In just a few weeks, the annual summer reading program will kick off at libraries in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. And for the second year in a row, libraries are struggling to create a program that engages the community without risking their safety.
Last year’s pandemic Summer Reading program was a challenge (boy, that’s the understatement of the decade). Many libraries were physically closed. We were still learning about how the virus spread and trying to figure out how to mitigate the risk with physical materials. Staff members were doing virtual programming for the first time. We counted any participation as a success.
I think 2021 is going to be the first rebuilding year for summer reading. Attendance and participation numbers are not going to return to pre-pandemic levels this year. Many libraries are still dealing with limited service. Zoom fatigue is real. Vaccines are not widely available. It’s going to take us a couple years to get back to “normal.”
It’s okay. Do the best you can. Celebrate any growth you see this year. And use these ten tips to make your summer reading program as successful as possible.
Drop the library card requirement.
Let anyone in your community participate in summer reading, not just library cardholders.
Dropping the requirement to get a library card sounds counterintuitive. But it opens your program up to a whole population of people who don’t regularly use the library, particularly those in under-served communities. It makes your program more inclusive. It’s a goodwill gesture.
Of course, at registration and check-in, your front-line library staff should still suggest participants get a card. Doing so will grow your cardholder numbers. But don’t make it a requirement to register or get prizes.
Make participation super easy.
Don’t ask your participants to jump through complicated steps to earn a prize. Summer reading should be three-step maximum– read, log your reading, claim a prize.
If you want to push participation in programs, I suggest making that a bonus: let people earn extra prizes or points toward prizes by attending virtual programs or in-person events, if that can be done safely in your area. You can also reward people for watching a streaming video or listening to free streaming music.
Let adults participate.
It still surprises me when I see a library that limits their summer reading program to only teens and kids. Children who see the adults in their lives reading are more likely to read themselves. So why not entice parents to participate?
This year is an opportunity to get more adults engaged with your library. Plus, the adults in your community deserve to have some fun! If you can provide that for them, they will be grateful and supportive of your library.
Add experiences to your participation elements.
Create themes for each week of your summer program, like DIY, arts, nature, and sports. Make suggestions for activities people can complete to earn participation credit, like cooking a recipe from a cookbook they got at the library, going on a nature walk, visiting the zoo or a park, painting a picture or making sidewalk art, building something with LEGOs, writing a story… the possibilities are endless.
If a participant doesn’t read 20 minutes a day but still completes an experience activity, they should get credit. This is another way to make your program more inclusive and enticing to people.
Offer both print and digital tracking options.
Many libraries have an app or an online software platform that participants use to track their reading. But your under-served community members don’t have access to a computer or Wi-Fi at home. They can’t log in to track their reading and they can’t download or use an app.
In addition, many of your connected participants may find the process of downloading the app, putting in their information, and then using it to log their reading to be cumbersome. Add a paper tracking option to ensure everyone can participate.
Print copies of your tracking log and add them to your curbside pickup bags or slip them into holds. Let participants bring it back to your drive-thru or curbside window for credit.
Ask partner organizations to help you promote summer reading.
Now is the time to “call in favors” with your partner organizations. Ask them to show support and help rebuild your summer reading program.
If you don’t have partners, you can use summer reading to build partnerships! Ask local realtors and rental agencies if they can hand out a summer reading promotional piece to prospective homeowners or new renters. Give information and promotional pieces to day care providers, teachers, summer camps, recreational centers, your local zoo, your local park board, and other civic organizations. You can even ask restaurants to include a summer reading promotional piece in their takeout bags!
Use your email list to its full potential.
If your summer goal is to increase the number of readers and the amount of materials they read, then keep suggesting things for them to read! This is a great time to promote parts of your collection that don’t get a lot of use, like online graphic novels, as well as your backlist titles.
Build a template with whatever email service you use and fill in the blanks. Send two to three suggestions to your cardholders every two weeks during your summer program. It’s a great way to re-engage cardholders. You can also use email to remind your cardholders to participate in summer reading and boost your circulation numbers for the year.
Spend money on targeted social media ads.
This is the most efficient and cost-effective way to reach people and summer is the perfect time to buy social media ads. You barely need a budget to get started. $25 is all you need to get started.
Summer reading is also a great opportunity to buy ads on several platforms and compare results. The platforms will guide you through the process of picking your target audience. If you see success on one platform, you can use that data to create other small budget campaigns for your library during the year.
Incentivize user-generated content.
Hold contests to encourage people to post photos and videos of themselves using your library and participating in summer reading. Offer a chance to win a prize drawing for submitting reviews and testimonials about your library. You can use that content to further promote summer reading.
You may discover someone who is a super-fan of your library. That person could be an “influencer” for a future library promotional campaign!
Put good customer service on display.
Even with the pandemic, you’ll likely see a boost in visits to your library for curbside or holds pickup during the summer. You’ll definitely get more visitors to your website. Make sure everything is in tip-top shape, attractive, and easy-to-use.
Stress the importance of good customer service to staff, including those who work on responding to comments and questions via email, chat, and social media. Give them talking points to help them promote a few year-round services and challenge them to pick one to mention during every customer interaction.
Put your expertise on display front and center on the website. Is your staff great at readers’ advisory? Do you have an amazing e-newsletter? Are your virtual programs fun and innovative? Use summer reading to promote the best of your year-round services and collection items.
Is your library doing anything innovative this year for summer reading? What concerns do you have about the program this year? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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