Rob Cullin, co-founder and former President of Evanced Solutions, shared his thoughts with us on the state of Summer Reading in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what he said:
We are now facing THE most important summer for Online Summer Reading in history. But is that good news for your library, or bad? Honestly, it probably hinges on what you do in the next six weeks.
Yes, there’s plenty of bad news for public libraries right now. You’re closed, and you may be closed for months. Even if the spread of COVID-19 slows and libraries are able to reopen for the summer, many patrons won’t feel comfortable coming into shared spaces, and especially to public events like a summer reading program launch. Visitations are going to be hard to earn back — and meanwhile, we may be vulnerable to any new spike in cases that can trigger more rounds of closings and social distancing.
But here’s the good news: this summer may be the best opportunity in a generation to connect kids with books. Right now, parents and teachers are scrambling to implement e-learning on the fly for more than 50 million American students, most of whom are stuck at home looking for engagement opportunities. They are hungry for options, and reading — especially reading for fun — is the easiest, most universally accessible, best-bang-for-your-buck learning tool families have. Children’s independent book time is poised to jump to unprecedented levels in coming months.
The kids are going to need it. All library professionals know that summer reading is a key component in reducing “summer slide.” Given the number of school closings and the likely effective limits of e-learning, most children in this country (and the world) will be back-sliding this summer from an even lower level than they might have otherwise reached. So our current health crisis is very likely sending us into a looming educational crisis as well.
The upshot of all this is clear: having an online option for users to do summer reading just became a MUST for 2020. Paper-based reading programs won’t cut it this time. To reach your communities, you’re going to absolutely need a digital platform. Here’s some more good news: the available software platforms are better than they’ve ever been. When Evanced conceived of the first configurable online summer reading platform back in 2002, we were mostly focused on saving staff time, rather than on reader engagement. Fortunately we all saw the light eventually, and realized the true key was to build online apps that were easy and inspiring for patrons.
Today’s reading tracking platforms are far more engaging for readers, and thousands of libraries have had great results after moving summer reading online, and using it as a gateway to wider community involvement. Even if you’re skeptical, or have tried in the past and run into issues, the current health crisis and looming educational crisis have changed the landscape. This is not going to be a normal summer. And with all of the other activities in their lives shut down, there has NEVER been a better time to reach out to youth with online reading and learning activities.
My frank advice for the next six weeks: Don’t wait until you know for sure if you’ll be open or closed this summer. By then it will be far too late, and the Summer Reading vendors will not have the time or resources to get you up and running. Make this key investment in time and money now to get your platform online and your staff familiar with it. Even if you are lucky enough to reopen by June, you’ll be glad you had this option as a way to reach those who still can’t — or won’t — come into the library.
In this together,