Blogger Heather Acerro


At PLA 2016, I attended the “How Two Libraries Quit Summer Reading and You Can, Too” program with the real hope (deep in my heart) that I would never, ever, ever do a summer reading program (SRP) again. You already know where this is going. That program title was a trick to get me in the door, but the presentation was full of good stuff that re-invigorated my team to finally make the changes to our SRP that we had been imagining for years. That PLA session was the inspiration that made us examine everything we were doing and start over.

Let’s begin with a tour of the past. Our SRP wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t a team effort, but rather a task on someone’s to-do list. Since SRP isn’t an easy program for one person to put together, we knew this was a practice that needed to change. Also, we ran two separately themed SRPs annually in a division that serves children birth through 18. And we didn’t have a program for adults.

While we had incorporated activities along with reading for kids for years, we always put activities on the back of the log. So, if it was printed at home, families would never know about all the great early literacy practices and school-age adventures that we recommended. Children from babies through 6th grade used the same log, with the same amount of reading expectations (15 hours) and activities. It is hard to make a theme that is attractive to a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old.

Our big program overhaul started in July 2016 (mid-SRP). First, we pulled together a committee of interested people from throughout the library – youth services, bookmobile, and adult services.

Second, we answered some questions in a group assumption storming session:

  • Why do we have SRP?
  • Who is our target audience for SRP?
  • What are the goals of SRP?
  • What are the community’s values?
  • What gets kids excited about visiting the library?
  • What are the community’s values?

Third, we did some homework and gathered community survey and focus group data, as well as researched local services, needs, and goals.

Fourth, we met for more brainstorming to answer these questions:

  • What are the community’s values? (Compared our initial answers with community findings.)
  • What are the community’s aspirations?
  • What are the community’s needs?
  • What are the library’s aspirations?
  • What are the library’s needs?
  • What are the library’s values?

Fifth, using all of the answers from these brainstorming sessions, we wrote up an SRP Mission. It reads: To empower SRP participants of all ages to experience new activities, learning, and connections within the community during the summer. This statement helped guide our early steps.

Sixth, we did more research and compiled current literature about SRPs. Then, we met again for yet another brainstorming session, this time to create our SRP logic model. (What is a logic model? Check this out.) Once this work was done, the final SRP Logic Model provided a clear plan for management and evaluation. While the SRP outcomes pulled directly from the overall Rochester Public Library Logic Model, the indicators reflected programming goals:

Outcome: Improved knowledge or skills.

Indicator: 60% of people participating in the summer reading program report an increase in knowledge or skills.

Outcome: Increased connections with each other.

Indicator: 30% of people participating in the summer reading program report increased connections with each other.

Outcome: Increased awareness and understanding of the community and its resources.

Indicator: 60% of people participating in the summer reading program report an increase in  awareness and understanding of the community and its resources

Outcome: A positive experience with the library.

Indicator: 80% of people participating in the summer reading program report a positive experience with the library.

Outcome: Increased awareness of library services.

Indicator: 60% of people participating in the summer reading program report an increase in awareness of library services.

Seventh, once we had our planning documents in place, we created a timeline of activities and started to plan. Planning activities included developing a name, logo, new logs, creating a budget and sponsorship document, and an evaluation plan.

At this point, if you are still reading, you are thinking this blog post has way too many words. And you are probably right, but this was a huge undertaking! I am going to skip to the end and tell you that we created a program called Summer Playlist. The program was a HUGE SUCCESS and worth every minute of thorough, thoughtful, and careful planning. Here is bit of Summer Playlist by the numbers:

  • 52% increase in participation over 2016 (4,042 participants)
  • 125% more hours of reading/activities over 2016 (123,568 hours logged!)
  • Parents of preschoolers (ages 0-5) reported that by participating in summer playlist:
    • 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they learned something new about what the library offers.
    • 85% agreed or strongly agreed that their child learned a new fact, gained a new skill, or tried a new activity.
    • 42% agreed or strongly agreed that they feel more connected to friends, family, neighbors, and others in the community.
    • 68% agreed that they learned more about Rochester and its resources (parks, trails, nature centers, museums, etc.)
    • 99% rated their experience with Summer Playlist positive to very positive.

Comments from parents of preschoolers included:

  • I thought the playlist was a great way to encourage non-screen activities.
  • Very glad we found this experience, my son loved it. Can’t wait to do it again!
  • I LOVE the Rochester Public Library. Your approach of incorporating the whole child/adult for learning is amazing. I feel lucky to live in Rochester and happy to support the library.
  • It was very positive to my family because we speak English as second language, so we had good time.
  • We read more books as a family than any summer previously thanks to the Summer Playlist.
  • Super fun to complete extra activities with the library to enrich our daily reading.
  • Please do it again next year! Our family loved all the levels (including the extended play)! And the non-reading options were also wonderful, it encouraged our family to go on more walks looking for birds, read, etc. instead of being on technology!

And that is just one group of surveys! We also surveyed parents of K-6th graders, teens, and adults who completed the program and reported very positive results as well. The most rewarding feedback we heard over and over throughout the summer was how inclusive Summer Playlist was to not only all ages, but all abilities as well. While we could have asked for a calmer summer, we couldn’t have asked for a more successful summer!


  1. Chantal Emerson

    Great article! We have moved from a summer reading to a summer learning program a few years ago, and have also had a lot of success in incorporating community activities into the mix.; however, I have not tried the approach of listing activities on a card, as your system has done. I love the idea, and like how it is adaptable to different ages, interests, and ability levels. I’d love to borrow your idea and do something similar at our library ( we’re a small, one-facility system) next summer. Thanks for sharing your success story!

  2. Stephanie K

    I love this idea for Summer Learning. Could you share what the “extended play” activities were? We have wanted to modify the way we do prizes and reading logs at our library and I think this is looks so fun and easy for kids. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kat C.

    Could you share the ones you did for each age group?

  4. Krystal

    Yes, I would love to see what you did for each age group. Also, how did you get the parents to actually sit down and fill out the survey at the end?

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