Summer Reading Club quilt

Lindsay Jackson, 13, right, of Perry Hall, helps Ella Javier, 6, left, and her sister, Megan, 4, with a coloring activity. Lindsay was a volunteer for the BCPS Summer Reading Club. She helped children sign up for the program and gives them stickers for completing activities and reading books. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Homestead / August 28, 2012)

A success story ought to be commemorated.

For decades, the Baltimore County Public Library system has drawn tens of thousands of kids to its Summer Reading Program. More sign up as summer bookworms every year.

How do you make something tangible to celebrate a program that has lasted so long that one-time reading program kids are now parents signing up the next generation?

A quilt would work.

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Such a quilt hangs each summer in the White Marsh Library, the product of years of work by Susan Koenig, a retired county elementary school library media specialist who now works as a part-time circulation assistant at the library. The quilt has been her ongoing project for nine years.

"I am happy to keep doing this as long as they want it," said Koenig, of Perry Hall.

Each year the Summer Reading Program includes a new T-shirt, usually featuring the mascot, Sneaks, a frisky cartoon cat. Working the last 16 years of her teaching career at Joppaview Elementary School, Koenig was directly involved in the program.

"Each year I got a T-shirt, so I had them," she said.

Those T-shirts are now the centerpieces of quilted squares that Koenig sewed together in a banner that now wraps around the inside wall of the White Marsh Library. (A different quilt made from 20 T-shirts by JoAnn Stelmack, a media specialist at Chesapeake High School, currently hangs in the Towson Library.)

Koenig said her sewing abilities are modest, and she still uses her 1975 Kenmore sewing machine. She's made a few other quilts, she said, but the library quilt is by far her biggest project.

The story of the program behind the quilt is one that the library system takes pride in.

Origins are hard to pin down. Bob Hughes, library spokesman, said various branches operated their own summer reading programs as far back as the 1950s. The program went systemwide in the 1970s, and statistics began to be tallied in 1986, the year Sneaks was introduced.

Record growth

Hughes said this year's sign-ups set an all-time record of 48,413, which broke last year's record of 45,971.

Although there's been a few exceptions, "the trend since the 1980s has been steadily upward," Hughes said.

The Summer Reading Program, which began in June and continues through the end of summer, is administered by the library system's Youth Services Department. Marissa Conners, department head, said the benefits of keeping kids reading over the summer are extraordinary.

"It's more beneficial than going to summer school," she said.

Conners said a key to the program's success is its strong partnership with local schools, public and private.

"Our county librarians work directly with the schools and their libraries. They help get the kids registered in the program," she said.

This year's turnout is described as phenomenal.