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!