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Extolling virtues of summer reading

With an exhaustive school year just behind them, it would be easy for the school-age set to rest on their laurels during the hot days of summer. Mary Jean Jakubowski is among those bent on encouraging those students – as well as adults – to use the coming weeks exploring all that the world of reading has to offer.

“Study after study has shown that summer reading has helped to maintain, and in fact advance, education levels, reading skills and vocabulary,” said Jakubowski, who last month marked her fifth anniversary as director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System.

Jakubowski, 54, a West Seneca native who lives in Lancaster, holds a bachelor’s degree from Medaille College and is a 1991 graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Library and Information Studies. She has worked in a variety of administrative roles at the Central Library during the last quarter century. She and her husband, Larry, have two daughters, Katelyn, 21, and Kristen, 19.

She extolled the virtues of summer reading, and programs designed to encourage the practice, including reading logs and competitions, a summer online reading challenge, a Read Down Your Fines program and a new reading app for kids. Library staff also will be at Canalside from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Tuesday through Aug. 30 to foster the state-sponsored “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!” program, through storytelling and craft-making. Learn more about all of them at

Q. How does summer reading help adults?

In today’s world, information is all around us and people have access to lots of it. Getting information from books is beneficial to that lifelong learning. We can grow as individuals, have meaningful conversations and we can begin conversations simply by opening a book.

Q. Do you see in a presidential year an uptick in books about the presidents and Congress?

Yes. A lot of people are taking a look at how the government runs, what the process is behind the elections. Whether it be a formal book or utilizing one of our databases, we have vetted, correct information. I hate to be the spoiler, but not everything you read on the internet is good information.

Q. Talk about the reading logs and competitions.

We have them for children, teens and adults. The encouragement is to read books and write a review in the hope that others will take a look at that review and become interested in reading those books, as well. We have great prizes. Each one of our libraries will be giving out prizes this summer. We encourage children to really open up their worlds through reading. The grand prize for each of the age groups is a Kindle Fire. Some might say, “Oh my gosh, you give away something that encourages online reading?” Books are books are books, whether you’re reading on a tablet or holding something in writing in your hands. We’re encouraging people to use our online services. There’s information about what’s happening at all 37 of our libraries, and on our website.

Q. You have another initiative called “Read Down Your Fines.” How common are fines?

Fines are something the library industry has and they’re supposed to be a deterrent, so we get our materials back on time. We know things happen. I’m a parent, so I understand that sometimes a book gets stuck under the driver’s seat of the car. Read Down Your Fines is a fun way for kids to incorporate reading and reduce those fines. It really is important to stress that our goal is to help make reading fun and positive.

Q. You have a new reading app for kids?

Open eBooks is a program Michelle Obama is promoting. Any child can go into any library and obtain a log-on and password and download books for free. This is a program we are promoting, too. It’s all about getting kids to read.

Q. Where are most of your patrons doing their reading?

The physical book is still important. We have many people who will say, “I will only read a book.” Downloadable numbers are rising (more than 600,000 last year) and that’s OK. We think reading is great no matter what the format. ... Something else that I think is important: The publishers are the drivers of the materials that are available electronically, so sometimes you’ll have an author whose new book comes out and people want to get electronically. We may not have it available, or publishers may not allow libraries to have it as it’s becoming available electronically, or they may say that libraries are not able to have it.

Q. Is there a particular variety of book that’s most popular during the summertime?

Probably what I call our beach reads, those feel-good books that take you away. They’re the books that help you relax, predominantly fiction, although I think non-fiction travel books are of general interest. Summer here in Western New York is short-lived and we take advantage of that. We want to have our mind’s active and we want to use our imaginations.


Next Saturday in Refresh: Five WNY spots families can have fun while they learn.