Guest Blogger

Survey on Summer Reading Trends

Summer reading. We all do it! We all spend so much energy, creativity, resources, and sanity on this one extraordinary time of year to promote the joy of reading and learning in our communities and to combat the summer slide. As we wrapped up summer reading this year my team and I were wondering about what other libraries were up to during this crazy busy season. We sent out a survey and 59 libraries responded. Here is what they had to say.

To Theme or not to Theme?

37.5% of respondents use the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) theme for summer reading, 18.75% use the iRead theme, 18.75% selected “other,” 12.5% create their own themes and 12.5% don’t use a theme at all. One Canadian respondent uses the TD summer reading club site (

When does summer start?

13.33% start registration on the last day of school for their district, 13.33% start on the Monday after the last day of school, 26.67% of our respondents catch em’ before school ends, and 46.67% selected “other” with the most common response being June 1st.

How many weeks of programming do you offer in the summer session?

40% of respondents offer 8 weeks of programming in the summer session and 6.67% offer 6 weeks, but several noted in the comments field that they offer 9 weeks, and there were a few stalwart souls who offer 11 or 12 weeks.

Pete the Cat storytime
Pete the Cat storytime (Photo courtesy guest blogger)

Can participants log reading for a longer period of time than you offer summer classes and events?

46.67% of respondents said yes, while 53.33% end it all at the same time. Several libraries commented that they extend logging for a week or so after programming ends.

Do you require a library card for participants to…

Only one library required a card for participants to log reading and/or activities. Two respondents require library cards for participants to attend high demand programs, classes or events. 80% of respondents do not require a card to log reading or attend programs.

What do you track?

78.57% track time spent reading or listening to books and 35.71% track titles read. None of our respondents track pages read. 42.86% also track learning activities, challenges, or anything other than reading. In our library, we decided to track learning activities in addition to reading because we wanted to recognize and encourage the learning taking place around our city all summer long. Several respondents commented that they track early literacy activities for pre-readers. One library shared that they have a Summer STEM program with this great quote: “Students do five STEM explorations to get a science themed prize. The goal this year was for kids to recognize that many of the activities they already enjoy, like playing with LEGO blocks or catching hermit crabs, are STEM related, and that science isn’t just something you do in a classroom.” Several respondents commented that they give credit for program attendance and bonus activities completed that are tied to their themes or that encourage participants to check out library resources like STEM kits, e-books or audiobooks.

Do you set a reading goal for participants, or can they choose their own goal?

64.29% set a reading goal for participants and 35.71% have participants choose their own goals. Set goals included amounts of time like 600 minutes of reading for all age groups, 5 hours or 30 minutes each day.

One library commented that they set a goal of 3000 books to be read by all of their participants. They did not set individual goals. “Some kids read 1 book, while others read 30. The kids smashed the goal with a final total of 3621.” Another library noted that participants can read more than the set goal, but additional prizes are not awarded. A respondent said that they ask students to read 2.5 hours as a goal, but participants can complete the goal as many times as they’d like over whatever time period they’d like. A library that encourages participants to set their own goals commented that the “participants decide how many books they would like to read (or listen to, if they’re not yet reading) during the summer months. We don’t hold customers to their goal-if a child sets their goal too high and doesn’t reach it, they can still claim their participation prize.” Another library stated that “in special circumstances, individuals that feel they need to set higher or lower goals for themselves are allowed to do so.”

If you offer summer reading online, what do you think of the software product you are using?

There appears to be some frustration out there about online summer reading options. Several libraries mentioned wanting more customization, family registration options, a less cumbersome registration process, simpler logging procedures or a more user friendly product. Positive comments on summer reading software included liking the online compilation of statistics and helpful support staff. Several libraries mentioned that they are looking for new software products for summer reading for next year.

If you offer an online summer reading program, do you also offer a paper logging option?

61.54% answered yes and 30.77% only offer logging online.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner! What prizes can participants earn?

Books were the most commonly mentioned prize with 87.10% of our respondents and entries to grand prize drawings followed at 77.42%. 74.19% use coupons donated by local businesses as prizes. Virtual badges and abandoning prizes all together were not popular choices for our respondents, although one respondent commented that “I would like to go prize-free, or do prizes that are a logical extension of the behaviors we want to encourage (like books, entry into events).” Another library shared that “this year for the first time one of the prize choices was to staple a ticket to the bulletin board. Each ticket represented ‘a donation’ (kept purposely vague because this was the first year and we didn’t know what the response would be) to a local charity. This was especially popular with the older students.”

If you offer grand prizes, what are they?

Libraries gave away some amazing grand prizes this summer including museum memberships, tickets to Broadway shows, Kindle Fires, book store gift cards, sets of books, STEM activity backpacks, Story Time backpacks, gift baskets or prize packs with donations from area businesses, a 3D doodler pen, a Spin Bot, lunch with a Hero, a ride in toy car, a doll with accessories, a guitar with an amplifier, iPads, experiences like a disco party or stadium tour, and birthday parties or family memberships from the city’s athletic center.

If you offer virtual badges, what can participants do with them after they earn them?

The few responses we got on this question were evenly divided between sharing them on social media, displaying them on a certificate, and earning a prize or grand prize entry for completing a certain number of virtual badges. One library commented that the goal of virtual badges is to keep track of what you’ve learned. Another library participates in a City of Learning program. Virtual badges are earned in conjunction with that program. Library staff submit their participation to the site, it emails them telling them that they earned a badge and how to claim it. The badges live on the City of Learning site.

Do you offer a grace period for prize pick up after your program ends?

59.38% answered yes, we continue handing out prizes for a little while after the official end date. One library hands out prizes until they run out or participants stop asking for them. 31.25% have a firm end date. None of our respondents offer online prizes that participants can print out on their own. One library noted that they like to have a grace period when possible, especially for groups.

What was your most successful summer program, class or event this year?

At our library, Pete the Cat’s visits to our 3-5’s story time classes were a huge hit. We saw a massive demand for our smaller hands-on learning STEM classes for our elementary kids, and our Teen Tech It and Take It events were very well attended. For our respondents, performers, especially those that featured animals, were frequently mentioned. One library had a very successful “Super Hero Boot Camp.” Another library offered a tween program called “League of Heroes Unite” in which participants got to create their own superhero personas, hunt evil villains, and dispatch them with water balloons. A weekly “Lego Lab” was very popular as was a “Cupcake Wars” program. A “Cowboy Round-Up” included cowboy crafts and pony rides. One library offered a maker space that was packed every hour that it was open. Other successful events included a Frozen Sing Along, Minecraft programs, puppet shows, music and movement story times, a ladybug release, a STEAM camp for 3-5th graders that met once a week for 4 weeks, a Star Wars celebration, and a Teen Anime Con. One library mentioned that although their book clubs had smaller attendance, they received great feedback from these participants.

Any lessons learned from less successful summer classes or events?

  • “It turns out that heroes don’t have a lot of spare time to read to children. We had programs interrupted when firefighters had to go fight a fire etc.”
  • “For myself, my monthly Science Afternoons were my least successful programs. I sabotaged myself by trying something new each time and having something go wrong two of the three programs because my preparations were not sufficient.”
  • “We were excited about the superhero theme and went overboard scheduling superhero-themed programs, but our community didn’t turn out in droves for those events. So I’d make sure to do a more well-rounded calendar of programs, despite the theme.”
  • “It never hurts to try something out! I am relatively new to my library and was warned that movies and story times get a low turnout. Well, movies may have been a dud, but story times were a hit. I am so glad that I attempted both.”

Tickets, Waiting Lists, and No Shows, Oh My!

61.29% offer tickets for some programs but not for everything. 6.45% offer online ticketing and 16.13% offer paper tickets in the library. 29.03% do not require tickets for anything. Responses were pretty evenly divided between releasing tickets 30 minutes in advance, 1 hour in advance and 2 weeks in advance of programs. Several libraries mentioned using Eventbright, Eventzilla or Evanced for online registration or tickets.

Respondents had quite a bit to say about strategies for meeting demand, avoiding no shows, and handling waiting lists.

  • “When we see a huge demand for a particular class or event, we do our best to add additional sessions in the future. This is, of course, not helpful for the unhappy potential participants that did not get to attend that day. We did see a decrease in ‘no shows’ when we started distributing tickets an hour before each class instead of handing out tickets for everything when the library opened. We plan to move this to 30 minutes in advance as we typically run out of tickets quickly.”
  • “We pad the tickets by 15% and have a waiting list to let folks in in place of ‘no shows.’”
  • “This year we partnered with [the Civic Theatre] to host our special performance programs. The theatre seats up to 700 guests, this ensured that all families would not be turned away. For the first time in years, parents and younger children were able to attend the performances. The change was greatly appreciated by the community. Zero complaints this year.”
  • “We only limit attendance on programs that require expensive materials or that would be best attended in small groups (workshop type). In these cases we physically call all sign-ups the day prior to the event in an attempt to confirm attendance. We still have no shows with this method, so we have learned to expect that and encourage the first few people on the waiting list to come on in and just wait to make sure we have room. It almost always works out.”
  • “We struggle with this! We have a waiting list, but that doesn’t always work, and our registration is early enough that people forget. We are going to try to have more drop in programs next year.”
  • “We pass out tickets 30 minutes prior, and they must be in line, so there are no no-shows. We used to allow online registration for programs, but stopped. That has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on most programs.”
  • “We more or less avoid registration at all costs because of the no show problem and because we don’t want to exclude interested families or add barriers.”

How do you market your Summer Reading Program?

Libraries are using a variety of methods to get the word out including pop-up libraries at Parks and Recreation events and billboards! The library website, social media, flyers to share with schools and in the library and school visits are the most common marketing methods.

How did this summer compare to last summer?

  • 51.92% of respondents selected “Wowza! Our numbers are up!” whereas 48.08% selected “Oh no! Our numbers are down!”
  • “Our numbers are down. We have had online summer reading software for 2 years now and we have learned that if it is not easy to register and to log, especially when a parent is logging for multiple family members, they simply will not use it.”
  • “Numbers are up-I think we satisfied our customer base and attracted new readers in our teen category.”
  • “I think numbers are up due to the streamlined approach we went with this year. We wanted it to be an all-inclusive program. We also gave out free reusable bags when patrons signed up for the program, so that may have helped as well.”
  • “I wish I knew! We have a lot more working parents in the community. We are trying to find new ways to reach the grandparents who are doing the majority of our local childcare. Unfortunately, we can’t get the families to come to evening events either.”
  • “The accessibility of being able to sign up online clearly helped, and having the pressure off of the individual children to read a certain number of books allowed them to read what they were comfortable with. This freed kids to go all out without feeling like they missed something because they exceeded the reading limit, or read up to the prize maximum as they liked.”
  • Several libraries mentioned school visits, outreach in the community, and increased publicity as contributing factors to an increase in participation.

What is the funniest thing that happened at your library this summer?

  • “Well, a kid did wander up to the desk and take a big swig out of a staff member’s water bottle! We are all keeping a much closer eye on our beverages now!”
  • “The juggler asked before the show if it was ok to juggle fire. We have a carpet floor. We said yes, but were ready to grab the fire extinguisher the whole time!”
  • “A child kept all her check-out receipts from the books she had checked out and read this summer, taped them together, and then unfurled them for us when she picked up her prize. It was like 10 feet long!”
  • “The funniest thing this summer was how less stressed the staff were. We didn’t worry about how many kids were registering. We just offered the program and didn’t worry about whether we were higher than last year. It was great!”
  • “We give out Chipotle coupons. A teen was at the desk while I was telling some kids about the SRG. He looked at me after they walked off and said, ‘so…tell me more about this free burrito. I’m NOT saying I’ll sign up. I’m just saying that if I did, it would be for the burrito.’”

Is there anything else you would like to share about summer reading at your library?

  • “We took a week off programming in the middle (July 4th week) and ran a Scholastic book fair. Did very well, and staff finished the summer much less exhausted.”
  • “I love my beanie baby program! Every year I purchase or receive donations of beanie babies. On the last day of the school year, they go up for adoption. Kids select their beanie baby and pledge to read 3 books and write 3 book reviews to be able to take them home. The beanie babies themselves are great salesmen, attracting a lot of attention.”
  • “It is fun, but there has to be a better way to make it more about literacy and reading instead of performers. Performers and big blow out programs get the people in the door, but unless they check out I am not sure it’s worth the $$ spent.”
  • This is my summer reading plan and this is the evaluation
  • “People seem to like our program, because they get to set their own reading goal, and it’s a simple program (set a goal, reach your goal, get a book as a prize).
  • “I changed the name from last year’s ‘Tween/Teen Crafts’ to ‘Middle School Makers’ and saw my attendance quadruple, despite offering very similar activities.”

Whew! You all had a lot to say about summer reading! Many thanks to everyone who completed our survey! This survey was performed independently of ALSC. If you have questions about the survey or would like to have more detailed information about the responses, please contact me directly at

(Photos courtesy guest blogger)


Cummings_JenniferOur guest blogger today is Jennifer Cummings, Youth Services Manager at the Frisco Public Library in Frisco, Texas. She just survived her 14th summer reading program, and it remains her favorite time of year!

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


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