Library’s partners in Elk River include its Friends group, Elk River Rotary and Sherburne 4-H

by Jim Boyle


The Elk River Library hosts a year-round Lego club, but never is it a more important attraction than in the summer.

That’s when children are at risk of summer learning loss, and adults are asked to step up their efforts to thwart this softening of the mind.

The “summer slide” is a well-documented decline in a students’ reading ability and other academic skills that can occur over the summer months when school isn’t in session. Numerous studies show that kids who don’t read during summer vacation actually slip in reading ability by the time autumn rolls around.

Lego club power hours, paired with STEM activities, are just one of the many programs the library runs in the summer months to reach kids and pull them into the library.

“We want to kids to keep reading,” said Robbie Schake, the library services coordinator. “It’s important we get books in the hands of kids.”

The Elk River Library, one of the 32 in Great River Regional Library chain of libraries, has gotten off to a good start this summer with more 700 school-aged youth signed up for the summer reading program, another 60 babies and toddlers as well as 150 teens, Schake reported.

It’s a team approach in Elk River. Everyone from the Friends of the Library Group, the Elk River Rotary and the Sherburne County 4-H and the University of Minnesota Extension Service have a hand in making the program a success.

The summer reading program goal in Elk River is to top 1,000 school-aged children, of which there were 957 last year, in addition to 153 babies and toddlers and 262 teens.

Pre-school and toddler storytimes help get the youngest children and their families into the library.

The Friends of the Library helps attract school-agers and teens with prize donations in addition to a wide array of contributions throughout the year. Children involved in the summer reading program earn books of their choice, a backpack and other prizes if they participate in the reading program.

Teens are rewarded with gift cards from places like Culver’s, Dairy Queen and Subway with the grand prizes being gift cards for Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The Friends of the Library group even helps with sign up for the summer reading program.

Another example of community partnership played out June 24 when children ages 6-12 filled the community room at the library for a chance to use their imagination and create. They built trucks, houses and castles out of Legos that varied in their own words from the “prettiest,” to the “most ferocious.”

One of the children proudly carried his creation to a Star News photographer to show it off and have his picture snapped. Once one did it, many of the rest followed suit without request. Those who wanted could also have their Lego structures put on display in the library.

Other students, especially older ones, gravitated toward STEM kits that foster interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Nathan Walen, an 11-year-old Zimmerman youth, was all over this during the Lego/STEM Power Hour. By the time the event was over, he was showing the younger kids how it worked.

This program has captured the interest and support of the Elk River Rotary, which agreed to match up to $750 in donations during an April fund drive. That led to $1,900 being raised, which will allow for the purchase of four more STEM kits and other toys and coding games. Currently Great River Regional Library has four kits to share between all 32 of the locations.

Abby Faulkner, a communications specialist for Great River Regional Library, said Elk River was the lone location to have a matching grant. Altogether, $24,000 was raised throughout the chain of libraries.

Elk River remains a shining star, and its community members know it.

“Between book club kits, audio books, ACT practice tests, etc., ... it’s really quite remarkable all that the library does,” said Elk River Rotarian Tricia Downey. “The Rotary is devoted to helping the community, especially the youth, so it was very easy to decide to match the library funds raised in April.”

The library adds in the summer a STEAM program, which adds an art component to STEM learning. In these hands-on classes, taught by staff of Sherburne County 4-H, youth learn, experiment and build. Each session is a different project using science, technology, engineering, math and/or art concepts. These are for children 8-12. The next one is on July 10.

There’s also a new program offering for home-schooled students called “Schooled in History” and “Schooled in Art.” The most recent one fell near the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Students learned about D-Day and made parachutes.

The older the children get, the harder it can be to capture their interest, but the library does it with programs like a Skateboard Deck Design Workshop, teen trivia and a teen book club in which youth pick the books to be read.

Minneapolis artist Mark Rivard, of Rivard Art Education, will be back Tuesday, July 30, to provide experiential learning platform utilizing art, culture and creative spirit for ages 12-18. The Clean Water and Legacy Amendment funds this program and other programming throughout the year, yet another library partner.

A limited number of spots are available, but teens still have time to register for the summer reading program. Teens are able to register online.

Younger readers can sign up at the library and earn their first free book. Kids who have a fine on their card have nothing to worry about — they can still check out books.

“It’s so good to see the kids reading,” said Shirley Swaser of the Friends of the Library.

The Friends of the Library group’s next major fundraiser is in October,, one of two annual book sales it holds. The Friends group funds everything from the summer reading program to scholarships for local graduates to quirky things like a curtain for movies, a podium and equipment.

“We are so lucky to have such a high-functioning library so close to home,” Downey said.

The Elk River Library is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. It’s closed on Sundays.

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