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:

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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:

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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!)

4 Responses to “Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Passive Programs”

  1. Anne

    BRILLIANT! I absolutely love these ideas…thank you so much for sharing! I have a feeling we’ll be using some of those next summer!

    Our biggest hit for passive programming this summer was (by far!) our “I Spy” displays. We began putting them up at the beginning of June and released a new theme every week or so until we had 5 total. So far, we’ve had more than 1,000 entries. It’s been lots of fun watching kids and caregivers working together to find everything on the checklists. 🙂 If anyone would like to see pictures, let me know! I’ll look forward to hearing other people’s passive program ideas!

    • LaUREN

      Anne, I would love to see pictures if you wouldn’t mind sharing! I had a Super Spy Club at my library this past summer and it was pretty popular- this could be a nice, new spin on that concept. 🙂

  2. Catherine

    We have just started to dabble in Passive Programming at our library. Our library is located in Illinois, and it is disappointing to me that Passive Programming does not count as a “library program” on the IPLAR, Illinois Public Library Annual Report. However, I still plan on incorporating more of these programs in the future, especially in the summer. I love your ideas, thank you for sharing!