"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

28 August 2015

Summer Learning Club: Getting Results

Yes, these are small children holding a very large snake.
For most of us, summer is over. School has started, and all the children's and youth services librarians are breathing sighs of relief over finishing another busy season of summer learning. My library averaged two children's programs per day (except Sunday), so I am definitely looking forward to spending time planning and preparing for the much calmer fall and winter months.

This is also a great time to evaluate our summer programming. I have been pondering questions like, "What went well?" and "What would I like to do differently next summer?" Some programs were much more popular than expected and should definitely be repeated, while others may need to be held at a different time or dropped altogether.

Librarians are also numbers people. As a general rule, we love counting things: books in our collection, circulations, attendees at programs. For children's librarians, the big question is: how successful was your summer? Did you have more attendees than last year? Did you have more people finish your summer learning program?

In our county, some of our tax dollars go directly into summer library programming, which in turn is expected to yield certain results. Specifically, we are expected to have a high number of registrants for our summer learning programming and a high percentage of finishers.

Last year our library signed up 2,449 participants for our summer learning club (SLC) and 914 finished. This summer we signed up 2,626 participants and 1,729 finished. While the number of participants increased slightly, the number of finishers nearly doubled.

Why the difference? I will explain what I think made a difference, but before that, let's make sure all the terms are defined. In our case, "participant" means a person who has signed up for our SLC. They completed a registration card and received an SLC booklet. Some people who registered for SLC never came to a library program, and some people came to all of our programs and didn't sign up for SLC. A finisher is a person who completed all requirements for SLC and earned the final prize. For each age group this involved a combination of reading and doing learning activities. We did not give out weekly prizes or award regular attendance at programs. A child could sign up for SLC and finish all the requirements at home and that child would be eligible for our final prize.

What did we do differently this year, then, to get so many more finishers? These are the things I think were contributing factors:

  1. School Site Promotion. We visited every single elementary school and performed two assemblies, one for the younger kids and one for the older kids. Using a skit format (feel free to download and adjust as you wish), we describe the different programs that would be available at the library as well as the prizes that could be won for participating in SLC.  Each school also distributed a flyer on that same day so that parents/guardians would have the information as well. For middle and high schools, we dropped off flyers to be distributed through English classrooms at the same time students would receive their required summer reading list.
  2. Social Media Promotion. We posted information about our summer programming on our library's Facebook page and Twitter account. We kept daily photos of programming and information about upcoming events in everyone's newsfeeds so they would remember to come to the library.
  3. In-Programming Promotion. We talked about our SLC during all of our storytimes, book clubs, science clubs, Saturday special events, class visits, etc. etc. We reminded kids to turn in their logs and reminded parents of the prizes available to those who won. 
  4. Outreach. We visited local daycare facilities and summer camps, and, when possible, registered entire classes and allowed the teachers to facilitate completion.  Many of the activities are easily do-able in a summer camp or daycare setting, so kids who attended these programs regularly were able to complete our SLC without ever darkening the library's door. 
  5. Stunts. As a department, we decided before summer started that if we were able to get at least 1,500 finishers, I would shave my head and the other children's librarian would dye her hair. We would let the kids choose her hair color and what particular hairstyle I would have on my head. [They chose a mohawk, BTW.] We talked about this at our school site promotions, throughout the summer at programming, and each finisher was given a ballot where they could vote on the hair color and hair style we would have at the end of the summer. Yes, this does mean that this weekend I'll be getting a mohawk, but it is absolutely worth it to keep kids reading and help them become lifelong readers and learners.

According to my informal poll of the children who attended programs or came to the SLC table during my shifts this summer, it seems that the school promotional assemblies were the single most important factor that got kids into the library to sign up. I even had kids tugging on my shirt in the grocery store, saying, "I think I know you. I saw you at the assembly at my school! You were wearing the Minecraft shirt!"

What types of things have you found to be helpful in increasing the percentage of finishers at your library's SLC?

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