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Summer Reading at the Library, where Everyone's a Winner
There are many summer activities offered by public libraries, not the least of which being summer reading programs. These can either be in conjunction with or in addition to those of the local schools. Depending on how the program is structured, certain titles can be required, suggested, or left entirely to the individual participants. Whichever way it is conducted, however, the libraries that put them on are winners for doing so.
High school students are more often than not the ones saddled with the most required summer reading, so they may be less likely to participate if they are too busy with that and other necessary pursuits. Thus it falls to middle- and elementary school students to take part in these programs if they so choose. The incentive provided them is a reward at the end of the summer for most books or pages read, which can be any sort of prizes the library has arranged to give out or auction off in exchange for the points earned by each individual or team of individuals. Prizes themselves have been known to range from items donated by local businesses or government officials to cheaply purchased party favors to certificates of achievement. Think of it like a Chuck E. Cheese's - the points are tickets and you can exchange them for prizes at the end. (Note: this analogy only works if the kids know what the prizes are beforehand and/or hold reading at the same level of fun as the games at Chuck E. Cheese's.)
Reading programs that aren't incentive-based usually have a theme to them. This can be anything from penguins to pirates and beyond, and it can focus on any genre such as mystery or science. Furthermore, it does not have to adhere to any kind of curriculum the kids will be encountering in the fall, as the age range of the participants will often vary a bit. Like any other library program, theme-based reading programs will have to find their niche within the varied interests of the community the library serves. Without rewards as an incentive, this type of program is driven by interest in the theme and books that fall under that theme or genre. The event then becomes more like a seasonal book club, but the more creative and resourceful programs may incorporate scavenger hunts as well. Clues would not have to lead to a prize but instead make up pieces of a word puzzle to be solved.
Even if you don't participate in a reading program, the library will probably keep a few copies of titles that do appear on schools' reading lists (with the economy the way it is, they might go fast, so reserve a copy and get through it in time to lend to the next person). There are also suggested reading lists for adults; while they are far from being mandatory, they may just be worth a look and a free tote bag for participating. People of all ages are still free to choose their own books at any time, but libraries like to provide incentives to make the experience more fun and encourage group activities. After all, community is key.
No matter what type of program a public library decides to put on, summer is a great time for circulation numbers to increase. Increased circulation numbers mean relevance to community and justification of budget, and so successful programs help public libraries remain open (unless the local and state budgets are really in trouble). Therefore, when you or your children participate in a summer reading program, you are helping the library as well as yourselves. It's a win-win.