Cornelius soars ahead of other libraries in growth of signups, finishers

After years at the bottom of Washington County for per-capita income, poverty rate and other grim statistics, Cornelius is finally first in a promising category: growth in the summer-reading program at its public library.

From 2008 to 2013, summer-reading signups grew 491 percent in Cornelius. The next highest rate in the county’s 12-library cooperative was 89 percent (at the Tualatin Public Library).

Cornelius also came in first for growth in the number of youth who finish the program — improving 420 percent over the past five years. The next highest rate for growth in finishers this summer was 44 percent in Beaverton.

“I credit the success we had to the grant we received,” said Cornelius Library Director Karen Hill, referring to a $10,000 grant awarded in 2012 by the Oregon State Library for the purpose of reaching out to Latino or low-income families.

“It was our two interns who went to three elementary schools and spoke in every classroom,” Hill said. “They gave tours of the library, got kids signed up and almost all the programs were done bilingually.”

Those outreach interns also held story times at two Head Start programs — federally funded preschools for low-income families — and made sure students were signed up for the Summer Reading Program no matter the language they spoke at home.

Hill said their outreach brought 34 percent of Cornelius’ K-12 youth into the summer-reading program.

That’s fourth-highest among county libraries — after Banks (54 percent), North Plains (53 percent) and Tualatin (36 percent). Forest Grove comes in at the bottom of the 12-member pack, with just 18 percent of its school-age youth participating.

Cornelius also broke its own signup record this summer with 1,047 youth registering and 546 finishing.

“We needed that grant,” said Hill. The grant comes through the Library Services and Technology Act.

In 2012, only 791 youth signed up and 482 finished.

It’s common for only half the youth who sign up to actually finish, Hill said. “They get a bunch of prizes at the beginning for signing up,” she said. After that, some go on vacation and others simply fail to follow through on the record-keeping required to get the prizes at the end of the summer-reading program.

“Many who sign up don’t return their reading records, although they have read through the summer,” said Forest Grove Youth Services Librarian Ann Dondero, where the summer-reading completion rate was more than 50 percent. Last year it was almost 60 percent, she said.

That’s a good rate, compared to many other county libraries, Dondero said.

In Forest Grove, a city nearly twice the size of Cornelius, 993 summer readers, including adults, signed up this summer, an increase of 89 from 2012.

“I cannot say there is one reason why there was an increase in sign-ups for children this year,” Dondero said. “Some teachers have encouraged their children to sign up to read through the summer. Many children and teens signed up as a family as something they do for the summer every year. Some people who always read anyway did not sign up.”

Cornelius’s library experienced a decline in use once the program concluded.

“September is generally the slowest month for libraries,” said Hill, due to the start of school.

But now that more people understand what the library has to offer, Hill said, they may continue coming back throughout the year.

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