by Susan Baier, Santa Clara City Library
The month of May brings flowers, Cinco de Mayo, Mothers’ Day, and Memorial Day. But I would guess that for most youth services librarians, May should be declared “National OMG — Summer Reading Starts Next Month!” Month. That’s how I always view it, anyway. My May calendar is almost full with appointments to visit schools to promote summer reading. But as I talk with other librarians both virtually and face-to-face, I’m sensing that the traditional summer reading school visit isn’t the “must-do” task that it was in years past. Budget cuts and hiring freezes have forced libraries to reconsider many practices that used to be commonplace, and some have determined they simply don’t have the resources to send librarians off site for school outreach.
These are hard decisions for every library, and there aren’t absolute right or wrong answers. But for me, school visits are a core component of my library’s mission. I think it’s critical to get out in the community and put a face to the library building, and to position ourselves as a vital community education partner. In these budget times, we need to leverage every possible opportunity to promote our programs and services and remind stakeholders of our importance and relevance. And sadly, some children would never hear about our library or summer reading if someone didn’t personally visit their school to tell them about it. Children nagging their parents to take them to the library over the summer is behavior I encourage and condone. (Forgive me, parents.)
I’m such a firm believer in the importance of summer reading school visits that I end my library’s spring storytime session in early May to allow extra time for them. Taking a break from our seven weekly storytimes frees up staff schedules to accommodate more class and school visits. Not everyone will agree with this approach, and I know it disappoints some of our storytime families. My philosophy is that we can be many things to many people — just not always at the same time! It would be incredibly difficult to conduct the end-of-the-year school outreach we do on top of a demanding storytime schedule. So for a few weeks prior to summer reading, our focus shifts to the school age kids. Yes, some parents grumble but they still find their way back to us in June to be greeted by refreshed, energized librarians enthused about the new storytime session. (I’m a firm believer in the value of storytime breaks, but that’s a topic for another post!)
While still keeping school visits a priority, I do look for ways to conduct them more efficiently. If the school will allow it, speaking at an assembly gives great “bang for the buck” in that you can reach hundreds of students in a short amount of time. I remember in the past carefully counting out paper summer calendars to deliver to schools to send home with each student. Now, sending a PDF attachment of the calendar for inclusion in the school’s electronic newsletter is faster, cheaper, and greener.
Are school visits to promote summer reading still a priority for your library? Have budget cuts forced you to reevaluate them and the time they involve? Do you visit individual classes, address assemblies, or do something else? What are your best tips regarding working with schools to publicize your summer program? Please leave comments, so we can learn from one another. One size does may not fit all when it comes to libraries and children’s services, but we all benefit from hearing others’ perspectives. Here’s wishing all of us fabulous summers doing what we do best – getting kids excited about reading!
We do visits to every school that will have us! A few of our schools don’t want to take up class time with a visit, but most of them let us come. In the past, my department has taken a fairly complicated skit (and props, sets, etc.) to each school, but this year we’ve simplified it a little bit. We made a video that we’ll be sending to the schools (and posting on our website) and we have a brief presentation and activity to do at the schools.
We’ve wondered if our schools would prefer us to visit each classroom – taking 10 minutes of their class time instead of the better part of an hour (to get all the classes down to the gym, get everyone settled, do the presentation, and then get everyone back to class). I think next year we might try that with some of our smaller schools (if the schools prefer it, that is!) and see how it goes. There has to be a balance between what schools want us to do and what we can physically do. I don’t want to stress my staff out!
Visiting the schools is definitely a priority for us and we’ll continue to do it as long as they’ll let us come.
Thanks for commenting, Abby! Love the idea of a video.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a school schedule an assembly just for summer reading (I’m impressed that they do in your area!) Typically I just go during a regular weekly morning assembly. I do a simple skit, lead a silly cheer, etc. I try to stay short, sweet and memorable. I’ve also had good luck with schools allowing me to have a table at their end-of-the-year open houses. When I speak only to the kids, I never know if the parents will ultimately get the message. But at open houses, parents are usually there and they can’t escape me! Heh.
I visit as many individual classes as possible. This year I will visit 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in four different elementary schools. The schools choose the grade levels for me. Because I go with just our teen librarian, or alone, I’m not comfortable with the big assembly program. However, when I’ve had to do it in the past, I’ve requested advance help from kids in the upper grades to assist me with comedy skits.
For individual class visits (usually about 20 minutes) I bring a large posterboard copy of our action-packed summer calendar, an example of a fun craft that we’ll be making, and a sample gift basket that we raffle off during the summer. (Our Friends group generously provides much of the gift basket contents – nothing expensive, just big and flashy and aligned to the summer theme)
I hit the highlights of the calendar, explain the summer reading goal (read 5 books to obtain a certificate, every 5 books thereafter earns a raffle ticket, an ice cream party in August), and I finish off with selected reading from something guaranteed to get a big laugh – depending on the age group. (You can always count on Jon Scieszka. I’ve even read excerpts from his autobiography!) We’re lucky in that the school district offers extra credit to any student who submits his summer reading certificate in the fall.
The teen librarian does a similar trip through the middle school. By the end of the month, we’re hoarse and tired, but it’s worth it!
This is a topic I have very conflicting feelings about! On the one hand, many librarians love visiting schools and getting kids excited about summer reading club and the library. On the other hand, it has become harder (and often impossible) to visit all the schools in our service areas, much less all the classes. Also – sad to say, often this huge time and effort spent in visiting schools only results in a handful of kids visiting the library for the first time.
Like Susan, we try to speak at assemblies to save time (although this can be exhausting and not quite satisfying) and like Abby, we will offer a video next year that librarians can play and that will be on our website.
I think the key is getting to the parents. Kids get excited – but it’s often the parents who bring them (or don’t bring them) to the library. Speaking to parents at PTA meetings and through newsletters about the importance and fun (and free-ness!) of summer reading is often more effective, at least in terms of getting folks to come to the library, than talking to kids (even if not as much fun).
Unfortunately our library has closed due to lack of funding. There is a good movement going on since it is such a great community resource. Hopefully it will be reinstated. It is such a waste for this multi million dollar asset to be collecting dust.
I think the key is getting to the parents. Kids get excited — but it’s often the parents who bring them (or don’t bring them) to the library