Summer LIBRARY Club: Where prizes and cheating go to die

In a world where the greedy perish and library lovers flourish, we meet a team of librarians with far better things to do with their time than maintain proper supplies of bubble bottles or those furry pom-poms with googly eyes and sticky bottoms. A world where mothers don’t feel the need to lie about how many minutes their 8-year-old child read last week. This could be your world if you are willing to take the plunge.

I work at a library serving a population of approximately 32,000. Our patrons tend to be low income to lower middle class with a sizeable population of Latin@s, Korean-Americans, Fillipino-Americans, and Polish-Americans. Our library is well funded but not drowning in money. We had about 1,000 children birth-6th grade sign-up for our SLC last year (we are currently at 1,300 this year with 2 weeks left). But what I am going to talk about today is not affected by these factors. I believe that our model of a summer library program can be applied at any location. If you choose to go with this model (or decide to apply any other models such as Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Abby the Librarian, or Hafuboti) you’ll be strolling into the summer much like the coolest character in TV history (hopefully not in handcuffs–or for the same reasons):


There has been talk among some blogging librarians about ditching prizes as a form of incentive (see the blogs linked above). I bring to you that prizeless (or less prizes) works AND that a club without reading requirements works, too.

First and foremost, our club is called the Summer LIBRARY Club. Kids are rewarded for visiting the library 6 times with the belief that they will inherently check out books and other materials (magazines, DVDs, video games, etc.), use the computers, attend a program, etc. We want them to use the library as a place of enjoyment, relaxation, socialization, intellectual stimulation, and so on and so forth. The value of our library extends beyond reading and we want to reward all of our patrons.

Our library switched from a Summer Reading Club to a Summer Library Club about 10 years ago. When asking my coworkers why, they begrudgingly recollected parents walking up and down the shelves writing titles of books before handing them the pamphlet for a stamp. They also chose to switch because they didn’t want to give another burden to parents and older children for recording minutes or book titles. We believe that the summer should be a time for joy reading, not a contest–especially not one to lie about. This also opens up our program to reluctant readers that may not be able to keep up with a daunting challenge.

One of my coworkers noted that the backlash from the initial change was minimal. Every now and then there is a parent that is concerned about the lack of reading recording, but the majority of parents are receptive and simply want their child involved in a summer program. They also appreciate prizeless because they don’t have to step on it in the middle of the night. For the competitive folk? They still can “race” to be the first stickers on the 6th poster (the final visit) and finally rest easy after 5 nights of fitful insomnia.

Below, I will outline our summer program for the younger set (the teen program is a beast of its own).

Paws to Read 2014

  • Ages birth-6th grade
  • Duration is 6 weeks
  • One stamp PER DAY in our SLCBrochure2014 booklet
  • Every time you visit, you also receive a sticker to put on our posters. Each poster corresponds to your number visit.
  • Birth-2 years old: Six stamps = 1 free book, 1 finger puppet (hard for babies to bowl or eat a value meal)
  • 3 years old-6th grade = 1 free book, bag of coupons for area businesses
  • We purchase all of our giveaway books through the Scholastic FACE program. Each paperback book averages about $2.50 which is about $2500. The Friends of the Library funds this giveaway.
  • This year, we also gave out a mini-beanie stuffed dog or cat when the children signed up. We usually just give out a pencil and a bookmark with signing up.

Time is always a concern, especially with understaffed libraries. Our library club may cut back on time spent buying prizes, but time is spent preparing other avenues. It is extremely important to note, however, that we rely heavily upon the dedication of our volunteers during the summer to staff our library club table. Volunteers sign up for 2 hour shifts for all days of the week. This is a great opportunity for students to acquire volunteer hours (National Honor Society, a local Catholic school requires volunteer hours) and for adult volunteers to have hands-on interaction with the patrons while sitting. Maybe about 2/3 of the spots fill up–generally during the day–and we’ll keep an eye on the table when necessary. So, while the volunteers man the table, the following activities are completed by staff members. And remember, tailor to your needs and abilities!:

  • Writing up instructions for volunteers
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Training volunteers the first time they work the SLC table
  • Ordering books from Scholastic’s FACE program
  • Ordering stickers and finger puppets
  • Gathering coupons from area businesses (we had about 6 coupons)
  • Creating/hanging up the posters (but you could have an artistic volunteer help you create them)

As noted at the beginning of this blog post, our numbers climb higher and higher every year. There are no meltdowns without prizes. As long as there is an activity to look forward to (here, put this sticker on a giant poster on a window) and as long as there is a final prize (book, coupons) then they will come. Without the barriers of reading requirements and tedious record keeping, parents and kids are happy. I guess if someone comes six times and doesn’t check out books or doesn’t come to our programs or use our facilities in any way, then her prize is a free book. Hey! A free book for her to add to her own library, hopefully encouraging her to read. But the chances of this scenario occurring are pretty slim. Those that want to participate in a library club will enjoy visiting the library and will leave with a handful of books or a mindful of good memories from our programs.

For those parents that want to give their child a challenge for the summer, our library will be starting three passive reading programs soon. These include 1000 Books before Kindergarten, 100 Books before High School, and Read for a Lifetime (for High Schoolers). The great thing about these is that they will be year-round and won’t stop after 6 weeks, allowing a child to complete it at his own pace.

It is daunting to start something new. It involves a reorganization of thought for yourself and coworkers but our Summer Library Club is successful. It is la bomba. Parents love it. Kids love it (no whiners!). And we love it because we can spend our time providing quality programs and activities instead of dishing out plastic garbage and we can promote our library as a whole experience instead of a log of books.

Have I left anything out from this program? Any lingering questions? I’ll be happy to answer them and add the information to the post for future sight-seeing.

28 thoughts on “Summer LIBRARY Club: Where prizes and cheating go to die

  1. LOVE this – and thank you for including my blog 🙂 Lots of great things to think about in terms of how this might be applicable to my library in the future. Bonus happy points for the GoT gif featuring my favorite character as well!

  2. Kelsey, THIS! THIS! is the conversation I am sooooooooooo glad to see! Thanks mazillions for this. This week has really produced such exciting thoughts and solutions (hi Hafuboti!) and it needs to be heard!

  3. Hello,

    I am curious to know how your 100 Books before High School, and Read for a Lifetime (for High Schoolers) programs will work. We already have 1000 Books and we are about to start two book clubs for grades 3-6 and K-8th. But I am curious about your new clubs. Please share.


    Jamie King

    1. We have not started them yet but 100 Books before High School has the same premise as 1000 Books before Kindergarten. It is a passive reading program that challenges kids to read 100 Books from grades Kindergarten-8th grade. Because this number can be accomplished faster in the younger grades, we will encourage them to participate multiple times. We’ll also be including a bit more interactivity with the books that they read including reviews via written word, art, construction (i.e. Legos), and video recording. When this launches I will write a blog post about the details. Thanks for the inquiry!

      1. I can’t seem to find info on the Cyberdrive website; how does this work for public libraries? The info on the link implies it’s for high schools only.

      2. Rachel – I imagine that we will provide access to the information and encourage students to complete the challenge. I am not leading this project so I don’t have much more information about it yet. Sorry, but stay tuned!

    1. We got rid of small prizes awhile ago, so I don’t really have numbers-based proof anymore (our population has surged over the past 10 years). If the library (or reading) club has exciting tasks and a few prizes, then kids will want to participate. Maybe you could do “soft release” of prizes by lowering the amount given out. For example, just offer one start-up prize at the beginning and an end prize.

  4. While I *love* the idea of moving beyond the traditional reading logs, it seems like giving out stickers and stamping booklets for every library visit (plus giving out finger puppets, free books, etc.) could be more time-consuming for staff than giving out the ‘traditional’ reading logs.

    This isn’t to say the traditional log is a better option just because there’s less staff-time required, but when your Youth Services department consists of one person (i.e. my case), the idea of being tied to the desk in order to stamp booklets and hand out stickers every day (we have some crazy traffic in the summer) is hard to get around, especially with other pressing commitments like putting on programs, doing program set-ups, etc.

    Any suggestions on adopting this type of program in a one-person department would be appreciated. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the excellent response! I forgot to mention a HUGE part of our program: volunteers! This program provides an excellent opportunity for teens to get volunteer hours in or help at the library. This is also a fun opportunity for adult volunteers to interact with the public (if that is what they would like). Directions are relatively simple to follow for the volunteers so when you train them once, they are ready for the summer.

      Time required by staff include: Writing up instructions for volunteers, gathering volunteers, training them the first time they volunteer, and creating/hanging up the posters (but you could probably have an artistic volunteer help you create them). Or maybe you just create one poster depending on your population size.

      I’ll add this very important component into my original post. Thank you for your observation!

  5. Kids are very dependent on their parents to make it to the library in my area. What do you do for families that don’t have the ability to make it to the library that often because they don’t have a car and can’t rely on public transit? Have you run into this?

    1. An excellent question! Our library is situated in the suburbs of Chicago so children are certainly reliant on rides to the library. But visiting 6 times over the course of 6 weeks is what makes it a challenge, I guess. It is certainly something to consider (although it has never been a complaint from patrons).
      We also have other passive reading programs (like 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, 100 Books before High School) that are done year round and can be done leisurely and mostly at home so we tend to point patrons towards those if they didn’t finish the SLC.

      1. I have the opposite problem – my library is right downtown, and we have children who are here EVERY. DAY. All day. Sometimes they leave & come back, even! So, tracking only based on visits would not work for me. 🙂 However, we are beginning to talk about alternatives to the tracking-sheet, prize-at-the-end model we’ve followed for years. Good information, and it sounds like your program has done very well. 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration!

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