Summer is two whole months away, and yet I’ve been wallowing in all things Summer Reading Program 2011 since the end of last summer.
Really, our planning began while last summer’s program was still in full swing. We knew we wanted to make some big changes, so my Youth Services office cast a keener-than-usual eye on the goings-on in our 72 branches and Central. What was working? What wasn’t? What great ideas in individual branches should be implemented system-wide?
We looked at counting books vs. minutes, when and if to offer incentives (and if so, which ones?), contests, online products, raffles, programming, and dozens of other elements.
When the program was over, we asked our Children’s Librarians to submit reports soliciting their opinions about the 2010 program and soliciting ideas for the next. And after the CSLP manual and graphics were released in October, we invited discussion on our internal wiki.
As the result of all this, we designed what I hope will be a program that is fun and inspiring for kids and families, but not too onerous for staff to administer. But the details of the program aren’t what this post is about.
Like most library systems, we do a pretty good job of offering a great summer reading program to our patrons. Last year, the kids who signed up let us know, via survey, that they love participating. However, those kids were mostly the kids who came to our library every summer – and throughout the year. They’re the Library Kids! And I’m glad they love us, ’cause we love them.
But I can’t stop thinking about all the other kids out there in our city, the vast majority of whom do not join the summer reading program (or come to the library regularly, for that matter). How do we get to them? How do we encourage them to come to the library over the summer?
All our children’s librarians promote the summer reading club in the local schools they serve, and we let organizations and school district administration know as well. And we do attract a small number of first-time library users to the summer reading program every year. But not enough.
That sounds like an output rather than an outcome, but the idea is that this is a change in behavior in the targeted group.
Just as important is the fact that this means a change in the library’s behavior as well. Each children’s librarian must:
- Think about their communities. Who is participating in the summer reading program? More importantly, who is not?
- Identify an underserved group that they want to target.
- Decide what the goal is in terms of how many of the group will participate in the summer reading program
- Create an outreach plan to entice that group to come to the library
I would like to sign up at least 20 4th and 5th graders this summer, because I’ve had hardly any older kids the last few years. I’ll create fun activities with tweens in mind and will visit 4th and 5th grade classrooms in June to promote them.
I would like to sign up 10 Spanish-speaking families with children under 5 years old, because I see these families in the library but they don’t participate much in organized activities. My early literacy reading club materials and flyers will be available in Spanish, and I will make sure to offer Spanish and/or bilingual storytimes throughout the summer.
Really, it can be any group in the community (boys; a certain age group; a certain school; a day camp; a certain language or ethnic group) – the idea is that the librarian is making a special effort to reach out to its members and draw them in.
This is a lovely way for librarians to focus on priorities and use our time and energy wisely. More importantly, it’s a terrific way to fulfill an important goal of summer reading programs – to attract kids and families to the library for the very first time.
If we get even a handful of non-users to the library for summer reading club and encourage them to read for fun all summer long – why, they may just tell a friend or two about the library! And they’ll come back during the school year because they’ve learned about the resources and services we offer.
And we’ll have a new crop of Library Kids for next year’s summer reading program!