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What? Summer Reading Programs Aren’t Just for Kids?

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on September 5, 2013

Our summer reading program for adults had been well-hidden for years. Even staff members of other departments didn’t know we had one. Though concerted and coordinated efforts with the public services department, we have increased our adult summer reading participation by 400% in three years.These are some of the things we did. We hope they will work for you too:

  • Get good prizes. We have a staff member who shops clearances and sales and plans for prizes for adults all year. She amasses gift sets and “family movie night” packages. She finds amazing things. Our local businesses (particular restaurants and bars) have been very generous with providing us gift certificates as prizes as well.
  • Tell children. In school visits, this year in particular, we told the children about a gift certificate we had gotten to a local tattoo parlor. Many parents of these children are inked, so there was definitely an excitement in the air when we talked about this prize.
  • Talk to parents when they sign up their kids. Early on our successes with increasing our adult participation numbers came almost exclusively from telling parents when they were signing up their children for summer reading that there was an adult program as well. They could read and earn prizes. Many parents did not  even realize the adult program existed.
  • Summer reading rewards in exchange for chores?  At our library, everyone, adults and youth, earn fake money for their reading. The more you read the more “money” you earn. We encourage parents to save their “money” and give it to their children in exchange for chores done at home. This was something one parent told us she did, and now we tell all parents when they are signing up. What can the “money” be used for? At the library?
  • “Reward” parents for reading to their children. Some adults participate because they can get prizes for reading to their children each night. For a little investment in prizes we know that there are some children who are hearing stories at home.
  • Visit places where adults gather. A library representative was asked to make a presentation on library resources at a local church dinner, and she mentioned the library’s adult summer reading program as one of the “upcoming events.” More than half of the questions at the conclusion of the presentation were about the adult summer reading program, not the actual presentation itself. We visited a senior center to promote library services and summer reading. We talked with a few people who were excited to learn they could listen to audiobooks and participate in the program. We have found that just hanging signs in the public meeting rooms doesn’t draw the attention to the program that direct conversations or presentations does.
  • Enlist your colleagues at the circulation desk. Our circulation desk staff mention the Adult Summer Reading Program to avid readers and repeat customers.

It’s hard to find the time to promote adult summer reading the way children’s and teen librarians promote their programs, but it is well worth the effort. It is great to hear an adult saying, “I remember doing summer reading programs as a kid. You mean I can do that again?”

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