With the closure of Jackson County's public library system in April, summer reading prospects looked grim for many pupils.

With the closure of Jackson County's public library system in April, summer reading prospects looked grim for many pupils.

In response, the Medford, Phoenix-Talent and Ashland school districts have intervened to help make summer reading materials available to their respective students by opening school libraries' doors at least once a week during the break.

Prospect School District officials are also considering whether to open school libraries for the summer, while the Central Point School District and city officials are discussing whether to partner to fund summer operation of the county library branch in Central Point.

"Summer reading is absolutely critical to maintaining elementary students' reading skills during the lapse in the school year, and some students' families can't afford to buy books from (bookstores)," said Rich Miles, Medford schools elementary education director. "I thought to myself, 'What can we do?' The obvious answer was to provide access to books at the school libraries."

The 15-branch county library system was shuttered when federal timber payments — a source of $23 million in county revenue annually — expired and weren't renewed. County voters subsequently rejected a measure to levy a property tax to fund the libraries.

Miles sought financial help from the Medford Schools Foundation's Edna & Merle Stewart Fund to open school libraries during the summer. A $2,100 grant from the foundation will allow the school district to staff libraries at Jackson, Jacksonville, Oak Grove, Lone Pine and Wilson elementary schools.

"We are really excited about having this money and making this connection between education and Edna Stewart, who was a longtime teacher in our district," said Tricia Prendergast, a foundation member and Medford School Board member.

Anyone enrolled this year in kindergarten through grade 6 in the Medford district may check out books at any of the five school libraries with a student ID. The libraries also will be open to home-school pupils who are registered for any activities at a Medford school.

When the public libraries closed, "I felt sorry because over the summer last year I checked out a lot of books and read them all," said Dylan Moreno, a Jacksonville Elementary third-grader. "I feel good now because my school library is going to be open."

Pupils enrolled this year in the Phoenix-Talent School District school may check out books at any Phoenix, Talent or Orchard Hill elementary schools. Operation of the libraries will be funded largely by federal funds intended to increase educational access for low-income students.

Ashland School District officials and city officials have pooled financial resources to open five school libraries on a rotating basis Monday through Friday during the summer.

Miles said in his past experience as a teacher, he has seen students improve their reading skills by an entire grade level by reading voraciously all summer.

"Reading is just like athletics: you need to practice to get better, so you need materials to practice to keep up with your reading or improve it," Miles said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.