Summer Reading

Oh, Summer Reading.

Summer is ending and most public library summer reading programs being finished. I’ve read many tweets and posts and articles about Summer Reading Programs and libraries and I’ve just been thinking about it, and SRP in general.

Summer Reading Program: one set of words for many different things. Which, you know, sounds like a Captain Obvious point, but, really — people tend to think that their local summer reading program is universal when it really isn’t. Some overall thoughts:

Examples of specifics that mean SRP aren’t all uniform: meeting room space, staff, budget, local economy, all vary. Where is the library located, can people walk or use public transportation? How many kids are in day camps? And so on. Or, for example, an online component and badges. What does that mean, in terms of library and community resources, AKA who has internet access?

And then, aside from those variables, what is the point of a Summer Reading Program?

What is the public point and what is the internal point? For example, I’ve read people say it’s “to get kids reading” and then complaining if the kids don’t attend programs or borrow library materials when they participate. So public face = kids reading, internal face = increase of programming/materials statistics.

To know the goal of summer reading is to understand how the program is implemented and run. There can be major and minor goals, but since often those goals may contradict, one goal has to be selected.

Example: is the point to motivate children to read over the summer? Or is it to reward children for reading? Before saying “both” — and yes, sometimes “both” can be the answer — to say “both” without further thought implies, to me, that only “rewards” can motivate a person. It also raises the question of what it is that is being rewarded, because then that is what the child is being motivated via rewards to do.

Is it rewarding the most books read? So, then, the motivation of summer reading is for children to read the most books?

Before you nod yes, I’ll ask — the most books, or the most books at the child’s reading level? Or the most books at above the reading level, to push someone to read “up”?

If it’s the “most books,” what does that mean when reading shorter books gets more of a “reward” than reading longer books? And that isn’t just about reading ability, that’s also about age. Do “most” books reward younger readers?

At which point, librarians are saying “aha! that is why we now measure in time spent reading.” Agreed  — except, then, are we asking parents and kids to put a timer next to the book? (I’ve seen bookmarks that have this built in.) Does that really work for all kids?

For all kids — ah, there is a whole other issue.

When looking at summer reading, most public libraries are serving a wide range of ages, interests, and abilities. And, they are doing so with staffing ratios that are much larger than what most school teachers have. And are doing so with what is often a “one size fits all” program. Just think about that: reading in schools (which isn’t just motivation) involves contained classrooms with dedicated teachers, sorted (roughly) by age and ability. While reading in libraries is all ages, all abilities.

In other words, summer reading — it’s complicated.

My own take? Summer Reading is to motivate kids to read during the summer, with the side hope that somehow, the kid who is not a reader may find a book or start a relationship with the library that turns them into a “reader.” (Note, if that doesn’t happen, ever, that’s OK. I’m never going to become someone who loves sports. Some people will never become a person who loves reading.) So, most of what I put together is trying to appeal to the kid who otherwise wouldn’t be picking up a book over the summer.

I realize that appears to actually leave out the kids who are already readers. As someone who was always a reader, that makes me think. What did I like from the library SRP as a kid? I liked that what I liked to do was being recognized. I don’t remember getting any of the trinkets and prizes that are all over the place now. I remember there being a minimum to get to go to the end of summer pizza & movie party, and that was a big deal. (Note it was even a bigger deal than you think, because this was the 1970s so the movie part was a huge deal.)

I believe the “readers” are a unique subset of those involved in summer reading programs, in that they are already motivated. So my question becomes: how do they get recognized (note I don’t say rewarded!) without making summer reading into a contest?

Various things I’ve done in the past: prizes are the extra ARCs in the library, because they appeal to readers. Having an in-library day-long reading marathon. Asking kids to set their own reading goals, rather than use the library minimum.

So, my questions to you:

What are some unique things about your own Summer Reading Program?

What do you think is the primary goal of a SRP?

What are some of the things you do, either with SRP or year round, for the “readers”?

And — since I know school librarians and other non-public librarians are reading this —

As someone who isn’t involved with SRPs, as an “outsider,” what are some of the things you’ve seen that you’ve liked about Summer Reading Programs? Or disliked?


13 thoughts on “Summer Reading

  1. Just a question: what is ARC in the context of this piece? The two I know, American Red Cross and Association for Retarded Citizens, don’t seem to fit.


    1. Ellen, for this, an ARC is an advance review copy of a book. Because it’s just a draft, it cannot be added to the collection. Teens, especially readers, like getting these earlier versions of books.


  2. We’re about to start a Family Reads program this fall. Our public elementary school has been designated a priority school (poor literacy scores among other subject areas). We’re trying to create a culture change by involving parents. Instead of reading minutes/books, we’re focusing on each family recommending a book each week. For incentives, we’re focusing on fine forgiveness ($50 per family), grocery/gas gift cards, and exclusive Family Reads programming (including a pizza night and some family craft events) along with some small prizes for the kids. We’re in our final stages of planning but still welcome ideas!


  3. Our Summer Reading Program isn’t unique- read books get some little prizes. That given some kids to get turned into readers from desire to get prizes and it is one of the times that if you’re a voracious reader you get rewarded. We do require that books be on reading level and be library books that are checked out to count. Circulation numbers matter so we rely on summer to help make our point that children’s and ya matter and need to be supported both in terms of budget and staff.


    1. thanks, Amy! I am torn between the different goals: encouraging reluctant readers AND rewarding super readers. How can one program do both? And circulation/program #s matter, I know, but it still bothers me when I see librarians talk negatively about how a child reading their own books/being on vacation part of the SRP shouldn’t “count” b/c it’s not the library’s books.


  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I’ve worked SRPs that are based on books read and time read and they do appeal to different types of readers. Parents of young ones hate SRP based on time and parents of older ones shudder if you ask a nine year old to read 30 books over the summer. I like the idea of setting your own goals. I would like to see that SRP in action. Maybe that’s the plan I’ll implement one day!


    1. I know some places then will sort out the older kids from younger ones when there is a “contest” element, but even then, it can be tough. Some readers want thick books that will take a long time to read, some shorter, etc. Some parents prefer longer books so they can check less out from the library (so less of a chance of losing an item, overdues, etc.)


  5. We introduced reading 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week into our SRP this year and eliminated the number of books/child for the reasons you mentioned above. We emphasized that in order to develop a new habit, you have to repeat it, over a period of time. If they read more than that/day – excellent! Habit development requires repetition of the action, so try for another 20 minutes the next day. We had nearly universal approval of this approach with the parents. Of course they could break down the 20 minutes throughout the day, making it easier for the reluctant reader to accomplish this goal. We recommended “read for a few minutes when you first wake up, a little more while you eat lunch, and again before bed.” Very little emphasis on actually counting minutes/day, more on repetition of the action over extended period of time.


  6. I was a similiar kind of kid–I think my favorite thing about my childhood library’s SRP was just that it validated my love of reading and recognized me for reading. The small prizes (things like coupons for fast food, or similar) were nice too, since we didn’t have much money at home for things like that, but I don’t remember them being a huge motivator.

    Now, fast forwarding to my adult life as a Children’s Librarian– We try to keep things very simple and fun in our library’s SRP. The basic idea is: Show us you did some reading this summer, and your prize is a paperback book to keep, rewarding readers with more reading material. We don’t have a minimum number of books or minimum amount of time spent reading to earn a prize. Audiobooks, ebooks, and any other reading/listening material counts, and pre-readers can listen to books read to them. We don’t require at-level reading, or reading of certain genres, or things like that.

    [Most parents and kids seem relieved that we don’t have many requirements or restrictions. On the rare occasion that parents seem concerned about the freeform nature of our program, I explain that this system helps keep the program very inclusive and fun to encourage summer reading, but that they are welcome to develop a reading goal that works for their child and use that as their family’s benchmark for program completion.]

    Kids keep track of their reading in one of two ways, or both if they so choose: write down titles of books read, or (new this year) check off days on a calendar to show days when the child did some reading. We used to offer (but not require) time-tracking as the other tracking option. We changed that to a calendar this year to reflect a new emphasis in our school district and our department on the importance of reading at least a little bit every day, and it was a very popular choice.

    We are a system of just two libraries, but building a prize stash of paperback books for a wide variety of ages still isn’t cheap. We are able to use grant money and spend it prudently at a nearby Scholastic warehouse at their seasonal sales, or take advantage of special online deals from Scholastic, to make the most of that money. We try to buy high-quality, popular titles (if we can get them inexpensively) so that the kids are excited about the choices available to them. It is so important for kids to have books in their homes, so I love the fact that we help kids and families build their home libraries in this way. It is always fun to hear them say, “This is a book I get to keep FOREVER!”


  7. Beth, thanks! I think I may use the “read each day” model next year. And I love when the prizes are books!


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