Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Summer Reading Programs: The importance of staff training and the summer reading pep rally

tltheader

Summer reading programs are one of the biggest parts of most, if not all, youth services departments. In this, my 25th year as a YA Librarian, I have put together 25 SRPs and executed 24. I have only had one summer, when we were moving between states, where I did not spend my summer hosting a teen summer reading program. Summers are busy, stressful and time consuming times. Yearly srps take up a huge chunk of youth librarians time and resources.

Most Childrens/YA/YS librarians begin planning for the next year’s SRP as soon as the previous year’s SRP ends. I would like to propose that you include a summer reading pep rally as part of your yearly summer reading program planning. I call it a pep rally, but it’s really a staff training day where you train staff on the how, when, where, why and whatnot of your library’s summer reading program.

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Over the years I have found that one of the things staff hates the most is to appear uninformed when asked questions by the public. It’s one of the things that I hate the most. As YS librarians, it’s easy for us to forget that although the ins and out of SRP are common knowledge to us, staff may not feel fully informed and invested. But we need our front line staff to help promote SRP and be able to answer any questions that patrons may have. Thus, the SRP pep rally was born to help meet the dual need of creating staff buy in and making sure staff felt fully informed. It’s a fun way to keep staff informed, create buy in, and build team morale as we kick off what is arguable one of our busiest and most stressful times.

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Here’s what we did:

  1. When creating your SRP budget, put a budget line in there for the srp staff training day. I recommend hosting a catered breakfast or lunch. Staff training always seems to go better with food.
  2. Pick a date a couple of weeks before your summer reading program launches and book your meeting rooms.
  3. Decorate your room on theme to help create excitement. You can use items that you purchased to decorate for the summer reading program. The more use you get out of your decorations, the better.
  4. Are you doing a skit or reader’s theater to promote SRP in the schools? You can use this very same intro in your SRP training day. Do something fun to break the ice and get everyone’s attention just like you would when doing school visits or at a program.
  5. Provide a basic FAQ sheet that staff can take with them and keep at their service desk with the basics. Go over these in your training and allow for any questions.
  6. Take a moment to discuss things like the summer slide and the value of srp to kids and the community. Help staff understand that this isn’t just busy work designed to stress staff out, but that it has concrete value that enhances the communities that we serve.
  7. Do you do crafts in your summer reading program? Maybe have a hands on craft or two available to help demonstrate what you’re doing and give the staff something fun to do. For example, one year I was doing Sharpie tie dye t-shirts with my teens and at our SRP staff training day I invited staff to bring a plain, white t-shirt and we did this craft as a hands on activity. Then, staff were allowed to wear their shirts on Fridays during the SRP.
  8. Thank everyone in advance for their help in promoting SRP and emphasize that they are a valuable part of summer reading success – because they are!

It’s true, having a staff srp training day creates more work, but it’s important work. An informed staff with good morale provides better customer service and works better together to meet the library’s goals. There is value in making sure staff is informed and cared for, even in our most busy times. Especially in our busiest times.

Summer Reading Chaos: How do we balance the needs of our community with those of our staff?

As my teethingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolns are counting down the days left in the school year, I find myself counting down the days until summer reading begin, but with very mixed emotions.

This is my 25th year as a YA librarian, which means that it is the 25th summer reading program that I have planned. I have worked in several systems and have experiences several different approaches to summer reading. And, of course, I have spent 25 years listening to my peers talk about their experiences in their library systems. I have to be honest with you, there is a lot that concerns me. I’m not sure we’re doing right by our staff when it comes to summer reading.

Many public libraries put a lot of emphasis on summer reading programs. It’s our bright shining moment. SRPs help prevent summer slide, a real thing. We spend a lot of time, money, energy and resources focused on this part of our programming. It’s stressful. It’s time consuming. It can be a make or break deal for a lot of library systems, which means its a make or break deal for a lot of youth services librarians.

A book with summer in the title

A book with summer in the title

There are, of course, benefits:

1. Helping with that summer slide issue is a real and true thing.

2. Especially during the beginning of summer, a lot of teens now have some free time so it’ can help them fill up that free time and get them into the library.

3. Parents are always looking for things to do with their kids during the summer to help fill all those newly freed up hours and it is no doubt good pr because it makes parents happy

But SRPs can be incredibly hard on staff.

Some libraries, for example, have really long SRPs and have a rule stating that youth services staff can’t take vacation during SRP. This means that if you are a parent of school aged children who also works with youth in the library, you can’t take vacation during the only time of year that your kids can take vacation. And this rule almost always only applies to youth services staff because most public library summer reading programs focus on children and teens (though, for the record, my current library system has a very strong and robust adult summer reading program as well).

Another book with summer in the title

Another book with summer in the title

I understand why libraries have these rules in place. Most libraries don’t have enough staff and trying to allow staff off for vacations during your biggest yearly event can be difficult. Of course, there’s also the flip side where you’re trying to beg your brother who lives in another state to please not get married in June because getting the time off would be incredibly hard. For the record, I did get the time off, but it was not easy and there were long lasting hard feelings. And goodness forbid someone have a serious illness or injury during the summer months because absolute chaos can ensue.

As staff begin to realize the very real limitations that come with summer and working in youth services, it can be one of the most reviled parts of the library system to work in. Staff starts defecting for other departments because everyone wants a summer vacation. Youth services staff become resentful because they realize that other departments are not subject to the same rules and restrictions. I know a lot of genuinely gifted and passionate librarians who have left youth services for other departments because of the stress and demands that are put on youth services compared to other departments. We have lost some of our best and brightest because of burn out.

I often wonder, too, about the amount of time and money that goes into summer reading program compared to the rest of the year. Some libraries spend literally thousands of dollars on summer reading and are forced to find ways to do programming throughout the rest of the year for little or zero dollars. There are, after all, only so many crafts you can do with all the toilet paper rolls from the bathroom. And I can’t help but think it has to be a let down for all those kids and teens to come out of an amazing summer reading program and then be asked to come back in September for a program where we make whatever it is we’re making with that discarded toilet paper roll. There’s a bit of an inconsistency in how we present ourselves to the public when we are pouring all of our time, energy and resources into only three months of the year and then trying to make ends meet the other nine months of the year. I’m not convinced that it sends the message we want to be sending.

Hey look, another book with summer in the title

Hey look, another book with summer in the title

And yes, I know not all libraries are the same. Some of them are better staffed, better funded, and are better equipped to do knock your socks programs all year round. Some are staffed in ways that allow vacation during the summer. But the reality is, for a lot of libraries, summer reading programs are where it’s at. But this presents some very real challenges for staff. They’re being asked to maintain a year round participation that is being elevated by an influx of money, resources and marketing for a yearly event. They are being asked to commit themselves emotionally and physically often in unrealistic ways for this three month period of the year. They’re being asked, often demanded, to forego family reunions and family vacations in the only time of the year when families can go on vacation. In many of our library systems, the stakes are too high for our youth services departments during the summer.

I am not here to question the need for or validity of summer reading programs. I understand their value and support all that they offer to children, teens, and local communities. I am, however, asking us to take a step back and evaluate their role in our year-round programming, the amount of staff time and money they take up, and the extra demands they put on our staffs. I’m asking that we evaluate how libraries can work to spread the burden out so that it’s not just the same staff being asked to sacrifice in the same ways year after year. And I’m asking if we are making youth services in some ways an undesirable department to work in and losing some of our potentially best people by the extra demands placed on youth services departments during these three months of the year.

I'm sensing a theme here

I’m sensing a theme here

I’m asking that we step back and find a way to balance the needs of our communities with the needs of our staff to find a way to better meet the needs of both, and year round.

All it takes is a few moments on Twitter or Facebook, or on a youth services discussion forum, to realize how stressed our staff are about summer reading programs. Maybe it’s time we asked ourselves if there was a way to make this better for them while still reaching our goals for our community.