Okay, I’m hedging a bit to call 2022 my first experience with Summer Reading because I did serve on the Summer Reading Committee in 2021 as a part-time library assistant. However, I was on the prize committee so I spent more time sourcing materials and putting together prizes. Our 2021 summer reading was also on a smaller scale than this year’s summer reading as we were able to book a full slate of performers this year!
Read Beyond the Beaten Path
As a committee comprised of full-time and part-time staff, we decided on our program format and goals. Our goal for kids ages 5-9 was to encourage more reading while our goals for Tweens, Teens, and Adults were to encourage library visits and use of library materials. We decided that we would purchase and utilize prize wheels and offer all ages the chance to spin the wheel.
Adults, Tweens, and Teens got to spin the wheel any time they checked out an item from the library with a cap of one spin a day. Kids won a spin on the wheel every time they read five hours and then received a grand prize (a decorate your own library bag kit) at 20 hours of reading.
Every wheel spin gave the patron a chance to win a small, medium, or large prize. Small prizes were things like stickers, buttons, and bookmarks; medium prizes included 3D printing vouchers, small toys, raffle tickets for tween and teens, and museum tickets; and large prizes were mostly books and a few donated gift cards.
We officially registered Kids, Tweens, and Teens on our reading platform, Beanstack, and had around 850 total registrants! We also had 2300 wheel spins across all age groups over the course of the summer. This was a big turnout compared to last summer and it was fun to see how excited kids were about spinning the wheel.
Once we settled on our program format as a whole committee, we split into sub committees to handle individual aspects of the program: advertising and materials, programming, and prizes
This year, I served on the programming sub-committee. Together with a couple of my coworkers, we set the goal of booking 8 to 9 performers over the course of the summer aiming to split the programs between all three branches, meet a target budget, offer at least one virtual or hybrid option, and have a mix of program types including music, STEM, arts, and animal programs.
We began meeting as a sub-committee in March and I was surprised how many performers it felt like already had very packed summer schedules!
By the beginning of May we had fully booked 10 performers with 3 music programs, 1 Stem program, 4 animal programs, and 2 puppet shows. And we came in under our budget estimate which was a big plus. Unfortunately, the way my schedule worked out I wasn’t actually able to see any of our performers, but from what I heard from my coworkers they were all great!
Our visiting performers were music and animal heavy, so for our staff led programs we decided to focus on art and STEM programs to supplement those categories
Running Staff-Led Programs
Once we had our performers schedules sit with at least one performer a week for our 8 week summer reading program, we began to fill in staff led programs. This was a little easier as our goal was to have at least 1 program per week per location when possible (this was more feasible for our larger two locations which also have more staff to help with programs).
At my location we ended up with two STEM programs, one craft program, and a special evening campfire pajama storytime where my coworker Julie made a delightful fake campfire for her storytime!
The programs I planned were Nature Robots, Outdoor Camp Crafts, and Family Adventure Trivia.
For Nature Robots we had small motors that we clipped battery terminals with attached leads to to make the motors spin. My library as a nice children’s garden area and the kids romped around the garden looking for leaves, sticks, and grass to attach to our motors and we put googly eyes on them to add a little bit of personality. There were lots of experiments with different types of leaves, different types of tape, and various methods of attachment. It was a lot of fun and everyone seemed to really enjoy it.
If I was running this program again, the biggest change I would be not to have the program be a drop-in program. It was too hectic and we weren’t able to talk as much how the motors work and the scientific method as I would have liked.
My second program, camp crafts, had few different simple craft options like friendship bracelets and making art with leaves. The option I was the most excited about was patch making. I borrowed this idea (and the leftover supplies) from one of my coworkers who did a pronoun patch making program for Pride. They had a lot of leftover felt patch blanks and then I used our laser cutter to cut shapes and letters for kids to affix to their patches to make scout style patches.
We had a lot of really creative kiddos make some cool projects. I’d been running craft programs all spring, so this definitely felt like the easiest program to run and we were mostly able to use supplies that we already had on hand which is always a big plus.
Family Adventure Trivia was my last program of the summer, not until August 10, and it was our only all-virtual option of the summer. I ran a fun family trivia night in February that was children’s book themed, so I knew what I’m getting into.
We use a program called Crowdpurr which allows participants to easily play along on their own devices over zoom. Adventure Trivia includes categories like kids adventure books, family friendly adventure TV and movies, world records related to nature, and survival facts.
Unfortunately, no one attended but I also was running the program on what turned out to be the first cool day after a heat wave. Plus, I just don’t think there’s much demand for virtual children’s programming at the moment.
Ice Cream Kickoff Party
The other big event that our programming committee tackled was an Ice Cream Kickoff Party. We got ice cream cups and popsicles and handed them out to folks as we helped them sign up for summer reading. We did this program outdoors on a Saturday at my location and had a really big turnout! We also ran this program on weekdays at our other two locations.
Of course, it’s not a big library event without some snafus. We accidentally ended up with double the amount of ice cream that we needed due to some communication errors with out local Wegmans and we still have ice cream left (but don’t worry, we have plans to give it away!). We also had a fancy electric cooler that our library director had purchased for us, which, unfortunately, died right after our first program and wasn’t able to be used at our other locations.
Overall, our programs went really well and. our library patrons seemed to appreciate it! I was the staff member in charge on the day of the event and it was my first time being in charge of a larger program like this, so while I was relieved when it was over, I am glad that I have that experience under my belt now.
Along with all of our summer reading programming, we also had storytime outdoors. Each library staff member who does storytime at my location did one storytime a month which allowed us to have 3 English storytimes and 1 Mandarin storytime in both July and August. In addition to staff-led storytimes, we had monthly volunteer led French, Portuguese, and Spanish storytimes.
This was my first experience running an outdoor storytime (though I assisted with one last summer). I enjoyed using big books for the first time, but the wind did not help with those big books or with flannel boards.
My favorite books that I used were Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler and illustrated by Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay and There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake by Loren Long. Both went over really well with the kiddos. Plus, it’s always fun to pretend to be on your own strollercoaster while reading that book.
My favorite flannel board was Jamberry. I did it at both of my storytimes and was delighted to see increased participation the second time I used it since repeat attendees recognized it already.
We’ll be outdoors for storytime through at least September (weather permitting) so I’ll definitely keep improving my outdoor storytime skills as we start our fall programming session.
Thoughts, Take AWays, and TRy Agains
Planning summer reading is definitely a group effort! I’m glad that I have a great crew of full-time and part-time coworkers alike to brainstorm with and share responsibilities with. Planning a robust summer reading program without a group would be an incredibly difficult undertaking. While I hated group projects in grad school, I really do appreciate just how collaborative my department and this profession is
My biggest take away from my first foray into summer reading as a library professional is that there are just so many possibilities and directions that a summer reading program can go. While working within a theme is helpful, I still feel like there were ideas that just weren’t able to come to fruition. While I’ve written some down, I think that there are ideas that I had that have just been lost to the ether. Maybe they’ll come back to me.
Something that is both a take away and something to try again is that in the future I think we should definitely be booking our programs for the summer sooner. Even starting in March, so many great performers already had limited availability. I also hope that in the future each branch can book their own summer programs as opposed to the way we approached it this summer where I handled music programs for all branches, on colleague handled animal programs, and our third sub-committee member handled everything else. While this allowed us to look around and make the best decisions for performers that fit in our categories, it made settling dates and communication closer to the time of the program pretty frustrating.
The thing I most want to try again/improve at is definitely STEM programs. This is inspired by my experience with my Nature Robots program. I think my library does a great job of offering programs that accommodate a large number of participants, but I don’t think that always lends to the quality of a program. I think there are some programs that are great that are just going to work better with a smaller group. Luckily, I have a program set up for this fall that I think will give me a chance to test out running more STEM programs and improving my delivery of information to both larger and smaller groups.
Overall, I had a positive experience of summer reading, though I’m ready to be moving into Fall where I’ll have the chance to be doing some exciting new programming! More on that to come in a future blog post. As always, feel free to leave a comment with your summer reading experiences or reach out to me through my contact form.