The books are "new, quality, and librarian-approved." (photo by Jonathan Blanc, courtesy New York Public Library)

This summer, young New Yorkers across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island can head to any New York Public Library (NYPL) branch and pick up a free book. In addition to borrowing books (without late fees as of 2021), kids, teens, and their families can take home one of 500,000 “new, quality, and librarian-approved” titles to keep — forever. The giveaway is part of NYPL’s Summer at the Library programming.

Books include Piecing Me Together (2018) by Renée Watson, The Giver (1994) by Lois Lowry, When the Mountain Meets the Moon (2011) by Grace Lin, and Duck! Rabbit! (2009), written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.

“We are particularly excited about the book giveaway this year,” Chief Branch Librarian Brian Bannon said in a statement. “There is evidence that being surrounded by books in one’s home positively impacts literacy levels, including kindergarten preparedness.”

Research has found other positive links. A 2019 study found a direct correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and their numeracy, technological problem-solving skills, and literacy when they grew up. The discoveries were published in the Social Science Research journal by Joanna Sikora of the Australian National University and M.D.R. Evans and Jonathan Kelley of the University of Nevada, Reno.

The book giveaway includes half a million titles. (photo by Jonathan Blanc; courtesy New York Public Library)

Beyond reading, studies have shown that further educational programming during the summer is a necessity in leveling the academic playing field. Summer at the Library’s initiatives aim to combat “summer slide” — the term for when kids lose the ground they gained in the previous school year. Those losses fall along income lines: Students whose families have the resources to enroll them in enriching summer activities perform better than their lower-income peers when they return to school in the fall.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that summer educational programs are effective in shrinking the gap. Among other activities included in Summer at the Library, kids this year can earn prizes for logging reading time, enter writing contests, and attend story times and reading rooms in outdoor locations around NYC.

Bannon said that supporting and engaging students and families is critical after a difficult two years of the pandemic. “Public libraries are uniquely positioned to do this while students are out of the classroom over the summer months, providing quality, free programs to engage their minds while also getting them excited about books, reading, learning, and their communities,” Bannon said. “After so much time apart, it’s time to safely come together this summer.”

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.