Now that Summer Reading 2019 has ended and we’re fully launched into the Back-to-School season, libraries are actively planning for Summer Reading 2020. While it’s popular to adopt the theme selected by the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), many libraries have decided to forge their own paths in customizing their own Summer Reading Programs.
I’m particularly inspired by “mySummer” at Anythink Libraries, Boston Public Library’s “Champions of Reading Summer Challenge,” and Chicago Public Library’s “Summer Learning Challenge: Explorer at Play”. Summer 2019 is the first year we decided to offer a unique theme at the Simsbury Public Library, CT. Before we dive into why, I want to say the CSLP is a great resource and it can be a life saver for many libraries (and librarians) who don’t have the time, staff, or funding to create a theme from scratch. We’ve used the CSLP themes for many years and we will continue to take inspiration from them, but this year we wanted to try something new. Here are my top five reasons why:
1. We wanted our Summer Reading Program to reflect the uniqueness of our community.
One of the most exciting things about creating our own summer reading theme was that our theme could reflect our community and our values. We chose the theme “A Community of Readers” to highlight the two most important aspects of our summer program: a love of reading and the library as a community center. Our program is inter-generational, meaning that kids, teens, adults and seniors are all encouraged to participate, and we also felt that the “Community of Readers” theme would appeal to all ages and encourage families to read together. As librarians, we’re always pointing out that every community is different, with its own needs and interests, so why should our Summer Reading Program theme be one size fits all?
2. Our theme created new opportunities for partnerships.
This one was a bit unexpected, but once we started down this path, we discovered so many new opportunities to partner with people and organizations in our community (which is saying something, because we were already known for partnering with everyone.) I had a distinct vision of what I wanted the artwork to look like, but was unable to execute that vision on my own. This need caused us to research graphic designers in our area and to forge a new connection with an extremely talented local graphic artist, Bob Breno, who donated his time to make our “Community of Readers” theme come to life. The end result is better than I even imagined, and it captures how charming our town is.
3. We increased community engagement through our summer reading theme.
Our “Community of Readers” theme sparked all kinds of new ideas, as we really thought about our community’s strengths and what makes Simsbury unique. Our community is home to many talented artists and the library has a strong gallery/display tradition featuring a different local artist or guild each month. Considering this strength, I came up with the idea for a “Community of Readers” Coloring Book, featuring drawings of historic buildings and landmarks in town. I reached out to local artists, art teachers at the public and private schools in town, and students and I was overwhelmed by the response. We were able to create an inter-generational coloring book with each page featuring original art from a different local artist. This idea was so engaging that one of our partners, Westminster School, was interested in sponsoring the project. They paid for us to print enough copies to give them out for free to every person who participated in the Summer Reading Program.
4. We were able to highlight parts of the collection we love.
One of our challenges with choosing the CSLP theme was that we struggled with making thematic summer reading displays that appealed to the community. Over the years we’ve created displays with music books, books about rocks, superhero books, books about games, and a plethora of other (kind of random) topics. Maybe your community loves music and those books got checked out, but at our library, they didn’t move all summer, which is sad considering that the summer months boast our highest circulation numbers of the year. We know what books kids like and we know what books our staff are excited to talk about and those are the books we wanted to feature. Our “Community of Readers” theme inspired us to create displays around the books our staff and our community love most. We had staff picks, recommended summer reading titles, and community favorites. The adult department put together displays of “The Most Popular Books in Simsbury” based on circulation stats and holds. This summer, our display books flew off the shelves.
5. We increased participation in the program.
This one speaks for itself; 2019 was our largest and most successful summer program to date. Most of our summer prizes (like stickers and tote bags) featured the custom artwork, which really elevated the program and made every prize feel like special keepsake. Stakeholders like our Friends group and the Library Board were impressed, and patrons commented on how they loved the program. Overall, it was a bit more work, but creating our own theme was worth it, and we’ll likely return to it on a rotating basis, 3-5 years down the road.
Do you offer a Summer Reading Program with your own unique theme? Tell us about it in the comments section!
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: III. Programming Skills.
Stephanie C. Prato. Stephanie is the Head of Children’s Services at the Simsbury Public Library, CT. With experience in youth services, community outreach, leadership, instruction, and technology, she has developed innovative programs for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. She is an active member of the American Library Association and is a member of the School Aged Programs and Services Committee of ALSC. If you have any questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.