Summer Reading: Novice vs. Experienced

My first library, where I was the Assistant Teen Librarian, the Teen Department did nothing particularly special for summer reading. No extra programs, just a paper sheet to fill out for books and some basic prizes. So when I got my full time job, I was singularly unprepared for a full scale summer reading program. I was lucky in that I started my job in late December so I had time before summer reading, but even so, there was an expectation that I knew a lot already and was thrown headfirst into the mire that’s summer reading.

The first year of summer reading is hard. Your first year doing any library’s summer reading program, you’re at loose ends to a degree, even with good guidance, and a lot is going to feel like trial and error. Everybody does things slightly differently – are you counting minutes, books, pages? Do you do little prizes or raffles or grand prizes or all of the above? Do you offer a suggested reading list? There are tons of little details that make each program at least somewhat different.

Plus, different coworkers, patrons and work space. Are you running more programs than you’re used to? Are you taking over a highly successful program? Or maybe one that completely crashed and burned before you so you’re starting basically from scratch (but never totally, oh, no, there are always expectations!).

As you can see, the questions on the details pile up pretty quickly even if you’re careful. The thing is, the first year will probably have its tough moments, no matter how prepared you feel. For me, since I hadn’t really done summer reading before, the entire thing was overwhelming from the beginning of planning in March until the very last day in mid-August. Not always overwhelming in a bad way but overwhelming.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was still growing a program, less than six months in, and I had no idea what I’d get in the way of turnout for the summer, but I diligently planned. Getting sticker shock from the cost of outside performers, I contracted only two local experts – one in came to do a teen Paint Night, which we named Painters Unite to go with the superhero theme, and the other had a background in art and did a 2-D animation class – instead of going further afield for experts and ran the rest of my 2-3 a week program by myself. As crazy as it was, I was really glad I did, though, because I was able to work closely with the vast majority if the kids who attended programs and really get to know them.

So it’s okay if it’s overwhelming for you too. First, there will be bright spots (my first program had a full attendance!) and second, there is a true appreciation out there for libraries’ summer programs and offering so many amazing free things and that appreciation will pass on to you, even if it is often in subtle ways – the kid who comes back over and over because you’re the bright spot in their day or the parent who thanks you with a little extra something in their eyes.

And there’s also this bright spot: the second year is easier. So much easier. No less work, really, but you’ve done this. You’re, if not a pro, than at least that much closer to an expert than you were the previous year. Someone with more experience than me would have to comment on whether or not you’re ever fully and truly prepared for summer reading. You know when to start planning and when book performers so some still have time slots when you want them. You’ll have an idea of how many kids to expect to certain programs. You’ll probably have a better idea of what programs to even offer because you know what was successful the summer before and what’s been successful all school year with your kids.

If you have an Advisory Board, you’ll have had time to plumb the depths of their minds and creativity to either use them to help you or at least gotten ideas from them. Planning my summer programs became hard this year because I had too many ideas between my own observations and ideas for plans and the ton my Advisory Board has requested. Some will just have to wait for next summer. Plus, you know the basics. You know the set up and rules of our program (unless you’ve changed things up and then you’ve hopefully been on the discussion and knew full well what you were getting yourself into.)

Here’s to hoping year three will be even easier!

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