5 Tips for Designing Engaging Reading Challenges During a Pandemic

Masthead Waves

As our library partners begin to ramp up for summer reading, the Beanstack team put our heads together to bring you 5 tips for designing an engaging reading challenge during a pandemic. We looked to libraries across the country who continued to serve their communities under extraordinary circumstances last summer and drew on our own experience running a national reading challenge under lockdown. As we move into our second summer of COVID, we hope these tips help your library and community enjoy the benefits of an awesome summer reading program.


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Tip 1: Keep it 3-sentence simple

It’s been a rough year. Even as vaccine distribution accelerates and we begin to emerge from lockdown, we continue to face new challenges and situations. Everyone is overwhelmed, from adults to little kids. 


That’s why it’s more important than ever to create a reading challenge that’s easy for your community to understand. Here’s a great litmus test for whether your reading challenge is truly simple: Can staff describe the challenge in 3 sentences? And perhaps even more importantly, could a patron describe your challenge in just a few sentences? If not, consider paring things down. 


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Tip 2: Set goals & incentives in short increments

COVID burnout is real, and we’ve seen strong anecdotal evidence that most readers stay engaged in challenges for just a few weeks at a time. To set your community up to succeed, create goals that readers can meet in the context of busy lives, and reward your readers early and often. Keep increments between logging badges small (the Beanstack team often uses 60 minutes increments, up to 600 minutes, for a total of 10 logging badges), and keep your activity badges tightly scoped to just one or a few prompts that busy families can complete. 


Setting goals based on short participation periods in the context of a longer challenge allows readers to start at different times and participate actively for a period of time that works for them. Librarians in our Beanstack User Group recently discussed one great idea to keep readers engaged throughout a challenge and to reward readers who participate for shorter increments: run frequent drawings based on who logged each week of your challenge.


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Tip 3: Make summer reading for everyone

While summer reading traditionally focuses on kiddos, many libraries have great success engaging adults and teens in their summer challenges. Making your challenge available to and enjoyable for all ages dramatically expands the scope of your community engagement. And who knows—your next top reader could be a single retiree (as was recently the case at a Beanstack partner library)! 


Making your summer reading challenge as inclusive and accessible as possible isn’t just about age. In-person events will continue to be inaccessible for some community members. We recommend not tying challenge goals or activities too closely to in-person events to allow everyone to succeed. Incorporating flexibility into your activities, by giving participants options (e.g. “plant a seed” or “draw a picture of a plant”), is another great way to keep activities inclusive.  


Setting a community reading goal in Beanstack is another fun way to engage your entire community. Many Beanstack libraries see fantastic results when they set a community goal.


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Tip 4: Include log types that require daily tracking

We all know that reading is essential for childhood development and has myriad benefits for everyone, from stress reduction to empathy building. These days, we need reading’s benefits more than ever. So why not harness the power of Beanstack to encourage your community to read more during your summer challenge? Plus, logging badges are a snap to set up as part of your Beanstack challenge, and a great complement to activities and reviews. Simply pick a logging type (we recommend minutes as the simplest way to engage readers of all ages), and add badges for logging increments.

There is increasing evidence that encouraging daily reading tracking in Beanstack grows reading habits. Beanstack readers read 19 minutes per day on average—approaching the healthy reading benchmark of 20 minutes a day—and read an average of 83 books per year, far above one independent study’s metric for “frequent readers” at 44 books per year. And these numbers are growing over time as libraries and Beanstack continue to learn and work together to inspire communities to read more. Readers’ average minutes per day grew by 19% between 2019 and 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.


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Tip 5: Encourage readers to use the mobile app

Mobile users are by far more engaged users. Last summer, 22% of summer reading registrants opted to use the Beanstack mobile app and 72% of them were active participants who logged at least once during their library’s challenge, compared to just 56% active participation among web app users. Those numbers were up significantly from the summer of 2019 and we expect them to continue to rise sharply this summer. Plus, promoting the mobile app can help bridge the digital divide, since folks with fewer resources are more likely to use a smartphone as their main—or only—point of access to the Internet. 


The Beanstack team is dedicated to making it easier than ever for libraries to incorporate the mobile app into their summer reading challenge with updates launching later this spring that simplify the logging process and encourage ongoing participation.


We got this

No matter what the rest of 2021 brings, Beanstack is here for you, your library staff, and your community. We’ll continue working to make the Beanstack experience awesome for you and your users, and we’re here to help if you need anything. 


Stay tuned for another blog post packed with tips on how to operationalize your summer reading challenge through staff prep, community outreach, and promotion. 


Thanks for doing what you do, and happy summer reading!



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