Planning and Organizing Your Summer Reading Program
The following checklists and suggestions offer a very broad overview of the summer reading planning process.
Know your reasons for having a summer reading program:
- To encourage and motivate children and families to read for pleasure
- To help school age children maintain their reading skills while on vacation
- To introduce children and their families to the resources of the public library
- To attract new customers to the library
- To establish the library as a vital part of community life
- To create positive publicity for the library
- To promote community involvement in the mission of the library
- To establish a partnership with the school community
- To increase circulation of library materials
Review last year’s summer reading program:
- What were your successes?
(Consider publicity, children registered, reading activities, incentives and prizes, programs presented, staff time required, community support, etc.)
- What weaknesses can you identify?
- What do your statistics tell you?
(Are there groups you want to be more involved this year? Could you provide enough service to groups unable to come to the library? Did participation and circulation decline toward the end of the program?)
- What important feedback about last year’s program can you get from library staff?
- What important feedback about last year’s program can you get from children who participated?
- What gaps did you find in your budget?
Establish goals for this year’s summer reading program:
- What do you want to happen this summer?
- Who is your summer reading program for?
- Are there unserved groups in your community you would like to include in this year’s program?
- Is it time for a new system of rewards?
- Are there parts of the library’s collections you want to promote?
- Are you seeking more community partnerships to support this year’s program?
Establish specific objectives for this year’s summer reading program:
How will you make your goals become reality?
If one of your goals is to have more middle school students participating in your program, then objectives might be (1) to give all middle school librarians materials and orientation so they can assist with summer reading promotion, (2) to give booktalk programs and summer reading publicity to five middle school classes, and (3) to enroll 25% more middle school students than last year. Another example—if one of your goals is to include more readers who cannot come to programs at the library, objectives might be (1) to schedule weekly bookmobile stops at three childcare centers, (2) to schedule a weekly bookmobile stop at a center for immigrant education, or (3) to post a new summer reading activity on the library’s web site each week of the program.
Know your library’s resources:
- How many staff members will be available to help with summer reading?
(Consider their vacation schedules as well as their work schedules.)
- Will your bookmobile librarian be available to deliver books to outreach sites? Will s/he be able to schedule simple programs at regular stops? If yes, what kind of programming support will s/he need?
- Will you recruit volunteers?
- How much space is available in the library for programs? Will you need to use facilities outside the library?
Reserve program space as early as possible.
- Does the library’s collection include enough materials in varied formats to support this year’s theme?
- What is the budget for presenters? Promotional materials? Supplies? Prizes?
- Will your library’s web site accommodate a summer reading page that can be updated frequently throughout the program?
Plan the components of your program:
- How many regularly scheduled programs will you offer in the library? For which age groups?
- How many special presenters will you hire?
- How many family programs will you offer?
Libraries are discovering that programs for multi-age family groups are much appreciated by parents who want inexpensive, quality-time activities when their children are not in child care. Consider offering at least a couple of family programs during summer reading and perhaps placing a special sticker or rubber stamp on reading logs to recognize family participation.
- How many regular or special programs will you offer at sites outside the library?
Because more and more children are in child care or special programs throughout the summer, many libraries are partnering with other service organizations in order that these children may participate in reading programs. Typically librarians will take summer reading registration materials to an agency whose staff will oversee the children’s reading and record-keeping. In this case, the librarian’s job is to rotate reading material and bring an occasional program to the agency site. It is helpful to have a simple orientation session for agency staff who will be overseeing programs at outreach sites. If several agencies are involved, a joint orientation session will provide an opportunity for these staffers to make professional contacts. Usually children at outreach sites are included in the end-of-program celebration along with other participants.
- Will your in-house program be closely coordinated with your outreach program?
If so, develop plans with your bookmobile librarian. What books will s/he need? What program materials will need reproducing? What craft supplies will be needed?
- What plans will you make for including children with special needs in your summer reading program?
- Set the dates of all programs, including the end-of-program celebration, and put them on all pertinent calendars. Try to establish an identifiable pattern of scheduling, for example, the school age book discussion group always meets on Wednesday.
- Will you have reading enrichment activities in addition to those in scheduled programs? Book discussion groups? Time for children to talk to the librarians about their reading? Participants’ book reviews posted on the library web site?
- What records of reading will be kept during your summer reading program? Time spent reading? Personal contracts? Team reading? Family reading? Reading game cards? School challenges? Will you need a printed log for each participant? Will you need a different log for different age groups?
For greater participation, keep the program simple and flexible. Plan for minimal staff involvement in recording keeping and policing.
- Will you give prizes? What will the award structure be? Will the award structure help you reach the objectives of your program?
Regardless of the criteria for prizes, plan to include ways weaker readers can win. Plan for special recognition categories such as family participation, children who bring friends to summer reading, a child who talks a book so well he convinces another child to read it, etc. Consider giving children chances to enter drawings each time they attend programs.
What about a small prize for each child who has no overdue books at the end of the program?
A varied prize structure will keep discouragement and cheating to a minimum.
- How will you register children for the program? What is the minimum registration data you will need for program components? For bookmobile and other outreach programs? For awards? For evaluating how you met your objectives? For reports to supporters, your director, library board, and the state library?
- Outline each scheduled program. Sign up community presenters or hire professional presenters. Collect books, art supplies, and necessary equipment. Book videos.
- Plan for recruiting and training volunteers.
- Plan several emergency programs in case a presenter is a no-show.
- Do you have a budget to cover program expenses?
Seek community support for your program:
- How much financial support will you need? Make a specific list.
- What sort of in-kind support will you need? Make a specific list.
- Will you need a place outside the library for an end-of-program celebration? Many librarians have found that planning this event is a good time to establish a partnership with the local parks and recreation department or with a business such as a roller skating rink or bowling alley. It is also a good time to seek partners who can provide food for the celebration.
- Consider preparing a “fact sheet” to use when approaching potential donors. On library letterhead list the summer reading theme, goals of the program, dates, locations, who is eligible to participate, upcoming program highlights, and participation statistics from previous years. Personalize the fact sheet by adding a letter for each potential donor stating specifically what you are asking for—$500 for a storyteller, a dozen pizzas for a teen event, paint for an art project, etc. Be sure your name and phone number are on both the letter and the fact sheet.
- Will there be programs donors would enjoy attending? Send them special invitations.
Seek school support for your program:
- Before school is out, ask staff to work with you to devise a plan whereby summer reading participants will be recognized when they return to school in the fall. For example, maybe a principal would agree to dye his hair the school color if half the students enroll in summer reading. Maybe a challenge could be issued from one school to another—the school with the highest percentage of students in summer reading wins.
- Will you visit schools to present programs to publicize summer reading? If yes, be sure to take an information sheet for every teacher and media specialist and a flyer or bookmark for every student. Ask to be allowed to leave a poster prominently displayed in each school.
- Are there teachers or school librarians who would volunteer to assist with presentations for programs scheduled in the library during the summer? Children love to find their favorite teachers at the public library.
- Do the schools have required summer reading lists? Do you have enough copies of the books on these lists?
- Can you place an article about summer reading in the Family Resource and Youth Services Center or school newsletters?
- Can you place information for parents in the report card envelopes?
- Can you speak about summer reading to PTO groups?
- Is there an empty storefront in your town? Would a school art class paint it to advertise summer reading?
- Is there a homeschoolers organization that should receive publicity about your summer reading program?
- Is there a program for children of migrant workers that should receive publicity?
Publicize and promote your summer reading program both in the library and throughout your community:
- Is reading the primary focus of your publicity rather than the program schedule or prizes?
- How many different flyers will you need? One for each age group?
- Will your readers need a full calendar of events? Paper copies? On your library web site?
- Will you use direct mail for any of your publicity?
- Can you place a summer reading banner across the main street of your town? In front of the library?
If you plan to use the banner again, consider using a generic summer reading message rather than one featuring the annual theme.
- Prepare written news releases for newspaper, television, radio. Know deadlines for all media. Your “fact sheet” could prove a useful addition to news releases.
- Continue publicity efforts throughout the summer. Remind media of events that will provide good photo opportunities. Every newspaper likes to publish pictures of children.
- Update the summer reading page on your library’s web site at least weekly throughout the program. Include pictures of the previous week’s activities as well as information about registration and upcoming events.
- Are there other publicity venues in your community? Outdoor message crawler boards? Messages added to utility bills or bank statements? Cable TV programs or message screens?
Do your homework inside the library before summer reading starts:
- How will you inform library staff of what to expect from summer reading? Orientation at a staff meeting? Written information about the program, including all flyers and calendars? Will your library need extra staff on summer reading days? Post a schedule of events at every library telephone.
- How will you train volunteers?
- What registration materials must be produced before the program starts? Will they be distributed outside the library? Will participants be able to register on the bookmobile?
- What special thematic decorations will give your library a festive summer reading atmosphere? It is important to decorate the library, but be sure to leave areas for the children to decorate as the program progresses. Displays of art? Graphic depictions of reading progress? Post cards and letters from out-of-town participants? Photos from the previous weeks’ programs? Don’t forget to include prominent displays of theme-related books for all ages and plan to keep them looking fresh—good volunteer job.
- What program and art materials should be prepared in advance? Can you set your volunteers to work on the Elison machine? Can your storyhour mothers save throw-away household items you need for crafts?
- Will you offer evaluation forms to program participants? Keep the forms simple and ask for only the information you need. Sample forms for children and parents are attached.
Do your homework after summer reading:
- Have you written thank you notes to everyone who helped you? Some libraries also run a thank you ad in the local paper listing all businesses, organizations, and individuals who made contributions of any kind. Some libraries have found it helpful to print small signs saying something like “We support the 200? summer reading program at XYZ Public Library!” These can be prominently displayed in offices and stores. Consider a large, well-lettered list of donors to post in the library throughout summer reading and for a while after. The savvy youth librarian also plans a way to show appreciation to library staff for their support of summer reading.
- Are there reports you should make to school partners? To corporate donors? To civic clubs?
- Did you achieve your goals and objectives for this year’s program? Review these with appropriate library staff and make notes for next year.
- Prepare a summer reading report for your library director. Can you get an invitation to make a similar report to your library board?
- Complete a summer reading program evaluation. Throughout your program, make note of good personal “stories” about the value of summer reading to be included on this report.
- Consider submitting an enthusiastic wrap-up of summer reading accomplishments for publication in the local newspaper.
Congratulate yourself for a terrific summer reading program and an important contribution to your community!!