As I began thinking about the things I wanted to improve, it struck me as worthwhile to blog about it, in hopes of not only remembering these things for the future, but also as a way to garner ideas from others who might have ideas I could implement into my program. I'd love any thoughts you have or any things that worked particularly well at your library. Moreover, I'd love to see other people's ideas for improving their programs, too, as it can only help us all brainstorm new possibilities. We learn as we go, and what better way to learn than to share what did and didn't work, no matter how big or small the thing.
- One of the things I did was send a weekly email to the staff on Friday mornings, updating them on what events happened that week, what the attendance was, where we were on our registration numbers, and then a list of reminders for questions that popped up. I also included a run down of the programs coming up the following week. Many staff printed these out to have the notes, and I think continuing this will be hugely helpful.
- Although I had all of my summer reading materials prepared well in advance of summer, I think being prepared even sooner than April will be helpful. The more I can talk about the process at our monthly staff meetings, the more staff will be prepared to answer questions, find materials, and handle being slammed right at the beginning of the program with eager kids.
- Along with that, I would like to have all my shirts and prizes ordered sooner. I think I had them done in April this year, but by March would be great. That's when I wrote out my first donation letters, and it would be nice to be ahead of the game before then.
- One of the big things I've been thinking about is the length of the program. We're 8 weeks, which I think is a good time frame. But seeing how insane we were the first week when it came to registration, part of me wonders if it would be worthwhile to make our program a week longer and do no programming the first week. That way, all of the kinks in registration are worked out before we're slammed with eager kids for programs. I'd also like to end our program before August, as I think dragging into the first week of August made it a little too long. This is dependent, of course, on the school schedule.
- A simple change: having a spot on the reading logs for the kids to put their names. I made all of our reading logs this summer for all our age groups (we don't have a pr department), but I completely forgot to put a line on there for kids to put their name. Most were smart enough to do it themselves, but that little detail will make a difference next year.
- I'd also like to simplify information collection at registration. This year, we took names, phone numbers, school, grade, and shirt size. We really don't NEED shirt size, since the shirts are all ordered in advance of registration, and I took it mostly as a way to determine how many shirts/what sizes to order for next year. Buying hundreds of t-shirts without a clue how many sizes we'd need was hard, but I don't think I'll need to collect the information again. This should make registration just a little quicker, since this is the question that trips many up. Note: we do not collect library card information, and I think this is very important. I realize not all libraries are lucky enough to be open to all, regardless of card status, but this was one of my biggest selling points to kids during my school visits. I don't want to put any hurdles in the way of kids, and I will continue to keep it this way.
- One of the suggestions from my volunteers was to number our registration cards so that when kids are turning in prize slips into drawings, rather than have to fill out their names and phone numbers (which takes time), they could just be appropriately numbered. I love how simple this idea is, and I'll definitely be implementing this.
- I had a 4th grade summer school teacher ask about running the program with her class, which got me thinking I could easily get the summer school kids involved in the program. If I made up classroom kits, the entire program could be run in the summer school, with the teacher providing the kids with prizes and incentives they pick up when they check in with us. This gets more kids involved and encourages them to read while they're in summer school.
- I planned my numbers based on last year, which left me short on teen shirts. I'd order more shirts next year, and I would order a lot more of the registration bags we give everyone who signs up. The kids use those things like crazy during the summer, and I had many break their bags from such use. Having spares would be helpful for those kids who lug home so many books.
- One thing I never did this summer was contact the local media with our events, which was a pretty big oversight. I was lucky to gain a little post-event coverage in a local paper because one of the parents who attended was a reporter, but this is something I want to be more savvy with in the future. An easy way to remember to do this is to send a weekly bulletin to my local papers, much in the way I did for the staff this year. Where with the staff I sent a weekly update on what our programming numbers were and what the upcoming events for the next week were, I would simply copy and paste the upcoming events into a separate email for the newspapers. Little extra work involved, but the potential for a little press is huge and it might help our attendance and our reach a bit.
- For the teens, I made a blogging, Facebook, and GoodReads posting schedule. I didn't quite stick to it as rigorously as I could have, and I will in the future. I ran specific kinds of posts during the week, so on Mondays, I posted upcoming events on Facebook; Wednesdays I posted teen book reviews (which I received throughout the summer) or other teen-centric lists (like their favorite summer reads or favorite tv shows, which were things they told me about on the back of their reading logs); and Fridays I posted book lists of some sort. I wasn't as good about updating Facebook as I wanted to be, so it's a goal to continue that. I had planned on updates M-W-F, but it ended up being more of an update-when-I-remembered system. And as far as GoodReads, that was pretty much non-existent in updates. I have a few teens who use it regularly, and I wanted to be better about it for work, but I wasn't.
- One of my staff members updated a whiteboard each day with what the program was. I think what I'll do next year is give a staff member the duty to do this, as well as to create fliers for the week's programs that can be displayed in the children's and teen area. We had a weekly program sign on our outside doors, but more take-aways could be helpful in the service areas. While each kid who registered received a pamphlet with all of our programs, having more of those would likely be valuable, too, especially since I only had enough to give to those who registered for the program. Our programs are open to all, regardless of summer reading participation, so having more publicity available to everyone would be nice.
- I will definitely be keeping our pre-readers program going. I am eager to plan out more ways to incentivize this program. I want to find more prizes for them to purchase in the prize store we run, as I focused this year on more weekly raffle drawings for them. I did their program with literacy activities, rather than straight time-counting, and I think I would do this set up again.
- At my former library, I ran a 4-week guys read program for middle school boys, and I would love to do this again. The bulk of my tween attendees were middle school boys, and many were rabid about reading. I think I could run a program easily, and it would be beneficial for them in a number of ways. It would be easy to sneak this into the program, offering it as a brown bag lunch sort of program at the beginning of summer.
- I'm going to keep counting time, but rather than let kids time out on their reading logs, I'll let them keep reading as long as they want to. They'll be able to get a second, third, fourth log to keep recording reading time and earning prize.
- I didn't switch our book displays at all this summer, and it's something I would like to do more of. It's an easy one to implement.
- Abby kept track of her summer reading on a big log for all of her kids to see, and I think I'd like to do the same thing and have staff jump in, too. It'd be fun to see how much we read along with the kids.
- I will be bringing back the mobile collection for teens, I think, but I am going to advertise it a lot more. It's such a nice bonus to our program, and the reach could be a lot greater than it was. It'd be easy to talk it up more during classroom visits, as well as include relevant information on our promotional materials. If I could make inroads with any of the summer school teachers, too, that would definitely help. The other thing I'd change up -- and the credit to this idea goes to my intern -- is that I'd change the books in the mobile collection every time I went. Rather than have all 80 or 100 available from the start, switching up the books every week would breed excitement. For the students who had library cards, this could be a good point of connecting them with materials from our in-house collection they want to really check out (rather than check out via the system I used for the mobile collection).
- For the teens, I had one activity sheet full of mini passive programs that they could do to earn prize money. I had weekly lists for the kids. The system was silly and not really the best method to let kids earn more prizes. Next year, I'll do for the kids what I did for the teens -- not 8 sheets, but one sheet total. This will let them work at their own pace, and it ensures it'll be better promoted, since I can pop it into the registration bags, like I did for the teens. There's less worry about missing a week, and there's more potential for completing the activities. Since activity completion is recorded on our registration cards, a kid losing his sheet isn't a problem because we know how much that person had completed.
- Speaking of the activity sheets, I'd emphasize these more. A lot of the activities were summer reading theme based, so kids were reading books about different continents, trying foods from different countries, and making different cultural crafts. It was a way for the kids to learn and explore without feeling like homework or pressure, as many of the activities were reading based and thus, could be counted on their reading logs.
- I want to bring back more story times. We had one this summer, but I think we need to go back to two per week. I'd stagger times a bit so that our morning story time wouldn't discourage people from coming back in the afternoon for a program. Perhaps putting both storytimes on Friday, one right after the other, would be the way to go for this. I'd also like to offer my outreach storytimes where possible. Getting to the kids in the summer is as important as during the school year, and it's a way to promote our services. I just need to find the time to do it, is all.
- Although Lego Club did fine during our early afternoon slot, I think going back to a later time (say, 3 pm, rather than 1:30 pm) would be better. One of my school year regulars could never make it because his parents worked, and I think the time chance could bring a bigger attendance.
- One of the passive programs I did was let kids guess how many pieces of candy were in a water bottle each week and the kid with the closest guess got the keep the candy and water bottle. This was a huge success, and it was super easy to set up and implement (and really was not that pricey). I plan on continuing it, but next year, I'll be better about putting up signage each week that shares what the previous week's real answer was and who the winner was. I was asked this a lot, but I didn't follow up with it this year. But next year, it's a simple thing I can do alongside my other Monday morning routines.
I think when I recover enough from summer reading, I'd like to post about prizes in general, but I have a few things for sure I want to change.
- Universal prize dollars. This year, I had three prize dollars for the three different program levels, but that seemed silly. It'd be a lot easier to have one standard prize dollar.
- Speaking of prize dollars, I would copy a LOT more than I did this year at the beginning. We're talking thousands. Putting all of the extras in a box in the back would save the hassle of the "oops, we're out" when I'm in the middle of too many things to make copies. If we end up doing too much and having left overs at the end of the program, it will just become scrap paper. Not a huge deal to over do it, rather than under do it.
- In the event of being under prize moneyed, I'd put the master copies on the staff computer on the desk top so that whoever is on desk when the prize money runs out can print it themselves. I didn't think of putting all of the program master paperwork on the staff computers, and it's such an easy thing. Letting the staff be more self-sufficient will save me and them a lot of stress.
- We have three types of prizes: a twice-a-week prize store, where kids can exchange their prize money for prizes (almost all purchased from Oriental Trading); a weekly prize raffle that kids can drop their prize money in for a chance to win a bigger prize (that's usually what businesses have donated, including tickets to sporting events, Noah's Ark, etc); and a grand prize for someone to win at the end of summer (which everyone gets an entry in whenever they complete a certain number of hours read). I was really let down in the number of entries from the kids in the great weekly prizes, and honestly, I think I'll nix it next year. I think adding more to the prize store will be better and less confusing for everyone. It's also a bit of a cost savings, which always brings me a little joy.
- That said, the entries for the teen weekly prizes were excellent, and I will definitely be continuing that set up again, perhaps adding more/better weekly prizes for them. I lucked out in that they were very eager for our grand prize this year (a netbook) and many used their prize money as extra entries in that.
- Speaking of teens, I think I'd like to do a special lock in or pizza party for those who complete the entire program. What a fun way to celebrate with the group, and I think it would encourage more to finish and turn in their logs -- one of my teens read all 50 hours, but she never actually turned in her reading log nor earned her prizes because of it. A final invite-only event could be incentive for a number of these kids.
- I'd keep my prizes staggered like I did. For every 10/15 hours read (kids/teens respectively), they earned coupons good for local businesses/establishments that included pizza and custard; for every 25/30 hours read, they earned a summer reading t-shirt with the summer reading theme; and for every 40/50 hours read, they got a free book. It made giving the tshirts out fair and served as a way to advertise our program, as well. And who can deny how important it is for those who read to be rewarded with a book?
- Tween programming will never, ever go away. What a wonderful, exciting, and well-attended series of events. We'd never served this group specifically at the library, and doing it mattered. These kids were there every week, and every time they saw me in the library, regardless of what day it was, they asked when the next program was.
So these are the things -- many simple -- that I'm going to change in the future. I'm sure as I start planning for summer 2012, more things will come up, as will comments from patrons and kids who come in during the year.