A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

PERSPECTIVES | Expanding Summer Reading Programs

by Nanci Milone on June 28, 2016

Nanci Milone Hill is Director of the M.G. Parker Memorial Library in Dracut (MA) and Presi­dent of the Massachusetts Library Association.

Contact Nanci at nhill@mvlc.org. Nanci is currently reading Return of the Witch by Paula Brackston, and The Queen of the Night by Alexan­der Chee, along with a myriad of other books in her role as member of ALA’s Notable Books Council.

Massachusetts, like other states, is battling an opioid crisis. It is estimated that between 26.4 and 30 million people abuse opioids worldwide.[1] Between 2000 and 2015, opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts rose from 338 to 1,526 per year.[2] Dracut, the town where I work, has had twenty-one opioid-related deaths in the last four years.[3] The overwhelming severity of this crisis has caused many cities and towns, including Dracut, to form opioid task forces. The Dracut Healthy Community Taskforce was created by a sitting member of the board of selectmen. The task force is made up of local government officials, pharmacists, doctors, chiropractors, police officers, firefighters, concerned citizens, and the local library director (me). Still in its early stages, the group is working to raise awareness of the issue and of alternative methods of pain relief. After our first meeting, I put together a Pinterest board listing both print and online resources for those suffering from addiction, as well as those that their addiction affects.[4]

Right about now you are probably thinking, “Wait. I thought this column was about summer reading. How did we get from that upbeat topic to such a downer of a subject?” I’ll tell you how. Following the second meeting of the Dracut Healthy Community Taskforce, I learned that this year’s collaborative summer reading theme is “Wellness, Fitness, and Sports.” This theme opened up a plethora of library programming opportunities that just happen to fit into the stated purpose of our town’s task force. I set out to book adult programs featuring healthy living for both the mind and body, as well as programs highlighting alternative pain therapies:

Pat Bateson, author of Firewalk: Transcending the Fear, Awakening to Love (2015), will inspire attendees with her story of how she faced a health chal­lenge and discovered ways to move through and heal. She will share her insights, wisdom, and practical tools. Bateson is a registered nurse, certi­fied hypnotherapist, Reiki master, and Tong Ren practitioner.

One of our local hospitals, Lowell General Hospital, will give a talk on ways to keep your heart healthy.

A resident and gardener of a nearby town will teach us about growing and using herbs.

A team of local chiropractors will come to discuss what a chiropractor is and what they do.

Diane McCarthy, the daughter of our former library director, will offer a workshop on alternative healing using essential oils.

In addition to these and other programs, our adult patrons will be encouraged to read from a variety of types of books, including self-help and wellness titles. As in the past, they will receive a coupon to enter our end of the summer drawing, for every book they read or listen to. This year however, they will also receive coupons for programs that they attend, and healthy activities that they participate in. At the end of the summer, eight participants will each win a $50 gift card to spend at area businesses. It is my hope that our adult summer reading program this year will not only encourage reading but also raise awareness of the opioid crisis in our com­ munity and alternative healthy lifestyle options, as well as encourage our patrons to exercise their bodies and minds.

Carol Anne Geary of Mechanicville (NY) District Public Library is also thinking about ways to ramp up her summer read­ing program. I’m sure that you will enjoy the following essay as much as I did.

Summer Reading Programs Are Not a Race but a Destination

Carol Anne Geary, Youth/Adult Services Librarian, Mechanicville (NY) District Public Library, cdgeary@verizon.net

Starting off by saying “summer reading programs are not a race” is an interest­ing way to discuss programs in a year when the nationwide theme is “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!” However, making summer reading programs a destination has always been my guiding principle in planning and conducting some reading programs.

Over the years, I have attended too many summer reading workshops where discussions inevitably lead to how we measure summer reading. Do we use number of pages, books read, or minutes spent reading to document the prog­ress of our summer readers? Some of the formulas discussed seem more like mathematical equations and way too much work. Don’t get me wrong, though, I appreciate that we need statistics and sometimes quantitative methods of evaluating programs is called for.

Statistics seldom tell the whole story, however. I may seem like a radical when I’ve said that I don’t really care how many pages or hours that children read in summer reading program workshops. I don’t care what they choose to read. I care that they read. I care what they think of a book, how it made them feel, whether they liked it or not, and whether they loved it so much they didn’t want it to end. I also don’t care if they read it, listened to it, shared it aloud with a friend, read it with a parent, or had it read to them. I don’t care how they report it to me, and I love the way my library invites participants to talk about what they’ve read, write about it, or draw a picture. We all process information in different ways and have different ways of sharing what we’ve learned.

Likewise, our summer reading themes can seem like a burden or a blessing de­pending on how we feel about the theme. For me they have always just been a start­ing point. Take, for example, this year’s theme (On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!). I recently attended a workshop where librarians were discussing that the theme was too sports-oriented and they were not using it. I have always used the theme, free materials, and great manuals. Then I let my imagination (and my co-workers’) run wild in planning which way to interpret it.

This year’s theme is a perfect match to the 2016 Summer Olympics and how they are so much more than just sporting competitions. There were so many great ideas suggested about multicultural ways to organize our summer reading program. So we will be making crafts from around the world, listening to storytellers, cel­ebrating different countries, and learning about those like us all around the world.

One of the ideas I’ve used in the past, and will again this year, is to make a world map one of our central displays. Every time a summer reader selects an interna­tional story, there will be a special incen­tive and another star will be added to the map to show where the story was set.

Incentives are also one of those topics under debate at a lot of summer read­ing program workshops and whether we award prizes or not. Some libraries forgo prizes altogether and plan other ways to donate to worthy organizations. I am a contest lover, so personal incentives are always a part of my summer reading programs. My goal is for the prizes to expand horizons. So I collect donations to local businesses, museums, and other places where readers and their families can make new connections. Free raffle tickets are given out all summer for read­ing and more. The “more” is an important part. For our teen readers, they can earn raffle tickets by reading, by volunteering at the library or in the community, and by attending our programs.

I really feel that it is important to ex­pand what we think of when we think of summer reading. Yes, we need to applaud reading. Let’s also applaud volunteering, joining the teen advisory group, coming to a STEM program, and learning about another place on our planet.

Another strong component of my summer reading programs is community service. Reaching out to others expands our knowledge and links us to new worlds and experiences, just like turning the pages of a book. One of my favorite examples was the year that Massachu­setts, where I lived at the time, had a summer program based on the theme of “Go, Green.” We literally did, by creating volunteer opportunities at a local com­munity farm that grew produce to donate to local food banks. We had library days at the farm throughout the summer. One of the great things about this program was that other libraries in our area were invited to participate. It was one of the best library programs that I have been privileged to be a part of. Library readers of all ages met over the summer and were part of something bigger than themselves and that is how I measure success.

This brings me to a discussion of who summer reading programs should be planned for and the answer is everyone. It is important for children to read over the summer and retain literacy skills. It is also important to reach out to teens, adults, and seniors at our libraries. Children em­brace reading when they see others doing it and know it is valued in their house­holds and communities.

Some programs are intergenerational and this year will be no exception. One of these intergenerational programs that I am looking forward to this summer is a showing of the documentary film He Named Me Malala (2015), about the young Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and her quest for education for all, fol­lowed by a discussion of the film and book. There are young reader copies of the book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Edu­cation and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013), so all ages can participate. It is a great way to open a discussion that not only takes us to another place in our world, but also expands our knowledge of the challenges that some female students face for just wanting to read and learn.

In conjunction with this program, I am partnering with the MoonCatcher Project, which I have been fortunate to learn about and volunteer with. Through this group I have learned that many young girls, in countries like Uganda, often have to miss weeks of school because they do not have access to sanitary products to use during their cycles. This group pro­vides reusable products so that this is not a barrier to attending school and falling behind in their studies. This summer, my library will host a MoonCatchers sewing bee (www.mooncatchers.weebly.com), where the program will be discussed, a short film shown, and participants will get to work to create the products. The best part is that each participant, in some small way, is a part of something bigger.

Being part of something bigger and sharing together what we read, what we learn, and what we do is the core of a summer reading program. This summer at my library we will travel to ancient Greece and learn about the Olympics, read about different places around the world, and expand our horizons. This is where the real magic of summer reading takes us to—the destination. Reading and how often it is done is only the starting point. Listening, experiencing, and creating are all parts of the journey as well. Summer reading pro­grams and themes can lead us on amazing adventures with our summer readers. Let’s embrace them.

[1] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2012 (New York: United Nations, June 2012), accessed June 7, 2016, www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/WDR-2012.html.
[2] Massachusetts Department of Public Health, “Data Brief: Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Among Massachusetts Residents,” May 2016, accessed June 7, 2016, www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/quality/drugcontrol/county-level-pmp/data-brief-overdose-deaths-may-2016.pdf.
[3] Massachusetts Department of Public Health, “Number of Confirmed Unintentional/Undetermined Opioid- Related Overdose Deaths by City/Town, MA Residents January 2012–December 2015,” May 2016, accessed June 7, 2016, www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/quality/drugcontrol/county-level-pmp/town-by-town-listings-may-2016.pdf.
[4] M.G. Parker Memorial Library’s Pinterest board, “Addiction Resources: A List of Materials, Websites and Resources for Families and Those Suffering with Addiction,” accessed June 7, 2016, www.pinterest.com/dracutlibrary/addiction-resources.