Blogger Eva Mitnick

Creating a new crop of Library Kids

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’s why I was so thrilled with the California Library Association’s California Summer Reading Outcomes Project.  There are two outcomes, but the second outcome is particularly dear to my heart:

[Desired number] of [underserved target group] participate in the summer reading program.”

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

Some examples:

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!


  1. Susan Ujka Larson

    Thank you for bringing attention to under-served customers. Many are forgotten in the digital divide — caused by the monetary divide. I work in a library with a large customer base of kids coming to the library just to use the Internet computers because they have no computers at home. How do we involve them in the Summer Reading Program? They’re in the library almost every afternoon, but they’re not interested in reading for pleasure or special programs. Any suggestions?

  2. Mary Voors

    Great question, Susan! I hope others jump in with suggestions. I know one successful thing we do at our Library is a program called “We Read, Wii Play.” In this program, for every twenty minutes kids read, they ‘earn’ a ticket to play for twenty minutes on a Wii Game system we set up in one of our meeting rooms. Kids love it, and it seems to attract some of the kids like you describe.

  3. emitnick Post author

    We have that problem at many of our branches – kids who cluster around the computers but seem uninterested in the books lining the shelves or the programs taking place in our meeting rooms. At least they’re in the library – that’s a great thing!
    Most of our branches have GAB volunteers – they read to and with kids one-on-one or in small groups, in order to share the joy of books with kids (it’s not a tutoring program). We encourage these volunteers to read to any kids who are waiting in line for a computer, as they’re a captive audience! We sign them up for the summer reading program as well, and those minutes spent listening to a volunteer read aloud can be logged on their game boards.
    Actively seeking their participation can get these kids involved. Asking older kids to choose some great picture books to put in a display, or giving them craft supplies to create art for the bulletin board, or giving them joke and riddle books and asking them to pick their favorites for an upcoming program are ways to include kids and make them feel empowered. And it creates buy-in that may well encourage them to check out a program or even sample a few of those books and magazines surrounding the computers!

  4. Kelley Beeson

    Excellent post! We’re in the midst of a big overhaul of our own SRC for 2012 and this is a great approach!!

  5. Faith Brautigam

    We’ve had some success with two approaches. One is to invite low-enrollment schools to the library at the very end of the school year for a specific night for just that school’s families. We present info on the summer reading program in the parents’ first language and have other fun activities, including a prize drawing that they can enter only by showing that they have signed up for the reading program. If the principal is very involved in this, it can make a world of difference. He is the “expert” saying that their kids should do the reading program.
    We have also taken our reading program on the road. By doing story programs linked to the reading program at section 8 housing, we’ve reached kids whose parents have never darkened the library door–and eventually some of them love our staff and activities so much that they make that leap and do show up at the library. Even for those who don’t, we’ve kept them reading over the summer and created positive memories associated with the library.

  6. emitnick Post author

    Great ideas! Getting the parents and principals actively involved is awesome.

    My library system is using “group” game boards for the first time this year, and creating kits for group leaders to use in their organizations. Like you, we’re making a push to get the summer reading club out of the library and into the community.

  7. Tina

    I thought that this was an interesting blog post, and wanted to contribute an idea of my own (still untested): expanding your program to include the children at summer camps, especially the municipal ones, if possible. Of course, this would involve contacting the person in charge of summer camps in advance to determine feasibility (camp theme, etc)… but what results can be a wonderful experience. From teaching March Break alone, I had 27 kids in my camp reading 20 minutes a day, willingly. Books were checked out by the instructor from the library, and reading was used for in-camp rewards, including extra gym time. Transferring a library’s summer reading program to include camps would significantly expand the amount of children able to participate by bringing the library to the kids.

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