I thought that y’all might be interested in what we do for our children’s Summer Reading Program. I mean, beyond all of the many storytimes and book clubs. If not, then skip this post.
Years ago when I began at this library, the program was rather chaotic and messy. Individual coupons were given out, and along with other really cheap tchotchkes (i.e. they broke within 30 seconds of child use) that may or may not relate to the theme.
At some point after surviving two crazy summers where kids would come in begging for new coupons since they’d lost theirs, running out of tchotchkes, and more often than not having waaay too many coupons printed, I had an epiphany: let’s create a summer reading booklet with activities and coupons in them. Furthermore, we could brand the booklets, make them match the theme, and hopefully make them keepsakes for participants.
And our Summer Reading Booklet was born. I put together Publisher files and made the general template. The first year’s theme (that we used booklets) was One World, Many Stories therefore, we called our booklets Passports. Unfortunately, I became very ill during most of the following summer, and the concept for switching the booklet’s name to match the theme didn’t happen. And so they were called Passports again for Dream Big Read (though I had wanted to call them Dream Journals). When I was back for the following summer, we called the booklets Field Guides for the theme of Dig Into Reading. This year? Science Journals. But to this day many people refer to them as Passports. And that’s cool as long as we understand each other.
These booklets have been a huge hit for the staff, our local businesses who are super-supportive, and patrons (both young and old). I’ve lost count of how many parents have thanked us for consolidating the coupons into a harder-to-lose booklet. The businesses seem very pleased that they’re part of something that could be a keepsake.
I’m super pro-branding (it was something ingrained into me after working several years as a marketing manager for a big bookstore), and feel that it’s an important concept that more libraries should embrace. So with that in mind, we dumped all the CSLP prizes, bags, etc (all but t-shirts for the staff) and went with our own. It’s always bugged me from day one that the CSLP items don’t even mention libraries in general. If they were to offer personalization with the library’s logo on items? I’d be over-the-moon happy.
This year we invested in green convention bags, and two custom self-inking stamps all with our logo on them created by an Etsy seller:
We also had a local business make these signs for the local businesses who support our program:
They’re double-sided and removable (since they’re like a sturdier vinyl decal). They’re also thick enough that they can be propped up in a stand depending how the business chooses to display theirs. Our wonderful Young Adult Librarian came up with this idea, and it was warmly received by businesses.
This year, I’ve been trying to start pushing more advocacy for our library, and I came up with the idea of having a new Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge that we added to the booklet. Basically, children (1st-5th grade) are challenged to read a handful of different types of books. If they read one from each category, then the mayor will present them with a special certificate at a ceremony where he will discuss the importance of reading and our library. Yay!
A little more about the booklet and how it works:
We give the guidelines (suggested reading times, our policy on replacement booklets, etc.) in the front, and then each following page contains a coupon and a fun or creative activity related to the theme on the opposite page. The coupons correspond to one week during our summer program. Children are not allowed to work ahead on the booklet (at least for the reading times), but can bring in a booklet with several previous weeks filled out and we’ll “activate” the coupons.
“Activating the coupon” means is that we look for a reading time in the week’s coupon page, and if there’s a time written (any time), then we stamp that page with our library logo stamp. At that point the child can go to that business and get the prize.
The activities on the opposite pages are what we hope will make the booklet a keepsake along with the changing covers. I’ve had a few parents mention that they’ve kept theirs, and it’s also become fun for us to reveal the new covers.
I’ve been hearing more and more librarians mention that they’re moving away from toy prizes/prize baskets. We did that last year and it was one of the best changes we’ve made. We let children pick out two “forever books” (a term one little girl used last year when she grasped the concept) if they managed to read every week during the program. You should see some of the kids’ reactions when they realize this. And many parents have expressed how much they love it. Not a single person complained when we got rid of the other prizes – actually several parents thanked us for doing so. If you’re thinking of making a change to books-as-prizes: DO IT!!!!!
And guess what the children put their “forever books” into? Well, this year it will be our library’s new plastic bags. Yay! I can hardly wait for the final weeks where we’ll have children streaming out into the world with two special books that they selected, and advertising our library/program.
If you have any questions about this, then don’t hesitate to ask me – either in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: Someone asked about deciding how many booklets to make, and I thought it worth sharing the answer here. We have a “one tier” upgraded Survey Monkey account (paid for by our Friends group), and we ask that parents register their children for a booklet. That way we have a good idea of how many to make (then we make about 50 more for “walk-ins”). We had a larger-than-normal amount of walk-ins this year, so next time we hope to encourage more preregistrations by offering a local bookmark coupon to those who sign-up early.
Updated-update: We’ve been giving out coupons for those who preregister AND come in to pick up the booklets when 2 weeks of their release.
We have also tried various different “challenges” to replace the Mayor’s Reading Challenge (which was slightly disastrous – it’s a long story). We tried making it a School Reading Challenge where kids could earn books for their school libraries (there was a lukewarm response to it). We finally hit on the perfect challenge: attending a certain number of library events in order to earn one more “forever book” at the end of the program. This has proven very popular. We set the bar at five programs for kids K-5, and three programs for the younger children.
Furthermore, after the two week mark, I email or call those who have preregistered but have not yet picked up their booklet(s). I did this one year, skipped it another, and then resumed again last year. It was glaringly obvious which years I reminded patrons that their booklets are waiting for them, so I highly recommend making the time to do that.
Updatier-updated-update: For several years now we haven’t had to make adjustments to our booklets outside of changing some businesses, and updating its theme. You can read more about what we do now, and even GET OUR PUBLISHER FILES in this post.