This month’s Challenge Monday topic is Summer Reading Programs. This week, we will be tackling the thorny question of Summer Reading Program Prizes! How are they funded? What do we offer? Is bigger better?
Here are what some of the TSU Agents think….
I’ve worked in a variety of systems, and it definitely makes a difference how things are funded. In a large urban system, there’s the benefit of being able to have the support of large corporate donors, from big box stores to electric companies, from local broadcast networks and sports teams to private donors and foundations whose sole purpose is to support literacy.
In systems like these, prizes have to be streamlined so that every location has the same prize: the publicity is enormous and the machine starts as soon as the previous year ends. For years we did a tier system like Faythe talks about below, with specific prizes at each level, and the prizes increasing with each level. As teens went higher, they earned books, day passes to the local theme park, the annual summer reading shirt, and they were always entered into the massive city-wide drawing for grand prizes. There were special awards for the highest amount read given in each age group as well, the top achievers were given at a special ceremony at City Hall, and everything culminated in a spectacular end-of-summer carnival downtown. In more recent years, this system switched to weekly prizes that were given away, which made things so much easier on staff- instead of trying to keep track of who had read how many hours, and giving out duplicate logs, when a teen turned in a log during a particular week, they earned a particular prize. This let the teens aim for specific prizes that they wanted, rather than having to earn their way through prizes they didn’t care about.
My current system is a three-location system, and the summer reading club is funded in part by the library budget and in part by the Friends of the Library. The teen budget is divvied up into prize money and programming money, and is stretched as far as we can make it go. For years, teens would get a reading log and during the week they turned in their log, they would be entered into that week’s drawing for $10 gift cards to a big box retailer in the area. Additionally, each entry would also be placed into the grand prize drawing for larger gift cards.
Last year, we switched from gift cards to a small prize when they turned in their first log, and a Kindle Fire HD as the grand prize, with each log being an entry into the raffle and a Kindle Fire being won at each location. It worked really well at the locations that have a higher income-bracket, but it didn’t draw my lower-income teens in as much.
The real draw for mine has always been the end-of-summer lock-in. I’ve encouraged teens to read above and beyond the ten hour club completion rate by challenging them to read 65 hours or more during the summer. This translates into approximately an hour a day for the entire program. If they do this, and turn in their logs, they are invited to a 13 hour overnight lock-in the weekend before school starts- we take over the entire community building where my location is, and spend the night watching movies, playing video and board games, and just having fun before school starts. It’s a tradition I started when I first got there, and each year the number of teens who’s completed all 65 hours or more has grown. Moreover, the teens who have aged OUT of the teen program have come back to be volunteer chaperons for the event. So far, the teens that have made the challenge part of their routine have been the ones who have caught up with their scheduled graduations and graduated from high school on time, earned technical certificates and found jobs, or are working on college degrees- and almost all of them are first generation Americans, and the first in their families to graduate from high school.
My library is lucky enough to have our “Summer Reading Club” prizes funded by our Friends of the Library group. Our teen participants have come to expect tangible, specific prizes, and we keep lists at our public desks and online to show the teens and their families what they can win.
We choose a grand prize to give away to a random winner at the end of the summer, 1 for each branch; this prize is typically a large piece of technology like a Kindle Fire, a Chromebook, or the fanciest new iPod. This grand prize is a big draw for our service area.
We also draw a weekly winner at each of the 3 branches, since we keep track of the participants by branches. My prizes usually include signed YA books, box sets of books by popular authors, gifts cards for local businesses, and bookish things like tote bags, Harry Potter accessories, or Hunger Games keychains.
I’ve worked at my library for almost four years and have held three summer reading programs.
The first two years I did a grand prize based on how many pages the teens read from books and graphic novels in the adult or teen area. This was a lot of work for me, and some kids got discouraged when they knew they didn’t have a shot of winning.
In summer 2014, I instituted a tiered prized system so kids would be rewarded based on how many books or graphic novels they read. Everyone who read at least 5 books or 15 graphic novels would get a prize of candy bars and an Aunt Annie’s free pretzel coupon. From there it got a little competitive:
10 Books – $5 Starbucks (First 20 Teens)
20 Books – Book of choice as purchased by Friends (First 15 Teens)*
30 Books – Messenger Bag (First 10 Teens)
40 Books – $20 to Game Stop/Jamba Juice (First 5 Teens)*
50 Books – $20 To Target (First 5 Teens)
We had the same breakdown for graphic novels except the tiers were 30, 60, 90, 120, and 150. I was worried we would run out of prizes, but we didn’t. Teens had certain prize goals in their head. It worked out so well that we are doing it again this summer (with some prize modifications) and adding four additional branches. We are also doing a grand prize for who earns the most points at the end of summer, but that is another story.
When I started my position, my supervisor had only recently started as well. We inherited two pull-out storage cabinet drawers FULL of prizes. They were mostly bizarre tchotchkes from Oriental Trading Post, interspersed with random CSLP-themed prizes going back about seven years.
So, for the past few years, we’ve been trying to use up the older prizes. Last year, we partnered with a local baseball team and teens could select free tickets to a game as one of the prizes. A local Culver’s also donated coupons for free custard, which were extremely popular. We’re trying to move more toward community-based rewards and experiences instead of things.
This year, I’ve spoken to our (still rather small) TLC about what they would like for prizes. The general consensus was food or coupons of some sort. I’m going back and forth between a coupon book that gets validated as they complete sections of the reading log, or weekly coupon prizes. At the end of the summer, only teens who have completed the summer reading program will be able to sign up for Goodbye, Summer! Teen Lock-In.
We’d love to hear your thoughts! Jump over to our Facebook Page and let us know what you think.