Summer reading is just around the corner for most public libraries, which means it’s crunch time for youth services staff with a goal to engage as many young people in the community as possible with the biggest initiative of the year. If we’ve got a goal to help combat the summer slide–which it seems many, if not most, of us do, based on the plethora of conferences and programs on the topic–then high student enrollment and participation is a major objective.
So how do you raise awareness of summer reading at schools in order to get as many kids as possible reading over the summer?
Rallies at Schools – I’ve heard many a library talk about their summer reading rallies–those springtime visits to area schools to get kids pumped up about summer reading. Some involve skits, some are just a quick overview of the most important details and highlights. Many a librarian has shared details of their school summer reading rallies online; here’s how I did them when I worked in Missouri.
A Teacher Newsletter – I’m also really interested in the go-straight-to-the-teachers method adopted by the Phoenix Public Library. They’ve got a regular teacher enewsletter, and from the looks of it teachers who read it get notice of major events for their students in that knowledge sweet spot: not too early that it feels irrelevant and then goes forgotten, but not too late as to drown among all the end-of-school-year announcements. Their April blurb on summer reading is brief and includes the basics like program dates, incentives, and who to contact for more info. I hope teachers who get this newsletter realize how great it is!
Special Summer Reading Lists – One of the most successful reading initiatives we do at my library is our annual summer reading list. We’ve got two age-specific versions: Cool Summer Reads for grades 3-5, and Hot Summer Reads for grades 6-8. Committees of staff select 10-12 titles each year for these lists, then in the spring staff visit schools to promote the lists and the library summer reading program. Every student gets a promotional bookmark listing the books, and kids positively flock to the library as soon as the visits start to get these books. To keep the enthusiasm running strong over the duration of the summer, we encourage kids to vote and rank their favorites on our summer reads website. Then, sometime during the next school year, we bring one of the top authors to local schools for in-person visits. Cue the excitement.
Register Participants Where They Are: Community Events – I’m sure many library staff are already getting families in the library asking when summer reading will begin. That’s great! They’re excited! If they’re in the library asking about the program, though, chances are they’re regular participants–which means their kids are going to read and be part of the program no matter what. What about the kids whose families aren’t currently aware of summer reading, or who can’t easily get to the library? At my library, we’re trying two new strategies this year for engaging as many kids in summer reading as possible. First, we’re offering a special weekend of advance signup for the club. Those signups will happen at our village’s annual Festival of Cultures. The library has always had a booth at the festival, which is highly attended, but this year we’ll also be signing folks up for summer reading. People are already at the festival–now the summer reading registration desk at the library is one less stop on their to-do list for summer.
Register Participants Where They Are: School – The second thing we’re trying is the automatic enrollment of students with library cards at one of our school districts. We’ve been working with schools for years to help every public school student get a library card, and for the school record to include the child’s library card number. Based on the permissions caregivers gave when they signed the library card form, and with the school’s partnership, we’re able to automatically enroll every student with a library card in our program. A letter is going home to all the students to explain the program and that kids are already involved, and it includes the game board for the program. This strategy means families with limited transportation need to find their way to the library only once over the course of the summer, to turn in their stuff–if that. We’re also working with the school to bring some special bookmobile stops to the school community, too, hopefully making access even easier for many families.
These are a handful of ways to think about raising awareness of your library’s summer reading program among kids and students in your community. How do you go about letting them know about your program?
Amy Koester, Youth & Family Program Supervisor at Skokie (IL) Public Library, is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.