Town Hall Takeaways: Librarians on Summer Reading Engagement

Masthead Waves

Last month we hosted two Beanstack User Group Town Halls, where our library partners traded tips and tricks for increasing engagement for summer reading programs during the “new normal.” Librarians shared how they are leveraging what they learned over the last year to prepare for their 2021 summer reading programs, and offered solid advice to others in the community. 

Thanks to the 300+ librarians and staff members who showed up in April, we’ve gathered some useful insights that we’ll share with you here. Let’s go!


5 Takeaways for Summer Reading Engagement

summer reading engagement takeaway 1 - challenge promo

Get Creative With Your Challenge Promo

We heard from many librarians that limitations on in-person promotional activities actually opened the door to creative solutions for increasing summer reading engagement. Our partners are using a broad range of tools to spread the word about their summer reading challenges. They found that adding a bit more spark and creativity to their promo game can really boost participation—and add extra fun! 


Beanstack library partners are decorating their libraries, posting large signs outside, designing car window clings for patrons, and creating fun promo videos with their staff. Does your library have a YouTube or video channel? Use it to share commercial-style videos, funny videos, or even engage your leaders and local celebs! Many libraries build excitement and momentum with bookmarks, newsletters, press releases, radio, and newspaper ads. Instagram stories are a quick, easy way to provide “how tos” for readers like this one from Clay County Library


There are tons of high quality free online resources available to design your materials, like Canva and Adobe Spark. For communication tools, libraries recommended MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Savannah by OrangeBoy. Just use what you’ve got and remember that consistency is key. 


Bonus tip: When you begin promoting your program is just as important as how you promote it. Most libraries recommend promoting challenges between 2-4 weeks before it begins. If you start too early, people may forget or it can easily become background noise. 


summer reading engagement takeaway 2 - community goals

Motivate Your Community With Goals

Many librarians cited goal-setting as key to their summer-reading success. Plymouth Public Library mentioned that setting a community goal last year made adult registration skyrocket. They also got creative with their goal: “The more pages they read, the more links they added to the paper chain. The chain was 2 miles long and we stretched it out and walked the chain through the full length of downtown.”  


Here are some other ways libraries set community goals:


“We made a 24x48 poster of the city of St. Louis and are going to put markers on it for every 2500 books read.” 


“A couple of years ago, we set a goal with an ice cream party as the reward. It was reached so quickly, we said we would add toppings if it was doubled by a certain date—sure enough, they did! SO we extended it, and said SPRINKLES if they did it again. You guessed it, they did.” 


“Next year I’d love to do an “out-read the librarian” goal, and if the kids beat me, they get to pick which hair color I get next.” 


summer reading engagement takeaway 3 - registration takeaway

Kick Off Registration with Bang!  

Kick off your summer strong with an in-person or virtual registration event. Our partners are creating walkup registration tables, curbside kickoffs, Facebook live registration parties, and hosting events with local partners. One library held their kickoff at a petting zoo with a drive-by event complete with hotdogs and summer reading totes. Another library hosted a drive-in movie during the first week of their program: readers had to pick up placards beforehand, which had a QR code leading them to their website and Beanstack. 


Schools in St. Louis received starter kits containing a book, toy, activity, and postcard with simple instructions for participating in their summer program which they could then bring into their library to redeem their prizes. Another library went to their local day care center to offer sign ups and delivered summer reading bags to kids with free books and t-shirts. 


To help boost registrations and lift the load from staff, many libraries open registration up to one month before their challenge actually begins. Pre-registration for challenges allows libraries to reach kids while they are still in school, which helps admins and readers prepare.


Once your challenge begins, it’s important to continue engaging with readers along the way. Our library partners offered awesome, innovative suggestions to keep in touch and keep readers motivated. One library encourages patrons by creating visuals for the number of registered readers: “Last year, we painted our window with a fairy tale castle and filled one brick for each person registered. This year, we’ll fill in a scale on a mermaid painted on the window.” And sometimes, just an old-fashioned email check-in can go a long way. “The best response I had was to send an email once a week letting them know how they were doing [on our community goal].” Updating readers with resources, upcoming events, challenge stats, and sharing book reviews on social media were among other ways libraries connected with their patrons. 


summer reading engagement takeaway 4 - patron offerings

Offer Something for Everyone in Uncertain Times 

Using paper logging or going entirely digital? Holding in-person events or exclusively virtual meetups? Many of our clients have found great success in providing the best of both worlds. In such unpredictable times, it’s difficult to say with certainty if libraries will remain open for the duration of summer. And everyone will have their own level of comfort regarding their health and safety when it comes to attending in-person events. So why not offer both whenever possible? Maintain your virtual programming while offering outdoor events and live streaming when possible. 


Take & Make, Grab & Go, and Curbside Crafts are among some of the popular ways libraries are offering hands-on participation while remaining socially distanced. Baseball family fun day, fire company appreciation day, and local scavenger hunts were other ways that libraries offered safe outdoor popup events for their communities. Many libraries continue to leverage curbside pickup even after reopening the library building. One of our partners used curbside for their kickoff event, and included fun activities, colorfully dressed staff, goodie bags, and a Kona Ice truck. 


While we’re all certainly more used to living digitally now, some libraries continue to provide paper reading logs in congruence with online programming when that works best for their community. Many librarians reach families in areas with low internet connectivity through direct mailers and analog options for logging activity and reading. With this mindset, summer reading can feel more like a delicious buffet of options that readers can choose to fit their own personal lifestyle. Bon Appetit! 


summer reading engagement takeaway 5 - hybrid experience

Draw On Your Community for a Hybrid, Inclusive Experience

Now more than ever, libraries are looking out for their communities—and drawing on help and support from local partners. Many libraries, facing reduced staffing, look to partnerships to help bolster their programming efforts. Local parks departments are a particularly important library partner in many places, often providing space and support for outdoor programming including everything from special events to story walks. If minimal staffing presents challenges for your library, keep it simple. One library shared that they worked with their parks department to plan “a special program with a visit from the animals from the Newport Aquarium.”


Small businesses have been hit hard in the past year too. When selecting your summer challenge prizes, use this as an opportunity to support your local businesses. Weekly prize drawings and book giveaways are wonderful incentives for readers to stay engaged and connected throughout summer. If your budget permits, buy prizes for drawings through businesses in your community in addition to asking for small donations. Gift cards from stores and restaurants are a great way to reward readers and get people patronizing local businesses. 


As always, we’re here to help

Like you, we’re learning as we go, moving forward into another unprecedented summer season. We hope to help you do so with confidence and ease. We’re so grateful for the countless ways you’ve shown up for your communities, and we’re here to support you as we navigate this new normal together. 

Have summer reading ideas to share?

Join our Facebook User Group and keep the conversation going.

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