Blogger Eva Mitnick

A little nosiness now; effective planning later

Baldwin Hills Branch display

Like Kelley and the folks she links to in her intriguing post on Technology and SRCs a few days ago, I’ve thought about library summer reading programs quite a bit over the years – first as a children’s librarian on the front lines and now as manager of Youth Services for my system.

Really, it’s been about a search for meaning.  Why do we do it?  Is it doing what we hope it’s doing?  How do we know?  Yes, there’s the Dominican Study – but I need more!

My own questioning aside, our summer reading program is here to stay, and this year we have done away with cheap gewgaws and are focusing on books as prizes, plus chances to win system-wide prize drawings, based on minutes read (for grades K-5) and early literacy activities completed (for ages 0 – 4).

But…!  The fact that we took a new approach this year, plus our lack of data from previous years, meant that planning our 2011 program was fraught with uncertainty.  We had statistics from previous years on:

  • How many kids signed up (by branch and system-wide)
  • How many programs we offered and how many kids/adults attended them

And that’s it!

Our branches did collect  information, via paper sign-up sheets, on age, grade and school – but we never entered that information from our 72 branches and Central Library into any kind of spreadsheet or database, so in essence it was unavailable to us.

So we knew approximately how many game boards to order – but not how many should be preschool and how many should be school-aged (this year, for the first time, we have a different game board for those two age groups).

And because this was the first time we were presenting a program based on minutes read, we had no stats or experience to tell us when or how kids should earn their free book.  We also didn’t know how many books we would need, nor how many for each age group to buy (board books, picture books, IRs, chapter books).

And those are just a few of the issues we had to muddle through.  Although we are happy with our program all in all, let’s just say that Mistakes Were Made (okay okay, I made mistakes).

Next year, we’ll be set!  Like Marge of the Tiny Tips for Library Fun blog, we’re collecting information as kids register — in our case, using Evanced as our method of logging, compiling, and crunching it.  At summer’s end, we’ll know:

  • How many kids signed up, broken down by age, gender, branch, and zip code
  • How many kids (approximately) received free books (and therefore, we’ll know how many kids read at least 8 hours)
  • How many minutes were spent reading (for this year, just a total — but next year, we hope to break it down by kid, by branch, and so on)
  • How many kids finished the program (in other words, read the entire 15 hours on the game board)

And of course we’re distributing a survey to kids, and will glean lots more information from that.  Why?  We need to know what kids did in the program AND what they thought about it (and the library), both to measure outcomes and to help plan next year’s program.

Arroyo Seco Branch SRC display

When we begin planning the 2012 program this September, we’ll be armed with some good solid information.

But how the 2012 program will work?  I bet we’ll make changes.  Like Kelley and many others, I’m keeping my mind open, especially to all the meanings that “literacy” has in today’s libraries.  It’s exciting to imagine a program that has interactivity and connectivity built into it, along with an emphasis on all kinds of reading.

I can’t wait to get started!


  1. Abby

    I think we’re going to try doing minutes next year instead of books/pages read. It’ll definitely be an experiment, but I’m hoping it’s something that will really work for our community! Each year, we fine tune and make changes to improve our program. Maybe someday everything will be perfect… but probably not! 🙂

  2. emitnick Post author

    Yes, I guess perfection is too much to hope for, dang it. It’s all about tweaking and fine-tuning, as you say. Sounds like your program is going well (wow, week 9! We’re just finishing week 6).

  3. Lisa

    We also use Evanced, and our target has always been books read, rather than minutes read. We’re in high gear right now, as our kids typically don’t begin school until September, but get out much later in the spring/summer. I hope you’ll do a follow up post letting us all know how your program turned out this year. Good luck!


    My name is Dena from NE region in LAPL with 12 yrs as CT and currently FT student SJSU.
    I am so happy to hear that somebody wants to analyze all that data~~All those numbers are tools that do not get utilized. It’s like going to a construction site ready to go a job without a hammer !
    Good “Acting” job !!

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