Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Passive Programs

WE DID IT.  We survived summer!  Ah summer! The most exciting and exhausting time in a public youth services librarian’s life.  Even when you’re pulling your hair out, every day has a moment or two that reminds you why you’re doing this whole thing.

This summer I decided I wanted to make some BIG and fundamental changes to our library’s offerings.  This included through programs and through the traditional reading program.  Over the past few years, I’ve been making incremental changes so this just seemed like the next step. We learned a lot of things, had some successes and some failures too and it’s just made me EVEN MORE HUNGRY TO CHANGE. I decided one of the best ways to reflect on all this was to write up some accounts of the changes we made and this is the first of the series.

You can find the other entries here: Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Redesigning the Logs & Fixing The Prize Problem and Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action Play Packs (prizes)

I wanted ways for EVERYONE who came into the library to participate and to have something to interact with.  One of the first things we added this year was the WEEKLY SHOWDOWN.  This was passive programming of the simplest kind and it encouraged the MOST fun conversations and engagement across all ages. Whole families participated, the kids who are on the computer every second participated, little kids and teens, everyone loved this. What’s Weekly Showdown?  All we did was decorate the large area across from our desk and, every Monday, put up two blank pieces of paper and a VERSUS for people to vote on.  Let the fun ensue!

Here’s the categories we used:

Weekly Showdown

Shout-out to Robin Marwick for some of her great suggestions!  I tried to avoid pop culture ones because I wanted it to be something for all ages/backgrounds.  No one seemed to mind! (and yes, that’s 957 votes which is AWESOME.)

Here’s what the whole display looked like:



Note the clever reference to Highlander, lol. As you can see, it looked like a lot of fun and encouraged everyone to participate.  We posted images of each competitors at the bottom of each sheet and tried to do a rough count every Monday.  We were always right?  Of course not, but we got a good base figure of how many people participated every week – a great addition to our “who REGISTERED??” ritual of summer.  It was fun to see patrons debating and whole families encouraging each other to look at what was new.

We also have a weekly challenge.  When kids/teens complete the challenge, they earn a piece of taffy.  As you might imagine, they will do anything for a piece of taffy!  So we try to make the challenges fun: put out a sign language book and have kids learn a sign and show it to the librarian, put out a pair of dice and have the kids record how many times it takes them to roll a number higher/lower than their age.

And of course – lots of chances to MAKE ART AND CREATE STUFF.

Two of our biggest hits this summer were squiggle pictures and complete a picture.  These are familiar activities in classrooms for early finishers or to develop creativity.  Why not bring them to a library?

There are lots of resources online, but this was my favorite example of squiggles pictures, which we printed out on cardstock.  We went through HUNDREDS on them in the course of a week.  Kids and parents just kept wanting to create with them.  Here’s a look at some of what they created:



The “complete a picture” design I chose for this summer was from one of my favorite sites that’s full of great printables, Picklebums. I chose WHO BELONGS TO THESE LEGS for robots.  As you can imagine, we got a ton of great responses.  Like the squiggle pictures, this was an activity that all ages could do. Note the different skill levels in these two pictures:


And finally, my new favorite addition of the summer!  I read about Marge’s library building a sticker robot based on visits and I knew I wanted to do something similar.  Again – it was tied to the idea that we would work on making coming to the library – JUST PLAIN COMING TO THE LIBRARY – a fun/incentive.  (Another post in this series will look at the other changes we made to the program including YES the “prize dilemma”)

We are lucky enough to have a neat display space – an art gallery with great display boards.  We made eight themes for the eight weeks of the program.  They had themes like JUNGLE – PLACES TO GO – FIREWORKS and we used corresponding stickers we had left over from Oriental Trading and some I bought from Lakeshore Learning.  It really wasn’t that expensive and we cleared out a lot of old, musty stickers. Every time a kid came in with a reading log, they got to put up a sticker on the weekly collage.  As you may guess, the kids loved doing this and we always made a big deal about it. Not only did they love it, but it was (another) informal way for us to track who was coming in.  AND it was cool decoration. What’s not to love? Like the voting, we didn’t get it right every time, but there was a measure.  Here’s a few looks.





(note that kids chose on their own to make a school of fish who were being fed by multiple fish food bottles. Also see how we ran out of fish and had to just add other stickers in.  Big ocean this week!)

We also decide to have one for the middle and high school kids too.  It didn’t change every week but they LOVED doing it.  BECAUSE OF MUSTACHES.




Over the course of eight weeks we had close 1,000 returns.  A great stat, yes, but also something more than just “how many completed? how many finished?  how many walked off with a log?”  Well – we can collect that too but now we know that over eight weeks we had almost 1,000 visits to the library.  THAT’S a number that tells the REAL story of what summer at the library is.

These passive programs were great additions and helped me achieve goals on several levels:

  • engage new library visitors.
  • show a more accurate picture of what summer is like at the library.
  • add something to summer events without adding a lot of staff time and effort.
  • have a way to informally track summer participation and library visits.

And, oh yeah, it was a ton of fun. Can’t forget that part!

Have you ever done these kind of passive programs?  What ways do you think they could work in your library as part of summer or any time programming?  What additions can you think of for any of these programs or displays? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or you can chat with me on Twitter.

(and stay tuned for more posts in my re-vamping summer series!)


Passive Programming for Teens: Shelf-Talkers

I had such a great response to my passive programming post, I thought I’d do two complimentary posts for some of our teen passive programming.  These programs have a little more staff involvement but you can easily scale them for what works with your staff time and patron interest and response. Both of these ideas center around the same idea: teens recommending books to teens.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think that nothing can replace a librarian’s expertise and constant booktalking and interacting with teens.  We should be THE source in our library for our teen patrons. But. The fact is there are just some teens who will never feel comfortable interacting with staff or teens who primarily want info/recommendations from their peer group or teens who just pop in, pull books off the shelf, and go on their way.  AND we should be promoting that conversation whenever we can – teens promoting books to each other is amazing and creates a conversation and excitement around books and reading that’s irreplaceable.

So, how do we support this? One is the way we promote and support the Teens’ Top Ten program, which I’ll discuss tomorrow. Today, I want to discuss our first successful idea: our teen shelf-talkers.  We created a small recommended card and are constantly encouraging teens to fill them out.  We hang them up on the shelves themselves underneath or beside the books. What’s great about these cards?

  • Since there’s only room for a few lines, it’s not a lot of pressure on teens to write an in-depth review.  (which many teens feel reluctant or shy about.)
  • You can keep them on hand to quickly bring out during conversations with teens or during programs to capture their immediate thoughts.  Again, since it’s only a few lines – maybe something they’ve already just said – it’s not as intimidating.
  • Our cards read “TAG RECOMMENDS…” TAG standing for our Teen Advisory Group, which is another way to promote this program to teens who might not know we have this group/program.  It also lets anyone who fills out one of the cards feel like a member of TAG, further encouraging them to attend meetings.
  • Even the simplest of summaries or descriptions works because, well, teens see that other teens have read/written about a book and that alone can be an icebreaker or encouragement.
  • These shelf-talkers let the shelves do the talking!  Teens who might feel hesitant to interact with staff can still get recommendations and maybe even see that the library welcomes this kind of input and dialogue. It also makes the entire teen collection feel more open – this is a place where lots of talking about books happens, just look around!

So, let’s take a look at the shelf-talkers!  We’re constantly soliciting these, of course, but our Winter Reading program for teens this year centered around winning prizes by writing the shelf-talkers.  This worked great, we got more entries than ever!  I’ve scanned in a few of my favorite samples.

One of my patrons, Desy, is my dynamite superstah when it comes to these blurbs.  She has a real feel for phrasing the summaries as questions, which of course is very enticing and very much “if you want to find out what happens, read the book!” which really does work in booktalking for many teen readers.  Desy’s good at really short too, which encourages other teens to try their hand at writing summaries. Here’s a handful of her greatest hits.



Another one of my superstars is my teen worker Dillon (who you’ve seen before on this blog and who wants to grow up and be a librarian, wheee!) who has a totally different style from Desy.  She writes slightly longer reviews that try to deeply convey her love for books. This is a great counterpoint and also really works for the teens who want longer recommendations. Here are some of her best reviews.



Here are some of Desy’s and Dillon’s together.  You can tell whose is whose even without the writing. And, yes, this is the kind of thing other teens pick up on too. (it’s hard to say which I love more: Bestest! or the amazing card for Freak Show.)


But even the shorter reviews can work. Here’s a good sample of shorter reviews, some that are just summaries.  These are from some of our younger teens but, again, they still work on a number of levels as I outlined above and (best of all!) encourage all ages of teen readers to get involved.  You’ll also see that we let them write reviews of popular books too. I mean: does anyone need a shelf-talker for Uglies or Divergent ?  Not really.  But the review for Divergent is great and it shows off some love and affection for a popular book/series. The Uglies pitch is just right too.  They both say, “You might already know, but we do too!  Come talk to us!” And THAT’S  just exactly what we want to be encouraging and promoting with these shelf-talkers. (Also the summary for Antsy Does Time might be some of my favorite teen commentary of all-time. Just a reminder that teens always know what’s up.)



As you can see from my scans, we make sure the cards are all on brightly colored cardstock.  The teens don’t fill out their names, but sometimes they sign them with a first name.

Do you do this kind or ANY kind of shelf-talking or teen recommendations in your teen area?  How do your teen patrons respond if so? Have you had teens positively respond to feedback from other teens in a way they don’t to feedback from staff? Tomorrow, as I said, I’ll do a post about how some of that “teen recommendation” interest/appeal drives our Teens’ Top Ten promotion and display. In the meantime,  are there any questions or details about this displays/programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


Two Quick Passive Programs for Spring

We just wrapped up our Spring Break.  Last year, as you might remember, we experimented with doing a week worth of mostly school-age programming.  We had mixed results, but I’m glad we tried it.  You can read all about what we did during that week here. But I was going to be out of town this Spring Break (along with another staff member) so we didn’t really have the staff to do this kind of programming again.  AND YET!  I still loved offering something for our families or drop-ins who were in town and looking for something to do and somewhere to be. I want them to think of us year round, after all, and that’s what programs are there for.

So, inspired by some ideas I’d seen floating around Twitter, I whipped up two quick passive programs for families and kids to do over the course of the week in their own time.  All together these took a few hours to create and less than an hour or so to set-up.  The results were more than worth it.  We had dozens and dozens of families and kids on their own participating over the course of the week for very little staff time. Here’s how they worked.

1. The Great Character Hunt! (geared at families and kids aged 2-6, but open to all)

I printed out nine characters from famous picture books (and here were some complications – I wanted to make sure there were female characters represented and characters of color too … easier said than done, eh?) and then had a fellow staff member hide them around Youth Services.  Participants got sheets at the front desk and then walked around looking for the characters (maybe even learning about picture books and becoming more familiar with Youth Services as they walked around…)  and recording their locations.  When they brought the sheets back they got small prizes: a scratch n sniff bookmark, a plastic pirate treasure coin, and a color your own sticker.  (Nothing big and all stuff we already had lying around.) They also got to sign their name to the I COMPLETED THE GREAT CHARACTER HUNT! poster, which let us track their work and gave us a great in-house visual. Let’s take a look at some pictures!


Madeline hid out by the doorway of our dollhouse! (notice in the next pic how she looks almost like a doll for the house…)

madeline full


Where’s Waldo in our dino mural?


Pigeon was located on puzzle stand – a good place for families who play with puzzles to see him and ask what he was doing there, inviting them into the hunt!


Max blended in with the background when he went on the window.

complete sheet

Here are the signed complete sheets: you’ll notice the book covers from where our characters are from.  And can you spy Peter hiding by the last place someone might look?

2. The Epic Quest (for the older kids, suggested for ages 7-12)

This was a basic scavenger hunt that required kids to use the catalog and explore our resources.  They had to physically go to some locations (“The library subscribes to many magazines!  Find one and write the name down.” Maybe you didn’t know there WERE youth magazines!) and just use the catalog for other questions (“What is the name of the author of the book Better Nate Than Ever?”) which involved not only using the catalog but then figuring out how to decode the information from the catalog.

This worked well with the character hunt because it also had the look and find elements but felt “older” because there was catalog work involved.  When they completed, they received the same simple prizes and got to sign their own sheet. (as you can see above.)

Want to do this at your library?  I can’t recommend it enough!  And to get you started here are examples of the sheets we used.  They’re linked through Google Docs, feel free to modify and save them for your own work. (if you want Word copies, email me and I’ll be happy to send them along.)

Great Character Hunt Key

(helpful note: the exact same images on this sheet were  what I used for the hidden images.  No need to send them looking for another version.  Unless you wanted to make it a little more challenging!  Participants received a sheet with the names of each character with a line next to it for them to write down location. These were the character key sheets they took on the hunt with them for recognition and were encouraged to return – but we definitely could have modified them into TAKE US HOME TO READ ALL OUR BOOKS! bookmarks/flyers.  Next time!) 

Epic Quest Questions

The second passive display also ties into National Poetry Month!  I think I saw someone mention or allude to something along these lines in the #titletalk chat (you should definitely participate in TitleTalk, it’s one of my most favorite Twitter chats) about poetry and I ran with it the very next day.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I wanted to give it a try.  What is it?


Yup, we basically cut out some tree shapes out of brown butcher paper, cut out some leaves out of green cardstock, wrote some poems on them, and then left the shapes out for people to compose their own poem/leaves and hang them up.  The very day the trees went up I immediately talked two teenagers into sitting down and writing the first poems for us.  The concept is so simple to grasp, it looks so cool with a set of poem/leaves already up, the leaves are RIGHT THERE – well, it’s hard to resist!

They’ve been up for a few weeks and we’ve seen lots of fun stuff as our trees have gained leaves!  Silly haikus and rhymes from teenagers.  Meditative poems about nature and leaves from middle schoolers and high schoolers. And, one of my favorites, parents sitting down and talking about poetry, forms of poetry, rhythm, rhyme, and figurative language with their very young children and writing poems together.  (well, maybe the parents do most of the writing and the kids say a few words or phrases, but they do it together and it’s pretty darn amazing.)  The POETREES themselves frame one of our larger display shelves, so it’s also a great way to spotlight poetry titles and get them circulating.  Pictures, I say!

poetree 1

One tree from the distance (this one is mostly full of poems we wrote out, but has some from patrons too.)

poetree 2This tree is mostly patron poems, but has a few others scattered in AND our Explanation Apple!

up close poetree 1Here’s an up-close of some leaves – note the one with little kid scrawl is one that the parent and child wrote together!

up close poetree 2

More up close of patron poems of all ages!

leaves basket Our leaves basket for patrons.

poetrees full

The poetrees in full bloom!  Note the shelf full of poetry books between them.

There you have it!  Two quick programs with not a ton of staff time involved (though the hunt and promoting it did not run itself!) but with HUGE returns. Both of these programs/displays gave patrons a chance to participate in their own time, create together, add something fun to the library’s landscape, and learn about the library and our resources.  (as well as build early literacy and information literacy skills, don’t forget that part!)  Overall: big successes we learned from and definitely want to repeat, in different ways, throughout the year!

Have you done this or any kind of passive programming at your library?  What worked?  What didn’t?  How do your patrons like passive programming and how do you tie it into larger events like Spring Break or National Poetry Month? Are there any questions or details about these displays/programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)