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Desperately Seeking Summer Reading Prizes

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on July 15, 2013

Part of being a public librarian means you scour your community for prizes for your summer reading program every spring. Generally it is food coupons for the children’s program or convincing your Friends group to buy you an e-reader or MP3 player to use as grand prize for adult readers. Finding prizes gets more challenging every year, so we offer the following tips for finding prizes:

  • Know your community. We have a number of younger parents, and quite of few of them have tattoos. We specifically asked the tattoo parlor in town if they would give us a donation for summer reading “since many of our patrons are inked,” and they did!
  • Get a few prizes that have great PR potential. We have a husband and wife who have done programs at the library on ghost hunting. They agreed to let two people stay overnight with them at the library with all their equipment to analyze the library’s spirits. One of our local businesses buys season tickets to the Cleveland Indians (and these are really nice seats) and gives pairs of tickets to organizations to use as prizes. Both are great to publicize in the community.
  • Thematic prizes are not for kids only. You’ve gotten prizes that match your children’s summer reading theme for years. How about local businesses whose services match your theme? This year our library is doing a food theme, and our local meat market gave us a gift certificate.
  • Collect prizes all year round. Some of our most popular prizes turned out to be clearance items purchased at the end of “seasons” at dollar stores or Wal-mart. Purses and totebags seem to be really popular and you can find great ones in clearance areas.
  • Redeem points from loyalty programs. We purchase video games from our local Game Stop. We turned in our points from their customer loyalty program to get some amazing “gamer themed” prizes.
  • Get advice from the library staff. Ask everyone…reference, circulation, technical services, and even your maintenance man about what are popular, interesting, or new businesses in town. Keep adding new places to your “ask” list each year. We have gotten a good number of donations from new businesses that have been looking for ways to get their name out in the community.
  • Buy gift cards. While you always want to get gift cards or certificates donated from local businesses, if you have money to spend, get gift cards to franchises in your area—especially coffee places, gas stations, and grocery stores. For us, these are our most popular prizes.
  • Visit local businesses in person. It’s a lot harder to turn someone down in person than it is over the phone. Always leave an explanatory letter about summer reading, even if they give a verbal commitment. The letter should be sure to include contact information, library hours, and your library’s Tax ID number.

Shout out and thanks to great grandmother and co-worker, Vivian Volante. She let us tell everyone we visited to promote summer reading, kids, teens, and adults about “our friend the great-grandmother who was going to read tons of books and try to win our tattoo gift certificate.” The interesting thing is, a number of other patrons want that prize as well! Who will get it?