This will be the 10th summer reading of my career, but only the second I've been completely responsible for planning and executing, and the first that I really got to do things the way I wanted.
Last summer I pretty much had a free hand with programming, but had to scrap what I had planned for the reading challenge (a bingo card format) and use an online platform instead. I did not like it at all; it was very labor intensive to set up, did not fit my philosophy at all as it had a very competitive feel and was heavily incentivized, and I knew it would not be a good fit for my very small, rural community where internet access is very limited and many people are not tech savvy. But, the previous administration had already locked us into a multi-year contract, so I was directed to give it a try. Though a few people did like it, the staff and most patrons did not, so thankfully my director did not renew it and let me try it my way this year.
As far as the programming, I am doing things pretty much the same as last year, starting with a big kick-off party on the first Saturday of June, then something each week for each age group on a repeating, regular schedule through the end of July (except the week of July 4th). Almost all the kids/family events are in the morning, and teen/tween programs in the afternoon. The one big change is that after I saw how the numbers dropped for July, and were particularly low during the week of July 4th, I decided this year we would not do a full week of regular programming that week, but just have one family storytime and one family activity. That way we have a slight break in the middle, but there is still something for families to do.
But, here is where I'm going rogue - this year we are not following the CSLP (or iRead) theme, or any theme at all, for that matter! Last year's ocean them was fun, easy to decorate for, and so many directions to go in for programming, it was easy to fit all of our programming to. But, as fun as it was, I have to admit, I was getting a little burned out on ocean stuff by the end. Also, haven't been thrilled with the art most years and I don't find the manual that helpful; I can come up with better activities myself. I, my staff, co-workers, and director were all really under-whelmed by this year's theme, "All Together Now". I mean, it's a nice sentiment, but we could not imagine a good way to decorate around it, and any program ideas that we thought or heard of that tied in with it just sounded....well, kinda boring. So, we decided to go rogue and do our own thing!
I've been thinking for a while that I wanted to come up with an alternative to the term "summer reading" since programming has become more of the focus and what patrons are excited about, something more inclusive of everything. I initially came up with "Summer Discovery Program", but ultimately went with a simple "Summer at the Library". For the theme, I wanted something simple, that had a fun energy, and would cover pretty much any program I wanted to do, and allow more variety.
After getting some input and suggestions from other librarians online, I decided on "Read! Explore! Discover!", really more of a slogan than a theme. In hindsight, I wish I had "Create" in there somehow, since this community is big on crafts, but maybe next time. It isn't something that is particularly easy to decorate around, either, but at least it covers any programming.....explore different activities, discover new ideas and information, explore your talents and interests, discover new friends, etc. For decorating, I'm going with some simple summery giant flowers, butterflies, and bugs. I also have smaller butterfly cutouts for the kids to write their names on that we will add. Our basic logo is pictured, but we have others versions that show kids reading or engaging in science, arts, crafts, or reading a book with different elements coming out of the pages.
This is where I again go rogue. I do not agree with the circus summer reading has become, with the focus on numbers, rather than children. In the push for bigger and bigger numbers, prizes have become bigger, flashier, and more extravagant. However, in my experience, this doesn't really seem lead to more reading, or more people reading, it just leads to more cheating. Those who may be vaguely familiar with basic psychology may argue that positive reinforcement, i.e. rewards/prizes, increases desired behaviors, they are only partially right. If the reward is only very short term and stops, then yes, you might get a short-term benefit, but the desired behavior stops when the rewards stop. It takes a carefully crafted behavior management plan over an extended time to allow the desired behavior to become generalized, and developing intrinsic motivation is required for long-lasting results. There are studies that imply reading incentives not only don't work long-term, they may in fact be counter productive (I do hope to do a more deep dive into that subject with proper citations later, but here is a quick link to an excerpt from a book on the subject of using reward systems to encourage desired behaviors with a few sources related to incentivized reading: https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/reading-incentives/).
Instead of big flashy prizes, I really want reading to be its own reward, and for reading and learning to be what kids are excited about. To that end, I designed what I hope to be an easy, fun, non-competitive, no pressure "challenge" loosely based on the Monopoly board game, called "Book-opoly". This is not my original idea; I got it from a neighboring library who got it from another library in our state, who got it from someone else (if anyone knows who originally came up with this, please let me know!). Each square has a reading prompt. It might be a genre, format, subject, or an activity, such as "read by the pool" or "read to someone else". There are also squares for program attendance as well. They can go in any direction, rolling dice to see what they do/read next if they're feeling adventurous, or they can just pick which squares they want to do, coloring them in as they're completed. I also made a separate one for ages 5 and under, changing a few prompts and activities to be more age-appropriate.
(This is along the same lines as the Bingo-card style that many libraries have used for years, but the Monopoly gives you more squares for more choices, and you can pick whatever goal number you want and they don't have to be in a row. Links to blank template are at the end.)
|(The board on the left is for ages 6 through adult; the one on the right is specifically for 5 and under.)|
I'm really excited about the new reading challenge, and I really hope our patrons are, too! I've already gotten a number of sign-ups, even though officially we don't start until tomorrow. I really hope to see more people truly participating and turning in a completed log at the end. To be completely honest, I'd be happy to really go rogue and ditch any form of logging/tracking reading and just give books away at different locations all summer, but I don't know that I could ever convince the director to give up those stats. But, the system I used to work for has done just that! They give away books at their kick-off, and that's it. The rest is just extra programming for the summer. And this system/community used to be SUPER hard-core about their reading logs, so if they can be convinced, maybe mine can, too, eventually.
Have you made any significant changes in how your summer program works? How do you balance community needs/wants for programs with preserving your own sanity and not burning out? Good luck to us all, and see you on the other side!