Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Summer Proposal

I spent a lot of time and work on my proposal for summer reading this year, which I took to our staff meeting earlier this week (The staff meeting is all the department heads - youth services, technical services, adult services, circulation, and director. Everyone gives input, but the director has the final decision) and then to another meeting with the director and adult services librarian (who was not able to be at the staff meeting). This is a more structured version of the shorthand I used to present to the staff with some tweaking from suggestions.

Results:
This was my sky-in-the-pie dream, so I didn't expect to do ALL of it! Just get it out there for discussion. We're going to stick with the CSLP theme this year, pretty definitely go to the calendars as logs, and prizes are still under discussion - we are almost definitely not doing the plastic crap, but are discussing food coupons or small candies. I'm working on some compromises and tweaks to adjust to staff's suggestions and concerns. Personally, I'm more of a risk-taker and am generally in the field of "let's just try it and see what happens!" but summer reading is run from several desks (I don't have enough staff to cover the children's desk in the evenings and on Saturday) so it needs to work for everyone.

The plan
  • Go back to registration; a simple online sign-up recording child's name, age, and school.
  • When people request the summer calendar, which they will do starting in May, they get signed up. Sign up continues throughout the summer, as always. While supplies last, they will get a small prize, donated by a local artist, at sign-up.
  • The program calendar is the summer reading log! (this is a rough draft, built on last year's calendar, so not all dates etc. are correct)
    • When they have 5 days crossed off, they get stamped and put a sticker on Rocket's Reading Doghouse (giant cardboard construction)
    • We will also keep markers etc. at the youth services desk and kids can add a decoration to the doghouse along with their sticker, if time and inclination allow
    • Forget their calendar? Just stamp their hand!
    • Little ones want to keep their stickers? Go ahead!
    • Big families only want one calendar to keep track of? Just write all the kids' names on one calendar!
    • In July, participants return their June page to receive a packet of passes (received through the consortium)
    • In August, they return their July calendar and get to go into Rocket's Reading Castle (the Storyroom) and pick out a book to keep.
  • Other reading programs (participants can do the calendar program as well if they want)
    • Ages 0-3 will still do Rubber Ducky Readers
    • 6th grade and up can put their checkout receipts into a box for a chance to win a small prize each week, total cost of all prizes not to exceed $100 (I think I got this idea from a discussion on the Facebook Teen Librarians group) winners will be posted on Facebook and the teen bulletin board.
    • We will continue the Queen of Summer Reading competition (the school librarian with the highest participation wins the title and a snazzy necklace for the next year and I give all the elementary school librarians a list of participants, who all get to pick from the prize box when they return to school)
  • The last change - brand all reading programs with Rocket from the Paws to Read theme purchased from ILA in 2013. We will still use the superhero and other CSLP themes for programs, displays, etc. but Rocket = Reading Program Time!
Why brand summer reading with one theme?
  • Save $$ by not having to buy new marketing materials each year
  • Save time not making an entire new decorating scheme each year
  • Brand reading programs with a memorable character that will clue in parents and kids that it's reading program time!
  • Build collaboration with local community organizations; specifically, the animal shelter
  • Most patrons don't notice or care about the theme and it doesn't help market summer reading; it's a lot of time, money, and work for no purpose
  • If Rocket doesn't work out, we can always go back to the different themes every year - it's not an irreversible change!
Why get rid of plastic crap and simplify summer reading?
  • Disproportionate time and money spent on summer reading.
    • In 2014 we spent over $1,200 on summer reading. This is roughly the same amount spent on performers and only about $500 less than spent on programming supplies for the entire year. This does not include time spent on all the summer reading processes, requesting donations (most of whom no longer donate), etc.
    • Performers brought in over 1100 in attendance, our total programming numbers were over 12,000. Summer reading has stayed steady around 500 participants with only small increases each year.
  • Patrons don't care or don't want prizes
    • I informally polled as many parents as possible last summer, especially our most frequent library users. The most-preferred prize was a book and the most frequent request was to make sure all the kids could receive a book as a prize.
    • The parents who most like the plastic prizes were those with preschool or younger kids and all said stickers would be just as good
  • Make the program easier for participants and reach a wider audience
    • The most frequent reasons I heard from non-participants and those who didn't participate more than a week or two were:
      • They lose the bookmarks and don't realize they can keep going
      • They don't sign up at the beginning and think it's too late
      • It's too much work to keep track of reading and remember the bookmarks (we replace a lot of forgotten/lost bookmarks)
    • Reaching more kids
      • There are two ends of the spectrum for readers; kids who struggle to read even 15 minutes a day (required by the bookmarks) and kids who easily read an hour or more every day and are not being challenged.
    • This loose, casual program will allow kids and parents to set goals that fit their family's needs and allow the youth services department to focus on providing programs, stellar reader's advisory, and and a welcoming atmosphere, rather than enforcing rules, being the "library police" or prize distribution. Kids will be able to focus on enjoying the library, rather than getting their piece of cheap crap.
Projected results
  • The 5% who currently complain or don’t participate because of prizes will participate
  • The 5% who are in it for the prizes (and usually hit multiple libraries) will complain as usual and then continue to participate in other libraries' SRP as usual.
  • 90% won’t care.
  • I anticipate that our yearly slow increase in participation (about 50 each year) will continue
What’s the worst that could happen?
Everyone hates it and complains, participation drops. Next year we go back to the regular program and everyone forgets about it.

Resources
  • These aren't ALL the resources I consulted, just some of the most accessible I pulled together for the staff meeting and to refresh my points in my head. I also had many conversations with other librarians, including with a Milwaukee librarian (they have been doing the same theme for quite a few years now) and at conferences.
  • I asked for take-away quotes from Storytime Underground on Facebook to bolster my presentation. These are some of the responses.
    • It is eco friendly to scale down on small plastic prizes with huge carbon footprints!
    • We have become a "plastic junk free" zone. Our wonderful system Summer Reading coordinator scores many books for us to give to children to keep. 
    • As a parent who hated the plastic junk I eliminated it from summer reading years ago.
    • Because the plastic junk is just that... Junk. It gets pitched as soon as possible by parents, is of no real value, and, in my mind, does not motivate. Junk.
    • We went cold turkey on plastic tchotchkes last year for exactly the reason you stated above -- we wanted to use the money for something else. We expected a huge outcry, but only about three people even mentioned the "prize box" and those people were adults. The kids never noticed. Woohoo!
    • We took the money that would have been used for prizes and had the kids "earn" an animal through Heifer International. It was very popular and we had no complaints about prizes.
    • We started not giving out little toys/trinkets every week to the little kids. We only had 3 parents complain that their child did not get a toy. Most were happy not to get a cheap piece of plastic that they would lose interest in by the time they got to the car. Worked for us!
    • I used to give books away as prizes via a weekly raffle, plus we had personal sticker sheets posted around the room and a communal bulletin board kids could contribute to every time they read for the SRP. I know some people really think that plastic trinkets motivate but I honestly believe that praise and public displays of accomplishment are what really work and stick with kids the most. When I stopped plastic toys cold turkey, no kid ever complained. The only negative remarks I received were from adults.
Philosophy: I really want to, as I think Marge Loch-Wouters may have said, "get off the summer reading train." No more "earning" prizes, no more spending most of our time at the desk processing reading logs, handing out prizes, discussing with parents whether they can get an extra log for vacation and then an extra prize when they come back, and so on and so on and so on. Personally, if summer reading participation was cut in half and people went to neighboring libraries with "better" prizes....I wouldn't care. If your only motivation for coming to the library is to get a prize, I'm fine with you visiting another library instead. And I don't mean that in a nasty way; we have more than enough patrons to go around and plenty of libraries with different service models of summer reading, so there's something for everyone - I don't have to be that something for everyone. I'm fine with changing the program a little - or a lot - every year to fit what we've learned and how our patron base changes from year to year. I've made changes, always including smaller prizes every year and every year summer reading participation grows.

So, the discussion continues - baby steps every year and we'll see what happens this year!

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