Blogger Abby Johnson

On Going “Prizeless”

My fellow librarians, we (finally) ditched the cheap plastic Summer Reading Club prizes this year and we are NEVER GOING BACK!!!

Behold, a Science Activity Pack! Photo by Abby Johnson
Behold, a Science Activity Pack! Photo by Abby Johnson

Everyone’s serving a different community and you have to decide for yourself what is right for your library and your patrons. But make sure you’re thinking about the program that you’re offering and you know why you’re running it the way you’re running it.

Summer Reading Club is HARD to plan and can get overwhelming. It’s easy to take what you’ve done in previous years, tweak, and repeat. But you need to take a step back and take stock every now and then.

Is your Summer Reading Club creating lifelong readers by encouraging intrinsic motivation for reading (i.e. reading for the love and satisfaction of reading)? Or are kids reading just enough to earn that toy/coupon/entry slip and then stopping?

Many libraries have come up with different ways to address this issue, ditch cheap prizes, and create a program that staff and patrons feel great about.

Check out the following posts for some ideas:

Library Bonanza: Summer LIBRARY Club
This librarian speaks about how her library got rid of reading requirements in favor of a Summer Library Club, encouraging families to visit the library frequently over the summer.

Tiny Tips for Library Fun: Summer Prizes – Goodbye!
Marge Loch-Waters shares the ways her library rewarded readers with experiential activities, like helping to build a community robot, instead of plastic toys this year.

Hafuboti: Summer Reading Booklets
Rebecca ditched cheap prizes in favor of a booklet with creative activities and coupons kids can earn throughout the summer.

Abby the Librarian: Those Summer Reading Club Prizes
Yes, I said that we ditched the cheap prizes and here I share information about the Science Activity Packs we offered instead.

What, No Tchotskes? Creating an Experience-Based Summer Program
In this program at the ALA Annual Conference, librarians from several different libraries shared their experiences with choosing experiential programs over incentive-based programs.

Having taken the plunge this year and offered activity-based prizes and free books instead of our normal toys and grand prize drawings, I can tell you that it went over better than I thought it would. I had prepped my staff extensively on what to tell patrons who complained about the prizes, but I didn’t hear one complaint all summer. This was especially shocking and delightful because I have had at least one complaint every year when we were offering much more elaborate prizes.

Has anyone else gone “prizeless”? How did it work and what do you do for your Summer Reading Club?

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN


  1. Marge Loch-Wouters

    Thanks for the shout-out but even more for the post with great sharing and links. We all need to read about different approaches to our practice. Just as storytimes used to be more about entertaining than helping parents be mighty in their own literacy work with their kids, SLP needs to get out of the “beg ’em to come” mindset that prizes represent. Change is hard/scary especially when tradition or director/peers insist that it has always been done this way.

  2. Mary Voors

    I love this post. Thanks for all the great links which offer much food for thought.

  3. Marge Loch-Wouters

    Just wanted to share what our colleague Sue Abrahamson (Waupaca Public Library WI) shared about their SLP:

    “As for life in Waupaca, we really slaughtered some sacred cows:
    – Little or no extra decorating for SLP
    – If we expect kids to read all summer, why did we only have SLP for 8 weeks? We’ve extended their time to participate.
    – Nothing but books for prizes! That’s right…. no grand prize drawings, no trinkets! When we solicited our community partners we specifically said it was all about providing books and we received $2375 to buy books for all ages.
    – Love this Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) theme! – We did an experiment a day, drop in style, you do it when you can get here!
    – 24 youth volunteers helped us with experiments
    – We started a MakerSpace event on the front lawn of the library once a month! Fun!
    – Still had 647 kids and 102 teens participating!”

  4. Rebecca Montano-Smith

    Love this article! I have long been suspicious of the trinket bribe aspect of SRPs. I would love to give away books and/or have an experience to offer patrons, even adults. Thanks for killing the sacred cows!

  5. Liz B

    When I started here about 7 years ago, I stopped all “prizes” that worked as read x books, get a prize or read x books, get in a drawing for prizes.

    Instead, we purchase a bunch of incentives and (because we are a by-mail program) send out something each week to participants. So everyone who signs up gets what I think of as an “activity packet” from us each week, and that includes some little thing like a balloon, bookmark, oversize coloring sheet, post its, ball, etc.

    I like the idea of sending the things to make stuff — especially because our weekly packets include craft/activity ideas. My problem with that has been that I’m really limited with where I can purchase things, but I’ll be thinking about this a bit more to see what I can do about it.

  6. Liz B

    Oh, and one other things — I didn’t get a single complaint about the “big” prizes going away. If anything, my numbers (both participants and items read) have gone up.

  7. Kelsey Cole

    Great to see this on ALSC and kudos on the round-up! Please feel free to contact me via my blog if you have any questions!

  8. Amadee Ricketts

    Here at Durango Public Library, in Colorado, they did away with summer reading prizes in 2011 when the longtime children’s librarian retired. I started as the Youth Services Manager that summer, and was a little sceptical… because we were all about weekly prizes at my last library. But kids didn’t seem to miss the little prizes much at all, and parents were thrilled with the change.

    Now we only give out books, and art or activity sheets. We still have a grand prize drawing, but the grand prizes are gift cards from our local independent bookstore. It’s win-win, and we’re not stuck storing mountains of tiny toys.

    I know every community is different, but this works really well here. Good post!

  9. Stephanie Rivera

    A question for those who have gone prizeless: Anyone experience a decrease in participation after going prizeless? I’d love to do away with prizes, but I worry that we may see a decrease in sign-ups as a result. We are so statistics-heavy that it would be a major blow to show lower numbers to our library board after making the change to do away with plastic prizes.

    1. Amadee Ricketts

      Our SRP registration has nearly doubled over the last three years, but there were a lot of new programs and outreach efforts during that time… so I can’t really judge the effect of going prizeless in its own right. I don’t think it hurt, though.

  10. Susan Olson

    I love, love, love these ideas. I didn’t have my kids do the summer reading program at the local library, because I am so turned off by the cheap plastic prizes, which we need like a hole in the head. However, I never thought about alternatives. I hope these ideas spread widely.

  11. Pingback: Unlocking Achievements in Summer Reading - ALSC BlogALSC Blog

  12. Laura

    We are offering a really cool “prize” which is more of an experience. We bought seed paper and punched flower shapes. We stapled them to a baggie of potting soil, and added directions for how to make a newspaper or paper bag to plant the “flowers” in. People are loving it! Thank you for sharing!

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