What Is a Passive Library Program?
Passive programs involve loosely guided, self-directed activities that encourage increased engagement in reading. One of the most wonderful benefits of passive library programs is that they appeal to a wide variety of individuals—from preschoolers to adults. This means that running passive library programs is a powerful go-to strategy for public libraries and K-12 schools. Furthermore, passive programs can be customized for specific groups, interests, or events (such as Women’s History Month).
In this article, our team of over 30 educators, technology professionals, and library scientists share how to run successful passive library programs that are cost-effective and require minimal-effort. We also compiled many passive programming ideas that librarians have used in other schools, public libraries, and community groups.
Examples of Passive Library Programs
1. Fun and Games
Fun, plain and simple, is a key factor in getting people engaged in reading. Teachers, teen and children’s librarians, and others in the education profession are absolutely the best at creating games that keep people coming back to the library. We’ve found that gamification and contests frequently motivate readers and other library customers to remain engaged. They also lay the foundation for reading more regularly. Here are a few other examples.
- Scavenger hunts: Are you interested in helping students learn their way around the library at the beginning of the school year? A scavenger hunt can get public library patrons familiar with all the helpful resources, exciting journeys, and inspiring stories in the library world. You can also prod your community to explore the public library during winter break.
- Puzzles and games: Many people love to sit down with board games, jigsaw puzzles, and playing cards. There's also intergenerational value in having some old-fashioned games around for Grandparents Day or open house events. Want to motivate English language learners and also encourage others to become bilingual? It's easy to turn bingo cards into a teaching tool for different languages by having students or library staff call out numbers and letters in a chosen language.
- Craft Corners or Craft Class-In-a-Bag: Not only do younger kids like to spend time with their coloring sheets, but older kids and adults love it too! Coloring and crafting are immensely popular family activities for children and adults of all ages. Some librarians keep project materials and instruction sheets in bags so supplies stay more organized It’s inexpensive and easy to set up a permanent craft station at the library, full of coloring sheets, crayons, markers, and sketch pads.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Learn more about inviting engagement with passive programming from authors and librarians Paula Willey, Andria L. Amaral, and Gabbi Pace.
2. Poetry Toolkits
April is National Poetry Month. It's a wonderful time to join efforts with language arts educators to create inspiring projects and kick off special library events. Here are some activities other librarians have found successful.
- Blackout poetry stations: Such a fun way to be creative and think outside the box! Blackout poetry is when readers take excerpts from newspapers, magazines, discarded books, and other reading material. They then pull-out specific words to create a short poem or phrase and “black out” the rest. Have colored pencils or other art supplies available for additional creativity.
- Poetry prompts: Use poetry prompts, like those on this list, to help kids get started on some original poems, create your own prose, or offer the task as a project to other students.
3. Creating Conversations
- Voting jars: Have kids drop tokens into a jar to vote for their favorite story character or author. Students love talking about why they like (or dislike) certain books or characters.
- Bulletin boards: One of the easiest things that library staff can do to interact with visitors is to have a few packs of sticky notes available for students to post their responses to a prompt. You could ask about their most inspiring historical figure, favorite food, or even favorite planet. Ideas for this activity are truly endless!
- Student book reviews: This activity works particularly well for teens. It's very insightful for teachers and student peers to learn varied opinions from others about the books that they read. Book reviews can be posted on social media or the school Facebook page. Make it easier for your tech-savvy teens by supplying QR codes so that book reviews can be completed in a snap. Beanstack librarians often offer book review initiatives that include rewards and badges.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has designated October as Teen Tober Month. This is an opportunity for librarians to initiate discussions about literacy, skills, and other issues that interest today’s teenagers.
The Benefits for Students and Community
Engaging Students with Different Needs and Preferences
A major advantage of any kind of self-directed programming is that it accommodates children with different needs and preferences. For example, according to librarians Kelly Jensen and Jackie Parker, not every teen who enters the library wants to participate in traditional programming. There's a wide swath of introverted teens who are more comfortable with solitary projects that they can choose on their own.
Passive programs can be a major benefit to individuals who are self-conscious or intimidated about even entering a school library. Perhaps they feel that their reading skills are not as good as those of their peers. Not only are self-directed activities self-paced, but they are also private. This allows children and teens to make choices without feeling judged by others.
Creating an Inclusive Community
Passive programming provides library services for those children, teens, and adults who need different strategies besides traditional programming to encourage reading. Individuals with disabilities, including learning disabilities, benefit greatly as they improve reading and writing skills at their own pace. Library staff will have more opportunities to provide personalized instruction and help out with assistive technology devices.
Professional library services are critical to effective advocacy for racial, ethnic, gender-based, religious, and cultural inclusion. Passive programming ideas lend themselves well to meeting these inclusivity needs. For example, in 2021, we partnered with two other library organizations to establish a reading challenge for California schools and public libraries about the book “The Skin You Live In” by Michael Tyler and David Lee Csicsko. This wonderful book explores issues of race and inclusion on a social and emotional level.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Check out the book “The Passive Programming Playbook: 101 Ideas to Get Library Customers off the Sidelines” by Paula Willey and Andria L. Amaral.
Workable for a Variety of Budgets
Passive library programs have a positive impact even with limited municipal or school budget constraints. Materials are often inexpensive (think post-it notes, or sidewalk chalk) but can still inspire conversation and community involvement.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Read how Chelsea Price, Director of Meservey Public Library in Iowa actually prefers passive programming to more expensive projects.
Opportunities for Professional Collaboration
Collaborating with other teachers not only helps kids learn more comprehensively, but it also models how adults work effectively together toward a common goal. So, talk with the music teacher about a project on musical instruments, singers, or pop groups. Do some students want to know more about the history of the Olympic Games? Have a brainstorming session with the physical education teacher.
Because passive programming activities can be so flexible and require less effort than more complex projects, it’s much easier for two or more teachers to share ideas and initiate stimulating activities.
Help for the Undecided Reader
What if a patron simply doesn't know what book to choose? This is a common reason why many people don’t read. They simply haven’t found that specific book or genre that lights the fire.
Consider an activity called “blind date with a book.” Surprise books are either wrapped or titles written on slips of paper that students pick from a jar. Oftentimes, book genres (e.g., mystery, graphic novel, biography) are labeled to give the reader at least an idea of the topic.
How Do I Run a Successful Passive Library Program?
Once your program is up and running, the happy buzz and goings-on around the library become more of an active program than a passive one! It's your students and library community that provide the excitement. Consider these five great tips to ensure passive programming success.
1. Scale to Your Resources
Passive library reading programs have a major benefit of being adaptable to limitations of space, staff, and/or library hours. At Beanstack, we suggest that school librarians take a look at their current resources to facilitate exciting programs that are still manageable. Consider these following examples:
Small Libraries/Limited Space:
- Hang artistic vines from the ceiling with book titles hidden in the leaves.
- Use closet doors for bulletin boards.
- Place famous author quotes on bookshelves.
- Use virtual reading logs to allow for easier and faster tracking of progress.
- Record a “librarian’s podcast” that includes instructions to readers for programming.
- Introduce programming outside the library (on windows are bulletin boards).
- Encourage use of e-books for electronic lending.
Remember that high-quality passive programs can be achieved with minimal effort and finances.
2. Use Technology to Demonstrate Value
Even though loosely guided or unstructured activity time is a great way to learn, it can be difficult to track its success and impact. Online resources that document activity participation and reading progress can help demonstrate the value of many library services.
The right technology can easily track the following:
- how much patrons are using the library
- how many minutes per week students are reading
- reading certifications and badges
Thus, even though passive library programs are loosely guided and unstructured, their positive impact can still be well-documented.
3. Make It Relevant
Try lining up your library events, challenges, and activities with monthly celebrations. Here are just a few examples:
- September: Hispanic Heritage Month
- October: National Bullying Prevention Month
- February: Black History Month
- March: National Nutrition Month
4. Make It Inviting
No matter how large or small your space, take time to make the library relaxing and inviting. Many librarians enlist students to contribute their artistic skills by decorating windows and bookshelves. You can even use items that students create at the arts and crafts station.
5. Get Everyone Involved
The more involved everyone in your specific library community is, the greater the chance of having a busy, vibrant, resourceful, and busy library that people love to visit. Once you tap into the energy of your students, colleagues, and library patrons, the ideas and assistance for even more exciting programs will flow easily.
Why You Should Run Passive Library Programs With Beanstack
Passive library programs can be extremely cost-effective and low-effort to establish and maintain. They provide multiple pathways for people to realize the benefits and joy of reading, and also to connect with each other. A partnership with Beanstack make activities such as custom reading challenges, gamification, and community fundraisers very easy to implement and track.
Our personalized service gives you and your community many great advantages and benefits, including:
- Both high- and low-level reading insights.
- Compelling badges, rewards, and certificates for readers.
- Customizable metrics, time frames, and community goals.
- Assisting staff in keeping track of reading challenge program statistics.
- The ability to spot engagement trends, such as activity choices.
- Time- and cost-saving program setup.
The absolute best benefit is that Beanstack rewards reading without taking a quiz-based approach. Our software keeps students accountable without compromising their independent reading motivation.
Our mission is to partner with dedicated librarians and educators in making the library everyone’s favorite place. Request a demo today, we'd love to share how reading challenges can be a low-effort tool to engage your community with passive programming.