Monday, September 12, 2011

Summer dissection

Signing up at the Platt Branch, LAPL
What I've realized since taking on the planning of the summer reading program last year is that it's like a snake with its tail in its mouth; the summer hasn't even ended when planning for next year begins.

The children's and teen librarians on the front lines are enjoying having completed summer reading for another year - but here in the Youth Services office, we never escape its insidious, time-sucking grip!

We do have a few weeks of reflection on the successes and failures of the summer before plunging headlong into planning next month.

Our summer reading program was run very differently this year in many different ways.  To name just a few, all 72 branches and Central Library used exactly the same game board (counting minutes read for kids and a combination of reading and activities for teens), the same prize structure, and the same start and stop date.  We added a preschool component, with its own game board highlighting early literacy activities, for the first time, and we used Evanced to keep track of registration.  Also, we gave everyone, from babies to teens, the chance to earn a free book.

As we did last year, we collected surveys from kids and teens to measure their thoughts on various aspects of the program as well as to track how many were joining the program for the first year, second year, etc.  As in previous years, I also asked children's and teen librarians to fill out a report on what worked, what didn't, and how the program could be improved for next year.

So now I have LOTS of data, more than we ever had before.  I know who signed up, ratio of boys to girls, how old they are, which branch they attended, and in which zip code they live.  I know how many kids and teens actually "finished" the program, as well as how many hours were read altogether by our reading club participants.  And just as importantly, I know what worked and what didn't, both from my own point of view and from the librarians out at the branches, and I know what librarians want from the program next year.

We're forming a Summer Reading Program committee for the first time this year, rather than Youth Services planning the whole thing (it nearly killed us last year, I swear).  Actually, we'll have two committees - one to create the children's program and one to create the teen program.  These committees will decide on the details of the programs, from how incentives will be rewarded and what those incentives will be to what the game boards will look like.

But I can tell them some things right away.  For instance, children's librarians (I haven't tabulated the teen librarians' reports yet, as I'm still missing a few - tsk!) overwhelmingly feel that the 2012 program should begin in mid-to-late June and should last 8 weeks.  Most think we should continue to count minutes read, though many would like to also give kids "credit" for attending programs, writing book reviews, and doing activities online.  Most librarians feel we should use Evanced again next year for registering and keeping track of statistics.

Mostly, librarians really liked the new preschool component and so did families.  We could make it more exciting, though, by building in some progress similar to the children's and teen programs and by adding a small incentive or two in addition to the free book that folks who finished the game board got.

As for improvements, here are the most common comments from children's librarians:
  • Make it more simple!!!!  (In particular, the "raffle ticket for every 2 hours of reading" was really onerous for staff to manage)
  • More and better incentives at the branch level!!! (Our big incentives were all based on centralized prize drawings, which felt too distant and detached to the kids, and we didn't have enough prizes for the 20,000 plus kids who signed up.  Biggest requests for branch incentives - lanyards and pencils)
  • Better give-away books!!!!  (We got thousands of books for pennies a book from First Book, but the choice of titles was limited, to say the least)
And thanks to Evanced, I know that most of our children's reading program participants are 7 and 8 years old - and that by far, most 11 and 12-year-olds choose to join the teen program.  Girls outnumber boys, but by quite a narrow margin.  These are statistics that will help us shape next year's program more effectively - AND I'll be able to buy our giveaway books knowing how many I need for each age group.  This year, never having run a book give-away program during the summer and not knowing how many I'd need or for whom, I was flying in the dark.

All in all, I'm really pleased with the results of this summer reading program despite some elements not working so well.  Trying new things has shaken us out of our usual summer ennui and gotten us thinking hard about what the summer reading program is all about and how to make it really valuable and dynamic.  Many librarians submitted amazing ideas for 2012 with their reports, and we've got plenty of volunteers for our committees.

 Truly, I'm even looking forward to our first SRP planning meetings in October.  Bring on 2012!


  1. Can you talk a little about your effort to do some outcome evaluation this year?

  2. Oh yes! Just waiting until I've gathered all my stats and documents (they're due to CLA on the 16th...yeep).

  3. We're looking forward to 2012 too! Martha

  4. This was super helpful Eva thanks! As a new librarian i am still trying to figure out ways to measure results both qualitatively and quantitatively.