Vacation Reading Club

The start of the Summer Reading Program is just around the corner! Summer reading has been a longstanding tradition of public libraries, and here at the Pasadena Public Library, this tradition got its start in 1921 with the Vacation Reading Club.

This news clipping is from a huge scrap book of library news clippings from 1919 to 1925. It’s dated 1921 and is the earliest extant record that mentions a summer reading program in Pasadena. Pasadena Star News, July 19, 1921 (PPL Archives)
This article states that the Pasadena Public Library started its summer reading program in 1920, which is very close to the 1921 start date mentioned in a couple of other sources. The difference of one year is negligible, and both dates serve to establish that summer reading at PPL began at the outset of the 1920s. Pasadena Star News, August 7, 1952 (PPL Archives)

Children were given reading lists, which were developed by the children’s librarian as a guide to reading on different topics and also as a way to promote quality literature and foster good reading. Only books that were deemed good literature by the librarian were included in reading lists.

Reading lists for children can be traced back to the late 1890s when the very first summer reading clubs were organized by librarians in the United States. These two reading lists for grades 3–4 and 5–9 were given to children who joined the Pasadena Public Library’s Vacation Reading Club. 1924 (PPL Archives)
Inside grades 3–4 reading list. 1924 (PPL Archives)
Vacation Reading Club reading list for grades 5–9. 1925 (PPL Archives)

In the early 20th century, many libraries included fun activities and games as part of summer reading. The Pasadena Public Library offered children’s programming such as storytime during the summer. Dramatic storytelling brought stories to life and was very popular with the young and old, as this photo from 1926 shows.

Children listen to the many whimsical tales told by Stewart Dugald Walker, who is dressed as Peter Pan. This photo was probably taken near the Boys’ & Girls’ Library, which was built in 1922 adjacent to the main library in Library Park (now called Memorial Park). 1926 (PPL Archives and PDHC)

Early summer reading programs did not offer prizes to children for reading books mainly because librarians wanted young readers to focus on and appreciate the pleasure of reading. However, the librarians at the Pasadena Public Library may have given bookmarks to them if only so that they wouldn’t damage the books.

These bookmarks were not only practical but also inspirational and instructional. The bookmark on the far left and the one on the right below reminded children to take good care of library books. Teaching and promoting proper book care was in fact one of the main goals of the very first summer reading clubs from the late 1890s, since it was around this time that public libraries began offering library services to children. c. 1920s (PPL Archives)
The number at the bottom of each bookmark indicates there may have been a series of designs. c. 1920s (PPL Archives)

Children who have read ten books from a reading list and gave a brief oral report about each book to the librarian received a certificate, which was presented to them at their school in the fall, according to an article by Jeanette Drake—head librarian of the Pasadena Public Library (1919–1936)—that was published in a 1922 issue of Library Journal. In this article, she mentions that during the previous summer, “books read were of a superior type” and the reports demonstrated that the “children had grasped all of the important points [of the story]” (Drake, 1922, p. 397).

This Vacation Reading Club certificate was given to each child who successfully completed the summer reading program. c. 1920s (PPL Archives)

As the Pasadena Public Library gets ready for its 97th year of summer reading, it’s proud to continue this long and rich tradition that has made summertime so much more fun and exciting for many boys and girls over the years. The Library’s Summer Reading Program today continues to provide entertainment and enlightenment for many children and their parents while staying true to its purpose of promoting literacy and encouraging lifelong reading and learning among children—goals that were first established by the Vacation Reading Club of yesteryear.

Getting ready for summer reading! Photo from 1948-49 Library Annual Report. (PPL Archives)



Baird, J.T. (Ed.). (1989). Pasadena Public Library: A pictorial history. Pasadena, CA: Pasadena Public Library Foundation.

Bertin, S. (2004). A history of youth summer reading programs in public libraries (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from 

Drake, J.M. (1922). The Boys’ and Girls’ Library at Pasadena. Library Journal, 47, 397–398.