Librarians regard summer reading programs with a mixture of excitement and exhaustion. On one hand, low summer circulation numbers due to vacations can be impacted positively by a well-run summer reading program. On the other hand, these popular summer offerings can be tremendously stressful for the library staff to plan and pay for. The expectation is that the library will offer summer reading programs, so how do you make sure that the program is effective, low-cost, and manageable while still being fun and rewarding for everyone involved? Here are a few tips to help you run a successful summer reading program.
KISS otherwise known as Keep It Super Simple. Library staff has enough to do without adding on all sorts of expense and time-consuming elements to a summer reading program. Keep it super simple! The purpose of a summer reading program is for people to READ. Forget about the pricey gift baskets, expensive speakers and tchotchkes. Instead, make it about the books.
Programming should be fun and affordable. Oriental Trading Company offers some reasonably priced, fun craft kits and supplies for children and teen programming ideas. Make the programs a family event instead of just for the kids and offer something for everyone. Local authors and newly published first time authors will often exchange a reading for a book promotion. Who is in the area that would come and read from their book? This option can be a low cost event and often the author will give a copy of their book to the library. It is a win-win.
Offer affordable prizes for reasonable goals such as five books over eight to ten weeks for adults; three books for teens and levels of hours for children under 12. Patrons can always read more and librarians can scale up the program prizes for those who read beyond the minimum amount of books. Prizes for all patron levels should be something worthwhile. If you would not want it or want your children to have it, chances are the patrons will not want it either. Does this mean libraries should spend a fortune on pricey gifts to reward their patrons for reading? Of course not. Once again, it is about the reading not the prizes.
So, what are some appropriate prizes? Librarians know their patrons best. Think about how patrons utilize the books that they check out. Some read while at the beach or the pool. Scary but true. How about an inexpensive book bag that can double as a reusable grocery bag? The national summer reading programs often offer these very inexpensively. Another practical gift is a coffee mug. Again, offered as prizes in the summer reading program catalogs. Water bottles from vendors can be great prizes as well. Of course, books are always a wonderful prize. Gently used donations can be culled all year for the program and are free for libraries to use as prizes. Additionally, for the children, small prizes or craft projects from Oriental Trading Company make a fun and inexpensive prize. Donated park passes, pizza slice certificates and sticker packs are also fun.
Do not lose sight of the purpose of the summer read program – it’s about promoting literacy and exposing patrons to books. Create Great Beach Read displays, True Crime, and Whodunits for ease of checkout. Keep the program simple and everyone can have fun with it.