all filmmakers! The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival needs your movies. Filmmakers are treated to full-access passes to the festival, as well as hotel accommodations, parties, wine tasting, and networking opportunities. There will also be cash prizes of up to $1,000. Anyone interested in submitting a film to the festival can do so at The early bird submission deadline is Sept. 15, and the regular deadline is Oct. 31.


Intern Cliff Mathieson compiled this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send your business and nonprofit news to [email protected].

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