How to Run an Unsuccessful Summer Reading Program

Are you a manager or director of a library? Are you having your librarians run a Summer Reading program at your library? If you want to run a summer reading program that looks good on paper but leaves your librarians ragged and disillusioned, here are some sure-fire ways that will make your program NOT a success:books

Order Older Titles of Books

Want to make sure you have enough books that circulate throughout the summer? Order a huge amount of books, even better, order older titles. That way you have more of the books that weren’t circulating that much in your library in the first place. This is only going to happen if you have a strict purchasing requirement, for example, the book must be a paperback and the price of it has to be under $10.

Do not let rational thoughts cross your mind, such as buying recent titles, books your library actually needs, or cutting the amount copies you purchase so there would enough money to buy more recent titles. These are ridiculous thoughts and would in no way benefit the community you serve. You want to keep those shelves packed with old books because we all know public libraries have so much space.

Select Books Not Related to the Summer Reading Theme

Let’s say you have a summer reading theme this year, for example “Libraries Rock”. Great! But don’t choose books that are any way related to that theme. Let your library miss the opportunity of buying more music books, most likely a much-needed resource in your community. Books that are about a lizard on an alien planet or a book on teenage sexuality are perfect selections for summer reading list revolving around a musical theme.


Cheap Giveaways Are The Best (Especially If they Are the Same Ones From Last Year)

You know how to get kids and teens really excited about summer reading? Cheap (and I am not just talking about the price, but quality as well) giveaways! They really encourage them to read more when they see these type of prizes, especially when they are the same exact prizes that were given out the year before. Because who doesn’t need another drawstring backpack that barely can hold a lot of items in it? Or headphones that last only for a day? Or another pencil? Order a lot of these because kids and teens are going to come out in droves for these items.

The Grand Prize

The major prize at the end of the summer? Keep that the same too! Because why get a prize that is related to this year’s summer reading theme, when you can give out the same prize as it was last year: tickets to a baseball game, a sport that not be well liked, depending on the community you serve. Don’t change it up. Why risk a good thing?


Forget the Adults

Adult Summer Reading Program?! Forget about that! Don’t include the adults in the summer reading festivities in any way. I mean, yes, some of the adults that come into the library are parents and if the kids and teens see their parents reading, they might do it as well. But in this case, that will never work. So, it is safer to just forget them altogether. Don’t even devote your time (or library money) to that age group. Well, if you must include them, create a summer reading list for them. But choose books that have a lot holds on them and you don’t have a lot of copies circulating throughout the library system. That way the chances of them participating in the program are very slim.


High Expectations Are the Key

The only way to make your librarians really work for it is to keep your expectations very high. Even better, find a way to track their progress. Keep track of the amount of outreach visits they go on. Place a lot of pressure on the librarians to create programming during the summer, even though they have other summer programs to compete with, such as summer day camps and learning programs. Also, and this is the best, base a chunk of the summer reading statistics not on the books that are being circulated in your library, but the books that you selected for your summer reading list. That way your librarians are working twice as hard: conducting a public service and living up to your standards.


Unequal Resources

If you work in a large library system that consist of numerous library branches, this is the perfect opportunity to have your library branches not have the equal amount of resources to run their program. Unequal resources are a perfect way to run a successful summer reading program. One branch could have brand new working laptops, specific for library programs while another branch could not have enough working laptops to lend out to their patrons. In this scenario, everybody wins.


All’s Well That Ends Well

Now, you are at the end of your summer reading program. What are you going to do for next year? Not change a thing! Sure there may have been some obstacles in the way and librarians leaving with bruised egos. But as long as the program (and the participation numbers) look good on paper, that is all that matters. No good comes from progress, so make sure all the things you did this year, you again do it for the following year. Also, now is the perfect time to quash any new ideas that might do a crazy thing, like improve the program somehow.

Well, I believe I have given you all that you need to run an unsuccessful summer reading program. If not, you’ll be fine anyway. I mean, it is not like I am throwing new librarians into a situation, without any adequate training. Who would do such a thing?


Unfortunately, the library system I work for does, all the time. Although this list was made in a sarcastic manner, these things are unfortunately happening, not only in the library system I work in but most likely in other libraries across the country. People tend to forget the hard work librarians must do all year-long. But I feel it is at its peak during the summer. Library management can have their usual company tagline, “We appreciate all the hard work you do”, but in the long run, they do not have an inkling of all the hard work we actually do. You would think most of the struggle and the pain would come from the public, but in fact most of it comes from management. But, no matter how tiring and exhausting a summer reading program is, I still believe that it is still of vital importance in a library.

However, its importance might start to lose its shine when the people who are at the frontlines don’t have the drive and the energy to do it anymore. If management doesn’t have faith in their employees, then their employees will lose faith in themselves, which in turn will cause them to question not only their life choices but their profession. In this pivotal time, we need librarians more than ever. But library management, with their bureaucratic nonsense, needs to start caring about their employees and their well-being. Participation numbers and statistics may be high but it never tells the entire story. It doesn’t show the blood and the sweat librarians had to go through to get those so-called high numbers.

So how do you run a successful summer reading program? LISTEN. Listen to what the community is saying. Listen to what your librarians are saying. Words on paper can tell a beautiful story, but it sounds more sweeter when it comes directly from the mouth. If management does not do this, they will start to lose their ambitious librarians. And where will their “successful” summer library program be?

In the past…where all ideas go when they don’t progress.




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