Teen Summer Reading: How mine works

As many of you know I am a teen librarian, which means I’m currently knee deep in summer reading. I’ve had a couple of people asking how my program works and thought it’d be a nice to post a general overview of how I run mine.

This will be the fourth summer reading program that I’ve run. I’ve made a few tweaks over the year, but generally it has stayed the same. Before I came, my predecessor made the teens turn in review slips for every book they read and did weekly drawings. They were normally small gift cards and there was one winner at each location. There were also prizes once they read 4, 7, and 10 books. I believe the level prizes were random prizes like water bottles and themed prizes, but I’m not positive. While this program worked, I had two major issues with it. One, someone who read a 200 page book would earn the same thing as someone who read a 500 page book. Two, there is a way higher pool of teens at the branch than the main. I felt like this issues made it slightly skewed and unfair and decided to redesign from scratch.

Taking the issues I had, I looked for the best solutions. First I tackled the book issue. I know that reading minutes/hours would be the most fair, but I also know that teens forget things often. If I can’t keep track of my own reading time, how could I expect a teen to do so? Pages, why maybe a little unfair for slower readers, was my best option. If a teen forgot they could look up the pages on the catalog and it would create a better balance for those reading shorter books vs. those reading longer ones.

The next issue was the uneven distribution of prizes. I easily have triple the amount of teens at my branch than my main location. Looking at our 2007 number (when the previous program was in place) the branch teens would have 1 in 99 chances of winning vs. 1 in 35 of winning. Now I know that teens can turn in multiple reviews and up their chances, but the main kids had better odds of winning. Plus, with it being weekly they were forced to finish a book a week or lose a chance at a prize. For some teens, this is a hard feat to manage. Plus, one $15 gift card isn’t the most fabulous prize. I really wanted summer reading to be huge so I scratched the weekly prizes. Instead the “big” prizes would be given at the end of the summer. This way teens would have all summer to work towards reading as much as they could. I also combined all participants and made no distinguish between main or branch (and so far I’ve always had winners from both). This also allowed me to buy bigger prizes. In the past, I’ve given away a mini laptop, iPod touch, and much more.

Okay, now that you know a little background to how I got where I am, here is how the program actually works. Teen signup and log their books via our online system. This year I’m using Evanced and absolutely love it. I’ve tried Library Insight (hated it) and paper (way too hard) without much success. I’ve found Evanced to be both patron and staff friendly and makes life much easier for everyone. Teens are to log books as they finish them and only need to report the title, author, and page numbers. They may write a review but it is no longer required. (I felt like reviews were too much like schoolwork and dropped them last summer). Teens may count the pages of a book they started, but can’t finish for whatever reason. Evanced tallies the pages automatically so there is no additional work needed.
There are two types of prizes. The first are level prizes. Everyone can earn the following:

200 pages = a small prize (either candy or a coupon) & an invite to the final party
400 pages = a free book
1400 pages = an invite to the Lock- In (this run from 8pm to 8 am)

Most, if not all, teens hit at least the first level. The majority will earn all of the level prizes. Mainly  because the  teens love the lock-ins and work hard to attend them.

The other type is our “big” prizes. These are raffle style where teens earn a ticket for every 100 pages that they read. I’ve found the raffles are a huge incentive to keep the teens reading. After all, the more they read the higher their chances; although, I tell teens all it takes is one entry to win. In the past they had to decide where they wanted their tickets to go, but since Evanced can do random drawings all entries will roll over from prize to prize until the teen wins or all prizes have been won. The following prizes are what I’m giving away this year:

iPod Nano
$25 BN Gift Card
$25 Movie Gift Card
$25 iTunes Gift Card
$25 GameStop Gift Card
Spa-themed Basket
Book-themed Basket
Game-themed Basket
Candy-themed Basket

As you can see these are some fabulous prizes. I can’t tell you how often I hear teens talking about what they hope to win. I love that they’re so excited about prizes and therefore reading.

I can hear several people going “But doesn’t that cost a lot more?” and the simple answer is no. Looking at the 2007 request and my 2012 request, there is only a $400 difference. I know this may sound like a lot, but this includes all programming as well. Also, I have to account for how my participates and programs have exploded since 2007; in 2007 we had 133 participants and 10 programs vs. in 2011 where we had 304 participants and 23 programs. Throw in the cost of inflation and it’s honestly not that much more.

I know this type of program isn’t for everyone, but for us it works incredibly well. Last year, I had an 80% increase! Now I don’t except that much this year, but 2 weeks in I already have 264 teens signed up (179 have already logged books) and there are still 5.5 weeks left. And usually most teens don’t sign up until halfway through the program! If we continue this path it will certainly be a record-breaking summer.

If there is anything else you would like to know, I would be more than happy to answer any questions. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you want to more information. I’m always happy to share anything that I do.


One comment

  1. Thanks, Drea, for sharing this with us! I’ve just signed myself and the kids up for our library’s summer reading program. The library is using Evanced for the first time this year. I hate the fact that everyone’s required to write reviews (you’re right it reminds me of homework), but I love it that I can register and log in my books online. It sounds like you’re going to have a successful program once again this summer.

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