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All About Summer Reading

I love this photo of Nedd Stark warning everyone that Summer Reading is coming! It makes me laugh every time.

So Summer Reading is coming! I love learning how libraries run their summer reading programs, so I thought this summer I would do a weekly breakdown of what exactly it is librarians do during the summer. I've learned that my non-librarian friends have no idea how much time and effort goes into summer reading-and it's a ton of work and also a ton of fun. So after giving my summer reading spiel to thousands of kids over the past few weeks, now I'll give it you! (Sorry, this will be a long post!)

About Summer Reading Program:

-Kids can read anything they want! Books from home, school, library, bookstore, friends, etc. ANYTHING! We let them read various formats as well-fiction, nonfiction, comics, ebooks, audiobooks, reading aloud to someone, being read aloud to-all that counts for summer reading.

-We count hours, not books. Each level is four hours of reading.

-Participants do not need to have a library card, live in the county, or check out books from the library to participate. We of course encourage summer readers to get library cards and check out books, but it's not required.

-Program attendance is not required. Again, we encourage it, but it's not required to take part in summer reading.

-Our program runs for 11 weeks which I'm learning is a crazy long summer reading program in the library world. We start Saturday May 18 and end Saturday August 3. Nothing is passed out or ready to be picked up until the start date and the end date of the program is the final day to pick up prizes.

Tiny Tots (birth-36 months): This is a new program we're trying this year, so we'll see how it goes. In years past, I would get frustrated when parents were surprised they could do the summer reading program babies and toddlers. "But they can't read yet!" And I would say, "yes, but it's the summer reading & listening program-you can read to your baby!"

So this year, the Tiny Tots program features a simplified reading program. Adults will receive a brochure-type piece with a place for baby's photo, a place to list ten books they read this summer, and a fun flow-chart-type of activities for various moods. After reading ten books and five activities, babies receive a board book of their choice from the prize book cart. They are also entered into a drawing for a gift basket that includes a rubber ducky, board books, blocks, and more. There's one drawing per branch (we have 10 plus a Mobile Library).

Kids Program (ages birth-grade 5): Since Tiny Tots is new this year, we're easing everyone into it by giving them a choice. For the kids program, kids pick up a game board and complete three levels. Each level is made up of four hours of reading and three activities. The activities are listed on the back of the game board and include things like "write the library a postcard about what you did this summer" or "check out a library book on dinosaurs" or "build a reading fort" or "get a library card" or "attend a library program".

Level 1: The Food and Fun Flip Card. I'll be honest and say that I have love/hate relationship with this card. The Flip Card is a card that offers free and discounted offers all around town-free bowling, skating, ice cream, cupcakes, swimming, discounts at the local arcade, the zoo, and local inflatable places are all included. It's a great idea and it gets the kids excited, but sometimes people sometimes get greedy about it and that's not the point of summer reading. This card has become very known in the community and it's why people start gearing up for summer reading in March-they want this card!

Level 2: Choice of a bookmark, coloring sticker, or tattoo and a Fine Waiver Card-good for waiving overdue/late fees on your library card one time during the summer. Also a very big prize that people can't wait for!

Level 3: Free Book! (The best prize of course!) And as I tell the kids-"do you have to bring this book back to the library? NO! Do you just get whatever book I hand you? NO! You get to pick out whatever book you would like from the book prize cart and keep it forever!!!"

Each child can only do the game board once during the summer, but if they finish the game board and want to keep going, we have what we call the Eager Reader Challenge. It used to be just read another four hours and you get entered into a drawing, but this year we changed it up to be a challenge of five things like "read a book of poetry" or "listen to a book" or "read a book that became a movie" or "tell a librarian a book you read this summer". I love the extra challenges and I think the kids will really like it too. At the end of summer, all the eager reader entries are entered into a drawing for summer reading t-shirts and gift cards. And again, these are done by branch, so because I'm at the headquarters branch, we end up with a bunch of prizes to draw for at the end.

Teen Program: Our teen program has been online now for about five years and it's really made a difference in our numbers and helping the teen summer reading program grow. As I tell the teens, "you can do the summer reading program at home, in your PJs at 2:00 in the morning!"

The teen program is all about reading and there are no activities. The level one and level 2 prizes are the same as the kids program, except the teens get something from the treasure box in addition their Fine Waiver Card (these things include tattoos, pencils, various other tchotchkes)

The big difference in the teen program is that after 8 hours of reading, they have two entries into the drawings. Any additional four hours of reading earns them another entry. We pull names for weekly prize drawings (books, journals, movie size candy, water bottles, backpacks, pens, earbuds). At the end of summer reading, we do a grand prize drawing (which is system wide) for a Kindle Fire. (Last year it was a Nook Color and we've done iPods in the past). We also do a drawing at each branch for a gift basket of books, candy, and various other prizes-one per branch.

So that's our Summer Reading Program! In addition to all that, my branch hosts seven weekly storytimes (three for toddlers, three for preschoolers and one for ages 4-8), will do outreach to two offsite locations once a month, host a weekly performer for two performances, host monthly Baby storytimes and play group, monthly dance parties, monthly evening storytimes, and a huge crazy amount of other special programs happening throughout summer.

And to give you an idea of the population we serve, last year we had 3,609 kids participate in the summer reading program and 962 teens participate in the summer reading program-just at my branch alone!

So if you see a librarian this summer, you know why we always look so exhausted! Give us a hug-and maybe some chocolate!

How does your library run their summer reading program? Anything you like or dislike about it?


  1. I love the idea of doing hours not books. It's about how much time you spend luxuriating in the written word-not how many books you can speed through!

    1. I really like doing hours too. I think it evens the playing field for everyone.


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