Planning Successful programming requires careful planning. Depending on your library's policies, you may need to set goals and objectives to share with your director, board, and community government. Here are some suggestions.
To motivate children & teens to read.
To encourage regular use of the library.
To have fun and promote positive library feelings.
To attract new users to the library.
To have 75% of the participants complete the program.
To enlist the support of at least three community businesses for the program.
To enlist 10% more children in the summer reading program than last year.
Planning Programs for Different Age Groups While the manual gives suggested age groups for each programming idea offered, don't let that stop you from taking the core of an idea and making it work for any age group. Other areas of the web site will offer tips on how you can make your programming more versatile. For instance, a program described in the Early Literacy section could easily work for school-aged children as well as teens. Take what the manual offers and make it your own! No one knows your community better than you!
You also need to consider what kinds of programming you'd like to offer. Does your programming need to consist primarily of presenters to combat your large numbers and lack of volunteers? Or do you have a manageable number of attendees and some awesome helpers and can offer more active programming like crafts, games, and projects? Are you going to offer storytimes? For what ages? What about other programming like movies or book clubs?
When selecting games and songs, make sure you take the age and attention span of your audience into account. Long stories and complex rules and lyrics will stump many young children, but some young audiences thrive on that. Games that foster physical aggression are less appropriate than games that rely on chance and luck. Cooperative games where everyone wins are the best of all. Always keep in mind that not every child feels comfortable participating in a group and should be allowed to sit out and observe if desired.
The best sorts of crafts, especially if you're short on help, are the open-ended sort that have no one way to achieve the end goal. Crafts that require a lot of steps and direction can be difficult to manage with a large group. However, you may still want to offer these projects on occasion. It's beneficial for the kids to have to strive to achieve something difficult every once in awhile. It builds confidence. (And sometimes a craft is too cute NOT to do!)
Make sure you also take your environment into account. If you have tile flooring and a special room, you can pretty much get away with anything. (GLITTER!) But if your floors are carpeted and you're in a shared space that is less easy to clean, you might want to steer clear of certain projects. Or get creative with drop clothes and tarps!
Serving Food I, Sarah, am a firm believer in food at programming. Its an incentive for attendance -- I've had kids show up before just for the food and then keep coming back because they had fun -- and people are hungry in the afternoons. I know I frequently need a 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. snack, so why shouldn't the kids? There are some things you need to take into account before you decide to start offering food at your programming, however.
What are your library's food policies? Do you have a designated eating area that is easily cleaned? Will the children be allowed to bring food home?
Consider food allergies and dietary requirements (peanut and tree nut allergies, vegetarianism, veganism, gluten free, etc) as well as likes and dislikes. However, don't bend over backwards just because a kid doesn't like what you've prepared. Keep a box of fruit snacks in the cupboard if you're a pushover like I am, or just inform the child that this is what is available for snack today and they are under no requirement to eat it.
How much extra time is the preparation of this food going to take and do you have anyone to help you with it? Is it something you could farm out to your Friends group or other local volunteers to make and bring in? Can it be made the day before?
Others are less firm believers in food at programs. This is a great example of a situation in which you need to know your audience. In some libraries, food tends to draw in teens who will not focus on anything beyond the food, no matter how fun the activity is. These types of teens tend to ruin the quality of the program for everyone. Smaller numbers are preferable, if it means everyone has more fun. You can do 1-2 programs per summer in which food is served because it is the focus of the program. For example, for the Own the Night theme, Council Bluffs had an Insomniac Café, where teens were taught how to make various "midnight snacks" and in 2013 they offered a Teen Iron Chef Program, both of which were immensely successful. When offering programs like these, be careful in your organization -- you may want to have your supplies on a separate table manned by a volunteer to make sure teens don't get too greedy and there are enough ingredients for everyone!
Using Volunteers Volunteers are the best! Especially in small libraries where you may be the only person in your department, or in the whole building for that matter! If you're lucky, you'll have some family members you can strong arm into helping. (Humble brag, I have the best mother in law in all the land: see photo at right!) If you're really lucky, they'll bring friends! You might have even inherited a volunteer or two when you started your position. And there are always those kids who just love to help!
Now, I'm saying kids here and not specifically teens, because some of my best helpers are in second through fourth grade. And while I understand that they can't do as many things as an older kid may be able to, they can still vacuum a rug and pick up supplies and wash tables with the best of them! I also have some great middle school volunteers who can help the younger kids read rules on games and finish craft projects, but don't discount those cleaners! At the end of a long program, its great to not have to worry much about tear down!
Teen volunteers can be used to run games, count bodies, take pictures, run errands, and just generally reign in the chaos. They can also be used to help with Teen Programs -- coming in early to help set up and to staying late to help with clean up. Remember though --if you choose to use volunteers to help with children's or teen programming, be sure to check with your library director or city attorney about background check laws in your community.
If you've never worked with volunteers before, make a list of things they could potentially help with and what age you'd prefer those tasks be done by. This way, if approached or when approaching others, you know exactly what you need! Make it clear to your volunteers that they are making a commitment to show up when they sign on as a volunteer, but also keep in mind that you're the only person contractually obligated to be there and plan your life accordingly. If worse comes to worse, can you do this program all alone with 40 children repeating your name over and over? If not, don't do it. If you're okay with a slower progress and you have the patience of a saint, go for it!
Registration, Requirements, and Reporting Most libraries ask participants to formally register in order to keep statistics on how many people joined, participated, and completed the program. Some libraries hold to strict per-registration dates and others are more flexible, allowing patrons to register and then attend programming same day.
You need to figure out what information you'd like to collect. Some libraries have a simple registration where they just ask for the contact information of the participant, and others are more complex. In Alden, I ask for contact information, emergency information (including allergies), whether the child is allowed to transfer themselves to and from the library or if they need to wait for a ride, reading contract, field trip permission (if applicable), and permission to photograph and videotape (good through June the following year). In Council Bluffs, both the Youth and Teen programs ask only for name, grade, school, and phone number. There is a blanket policy in Council Bluffs for photographing patrons. It is the patron's responsibility to ask to opt out of being including in photos.
You also need to decide if you are going to let the children bring home their book logs, or if they will stay at the library (or if their tracking will take place entirely online). If children take their logs home, you could have them turn them in when completed and use this as a form of registration. If your library has the capability, you can also decide to allow your users to track their activity online. Some larger libraries use Evanced Summer Reader, but if your library has staff with technology talents, you can also build your own online database and interface. In Council Bluffs, Anna has such staff and they have been able to develop a custom online program that collects information specific to the needs of the different ways that children, teens, and adult programs are set up.
Along with that, you need to determine how children will be tracking their accomplishments. The standard is to track books read or minutes read. In Alden, Sarah prefers minutes, as 15 minutes is the same for everyone and puts the children on a more even playing field. Libraries use a variety of ways to have children report on the books they read. They can place stickers on a log, give oral book reports to the librarian, or write simple book reports. You might also consider a more open-ended program, especially for teens. In Council Bluffs, Anna encourages participation through a multitude of activities under the categories Read, Watch, Listen, and Do. Nearly all of the activities are related to using the library, and reading is still the fastest way to earn points, but this gives busy teens a lot of ways to participate in the program, as well as encouraging them to use multiple library services.
However you have kids and teens track their efforts, you'll want to keep track of how much they participate for statistical purposes, so make sure you include a way to do so!
Incentives Everyone likes to get recognition for their achievement. Many libraries use prizes or rewards as incentives for children to complete part of or all of the summer library program. We are lucky to have the CSLP team put together an entire brochure of thematic prize selections for us. Other incentive options include:
Small novelty toys or items (oriental trading is a good place to find these);
Bookmarks, buttons, stickers, etc.;
Coupons for ice cream, fast food, pizza, etc. (a great opportunity to partner with local businesses);
Cash prizes, gift cards, and gift certificates (another great partnership opportunity);
Tickets to movies, museums, or zoos (often available for free);
Books (may be purchased or horded from books donated to the library);
Raffles for various larger prizes (gift certificates, savings bonds, etc.);
A pass to your finale party;
Experience prizes (sleepover, Wii party, lunch with a librarian, cruise on a local river boat, etc.).
Think about getting creative with your prizes--especially if you're the type that has a slight philosophical issue with offering things like food and cash as a reward for reading. This summer, for the first time, Anna will be working with local schools to offer incentives that might appeal to teens more than trinkets and coupons. She is working with each school in the district to identify prizes that might appeal to students including a pass to eat lunch in the library, a field trip to the public library, a pass to take a 15 minute break in the Teacher's Lounge, or a pass to get out of a homework assignment. The hope is that these more specific prizes will be great motivation for teens to participate in summer reading because it will be something relevant to their everyday lives.
Don't forget to remind businesses who donate goods and/or cash that their donation is tax deductible, and send thank-you notes to EVERYONE who gives you anything that helps you get through your summer.
Scheduling Programs Once you have figured out how registration, reading logs, contracts, and incentives will work, you can turn your attention to everyone's favorite part -- the programming! Programming varies according to your library's resources and your community's needs. Depending on your participation level, you may be able to offer more hands on programming, or you may want to stick to performers or drop-in/take-home programs. Programming is also dependent upon your schedule. If you only work Mondays and Wednesdays, you probably won't be offering programming every day of the week.
Storytimes, activity days, movie days (with proper licensing), book clubs, special performers, field trips (with permission slip), drama clubs, family nights, and workshops are all great ideas for programming. Keep in mind your audience, time available, and help available. You don't want to overextend yourself and get burned out with the stress of too much programming. Remember, summer reading is supposed to be fun for you, too!
Evaluation When your programming ends, make sure that you thank everyone involved. Don't forget your custodial staff! I always say its not a good program unless something spills and while we always try to clean up our messes, I know we don't always get it all. If you have a local newspaper, run an article to thank all your volunteers and donators. It's good publicity for both the library and the community!
You'll also want to keep a written record of what you did over the summer in order to evaluate its effectiveness. Your library may have statistics it wants you to keep track of and you may have some you want for your own records. Here are some suggested statistics to track;
Percent Participation (Total number of children in the program divided by the total number of children of that age in your community)
Total books/minutes read
Program completion rate (Total number of children who signed up for the program divided by the total number of children who finished)
Cost per program per child (Money spent on all programming divided by the number of individuals who participated. I also do a cost to the library to reflect our donations and because it makes the number smaller and me cooler by comparison.)
Number of children and/or teens signed up
If your program is completed in phases, you might also want to keep track of how many children claimed which prize so you have a better tally on how much to buy the following year and for which types of prizes were the most popular.
These statistics are helpful in advocating for your budget and your importance in the community, as well as to let you know what worked and what didn't. When you're neck deep in your fourth hour of maths, it may not seem like it, but you'll thank yourself for keeping track of all this come the following year!
Promoting Make a list of people and organizations you want to contact. Think about where these people congregate and plan accordingly. Promotional activities should begin before school lets out and include the following:
Displaying and distributing posters, bookmarks, stickers, buttons, balloons, and banners;
Posting information on your library's website, Facebook, and other social media sites (upcoming programs, per-registration dates, reading suggestions, the CSLP video, etc.);
Advertise through newspapers, radio, and TV (if available);
Decorate your library with bulletin boards, ceiling decor, props, signs, etc.;
Visit the schools and tell the students about all the cool things you'll be doing this summer;
Send home information in the schools weekly take home packets;
Schedule visits for the school children to come to the library;
Send information for younger children home with day care providers to be distributed.
Building Partnerships and Reaching Out to Children and Families that May Not Come to Your Library
Research shows that children and families who don't come to their public library often need library services the most. It can be difficult to reach these families, as most libraries have limited resources and staffing for outreach services. Partnering with and working through existing organizations that serve parents/caregivers with children can be a major key to success.
Potential partner organizations include:
Head Start / Early Head Start programs
Reach Out and Read clinics and pediatrician offices
Local social service providers, such as food banks, homeless shelters, WIC offices, local government services, etc.
Nursing home visitation programs
Literacy non-profits such as Raising a Reader and Imagination Library
Parent mentor groups
Migrant education programs
New immigrant support groups
Summer food service programs
Obstetrician's offices and prenatal programs
Summer school locations
Rec centers, summer camps, YMCA and YWCA, Boys' and Girls' clubs, and other youth enrichment programs
Parks and Rec departments
Farmer's markets and food co-ops
Teen parent programs and alternative high schools
State or county fairs
Retail establishments and eateries
Tips on reaching this critical audience:
Leverage your library's website and social media, as well as your partners' websites and social media, to promote and deliver early literacy services. Low-income parents report using the internet and social media sites for information on parenting.
Present outreach programs in locations and at times convenient for busy working parents and caregivers, and in conjunction with existing programs that serve low-income families.
Reach out to expectant parents (especially first-time parents) at prenatal programs and events, or hold literacy events for them at your library.
Suggest quick, easy ways for parents and caregivers to incorporate literacy activities into their daily lives.
Access free/low-cost sources, such as First Book, to distribute free books to children at outreach events. Include bookmarks with library information and literacy tips.