Blogger Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee

Is Your Summer Reading Program equitable?

I look at the calendar and I inwardly shudder. T-minus twenty-three (23) days until summer reading begins! Scholastic boxes are arriving. We are actively training new staff. We are brainstorming decoration ideas to the theme “Adventure Begins at Your Library.” It is an exciting time to be in a library.

However, I personally always have an existential crisis when it comes time to a formal summer reading program. It’s not that I do not support having a program. I firmly acknowledge the summer slide and what the lack of consistent reading and learning does to a children’s educational progress. I know it is an opportunity for kiddos to read whatever they want and that is key to developing a love of reading. But my issue is always with the program itself. 

Last year, I began a personal mission to start looking at how equitable my library’s summer reading was. We made two big changes to which my community responded positively.

  • We began tracking our program with the format of days read and not minutes read. Perhaps this is not revolutionary to you. I wish it hadn’t been for us! But it was. See, if we want ALL children to succeed and not have learning loss, we need a program that truly meets where everyone is at. Summer reading often highlights the super reader and that isn’t a bad thing but what about the child for whom reading is a struggle? Don’t they deserve to have a chance to earn prizes? My library met and decided that by counting days, we were giving everyone the same base line. Everyone has twenty-four (24) hours in the day, no matter how much we might want more. For some children, they will read multiple hours within a day; others can make it ten (10) minutes. But that is still huge! We made the change…..and people loved it! They thanked us for considering all abilities.
  • We picked prizes that were actual prizes. No one (me included) wants a prize that has an age restriction and/or a buy an adult, get a kid entree free. That doesn’t feel very special. I live in a community where families have multiple children. What do you do with a prize that is “come in with an adult to get your free ____?” How does that work with a single parent and multiple children? What about those who are on a fixed income? Asking them to purchase something doesn’t feel very equitable. So we changed that too. My library decided that if we gave out something other than books, it needed to have no other financial burden. A coupon for a free ice cream is actually a coupon for a free coupon. 

These are two seemingly little things but they had large impact with who our program reached. Sure, it was thinking outside of the box and shaking up the status quo..but that’s the spice of life. Maybe give it a try too? Your community might love it!

Gabrielle (Gabby) Stoller is the Youth Services Librarian at the Meridian Library District in Meridian, Idaho. She is a proud graduate of both Boise State University (BA in Psychology and Family Studies) and Emporia State University (Masters in Library Sciences). Gabby is a member of ALSC’s Library Service to Underserved Children and their Caregivers and was recently appoint to ALSC’s Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award Committee.


One comment

  1. Aryssa

    Love this–such important stuff to keep in mind! My school got a sponsor from a local Cold Stone Creamery who gave free coupons to the kids for doing our school reading challenge, and I love that it’s truly free and not a discount or BOGO, etc

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