SUMMER READING time is here for every public library in the United States. We’ve talked about summer reading many times before here and we’re going to talk about it once again. Why? Because summer reading is not only a very important program for public libraries, but it is also a program that needs to constantly change. The moment where any public librarian gets locked into a routine and comfort zone with anything related to summer reading is a moment where they should all stop, take a listen to their gut, and recognize that change needs to occur.
Summer Reading has long been the most important and popular program that public libraries offer for their youth (and adult, sometimes) communities, but throughout its long history it has always lacked something. That something is hard to nail down. Is it the name? Does Summer Reading imply too much that it’s all about reading and has little else to offer? The other names that we’ve given to this program through the years don’t seem to do much to change the program. Summer Learning, Summer Game, and Summer (fill in the blank) have all been tried and each one just lacks that oomph that is needed to pull in more people from the community. A good example of a re branding that probably just didn’t need to happen was this year’s attempt by the State Library of Pennsylvania’s with PA Summer Quest. What kind of quest are we going on? Oh wait, it’s really just the same thing we’ve been doing with a name that really doesn’t get me excited. But out of all of the names and themes we’ve given to Summer Reading through the years (there’s 25 years worth here) nothing beats Make Waves at Your Library, 2010’s attempt at getting teens into the library with the use of a giant magical reading Minotaur who is surfing/floating with the help of three imprisoned orca whales who are either really tiny or that Minotaur is just really big, like Godzilla destroy your entire city in a few hours kind of big. Wow.
And it’s so hard to change: I get that change is difficult and that it’s tough to plan these things years in advance. But at the same time I think about how we’ve been doing this for years now and that we probably should have figured this thing out long ago. There’s a part of me that begins to get upset at this point. Why can’t we figure this out? I hem and haw and stew in my less than stellar mood for a little bit but then I remind myself that I can’t fall prey to the same old anger. If you want to see a change in something that you are doing, recognize the faults and the walls that you’ve hit and do what you can to break through them into something new.
But the dreams I’ve seen lately keep on turning out and burning out and turning out the same: It’s another re branding, another attempt at figuring out a path forward. We’ve been here before. Many times. We’ll be right here again in about three years. It is good to recognize that this cycle never changes. You find that Summer Reading vibe that lines up best for your community and you make something happen for the people that you serve. You do that for a while until one summer you do it and it just hits you in the gut that you can’t that anymore and you need to change.
So put me on a highway and show me a sign: This year the sign showed up right in front of my face at the beginning of July. The excitement that came with all things Summer Reading related in the months of June were gone. The library just wasn’t as busy as it should have been, signups for the program stalled, and attendance at events wasn’t as high as it used to be. The Summer Reading (fill in the blank) once again became part of the cycle of life and death. These were the signs that were in front of me and I’d be silly to ignore them. My job as a library director is to lead and move things forward, with the end result hopefully being the increased happiness of an entire community. Recognize the signs, accept that change is happening, and move ahead.
And take it to the limit one more time: We begin the cycle once again. It’s what we have to do to be able to remain in a place that allows us to serve our community. Maybe this time we change the name or we just keep the same one. The more I think about it I realize that the name doesn’t matter. What matters is the feel, the vibe, and the fit for the community. Once again, we come back to the community. We once again realize that the work we do in a public library is never and has never been a copy/paste one size fits all and that we all should be ditching the hype and focusing on the community we see right before our eyes. The path for all Summer Reading is community focused, always changing, and always looking inward to see if there’s a better way to accomplish our goal of bringing our community together in happiness.
THINGS TO LOOK AT:
Summer Reading Reboot by Abby Johnson does a great job of covering the Summer Reading program and offers up this wise gem of a quote: “Every community is different, and it’s meaningless to compare summer reading program statistics between libraries”
The R/evolution of an SLP by Marge Loch-Wouters is a neat historical look at how things have changed through the years, and I love this quote: “It reminds me how small changes over a long arc of time culminate in an SLP that truly meets the changing needs of our communities.”
Ann Arbor District Library Summer Game, an ongoing event that happens at the AADL (what seems to be) every summer. Prizes, badges, events, and more all connected in one place.
LISTEN UP I know the Eagles are not the greatest band in the world, but this song raced through my head as I wrote this post. The title of the song fits the feeling that I’ve had this summer when it comes to summer reading. Let’s just roll with it and look past the fact that Don Henley exists. He exists in this timeline and we just have to deal with it! Get Over It!