It’s February, and for many libraries that means planning for Summer Reading is in full swing. Summer Reading is a linchpin event in a lot of communities, and a fantastic free program that brings a lot of families a lot of joy. But for some families, even a free program like Summer Reading may be difficult to fully access.
Not All Families Can Use All Summer Reading Prizes
Here’s the story of my personal Summer Reading heartbreak. I was eight years old, and it was the only year in my childhood that I had a reliable grown-up able to bring me to the library to both pick up my Summer Reading log and hand it in at the end of the summer. As a huge reader, I was absolutely over the moon that I was able to show off my reading to a librarian. I cannot describe to you my immense excitement when I got my little prize pack. And then my crushing disappointment, when I found I wasn’t able to use any of my prizes. While many of my peers had loving grown-ups who could take them to use the free museum passes in the packet, I did not. While many of the families in my area could use the coupons for money off ice cream and pizza, I could not.
And I was not alone. For many families, prizes from a Summer Reading program can be an amazing gift. For others, they fall short. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we can ask good questions to better understand how accessible our prizes are.
Is “Free” Really Free for All Families?
Of course, not all libraries use prizes for their Summer Reading programs. Some simply don’t have the budget for prizes. Others have chosen not to offer prizes in light of research showing that prizes may diminish a child’s motivation to read. But for those that do offer prizes, books, coupons, and free or reduced-price tickets are popular items.
Items like coupons and tickets have pros and cons to them. Do the prizes require any additional purchase to be used, such as a buy-one get-one offer, or a free child’s ticket with purchase of an adult’s? Or are they completely free? For some families, discounted passes to a baseball game or coupons for restaurants are the only way they are able to afford to have these experiences at all. That’s huge! The library could be providing a very rare opportunity for family fun or a cultural experience. For other families, any additional cost can make the tickets or coupons unusable. Even spending just a few extra dollars can be out of reach for many families.
Even a completely “free” ticket isn’t completely free to all families. A ticket to a baseball game is only usable if you can also afford to get to the stadium. The money saved on the ticket is incredible to some families, but for others, that simply isn’t free.
There is no definitive right or wrong answer here. Many libraries are doing the best they can with what they can. Donations from local businesses can help a Summer Reading program thrive. At the same time, we don’t want to overlook the downsides.
Does your library offer prizes for Summer Reading? What prizes do you think have been accessible to the most patrons?
Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is a Children’s Librarian for Santa Clara County Library.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, V. Outreach and Advocacy